Weird Rocks and the Things People Build on Them

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona - March 2009

Cathedral Rock Sunset
The Vermillion Cliffs are a red and pink wall of sheer cliffs running from Lee's Ferry to House Rock Valley along the eastern approach to the Grand Canyon's North Rim. Lees Ferry is the last easy access point to the Colorado River before it enters the Grand Canyon and thus the prime launch spot for river trips. It is named for Mormon pioneer John D. Lee who established a ferry crossing here in the 1870s. The area is also famous for its unusual landscape such as Cathedral Rock.

Dawn of the Mushroom Rock
Probably the area's most famous (and most photographed) rock formations are the two alien-looking mushroom-shaped balanced rocks at the base of the cliffs near Cathedral Rock. The 'mushroom cap' is a boulder of Shinarump Conglomerate that fell from the cliffs behind it. Over many years, the less resistance mudstone it was resting on (part of the Moenkopi formation) slowly eroded out from underneath it.

Magical Midnight Mushroom Man
While lots of people have taken photos of the mushroom rocks during the day, how many have you seen at night? This was actually a real pain to setup as it was difficult to get the camera tripod lined up correctly in the dark and after exposing the image (I used a halogen headlamp), I had to turn off my lamp and then find my way back to the camera in the dark (and it was DARK). I stubbed my toes several times and kept walking past the camera. It is a good thing that timed exposures don't pick up profanities.

Upper Cathedral Canyon
Just past Cathedral Rock, the road crosses over a little five-foot deep wash running down from the cliffs. The wash quickly deepens as it makes it approach to the river and soon becomes an interesting canyon itself. Most of the way is pretty easy hiking, but there are a few tip-offs that require some careful navigation around the edges.

Nearly a Slot
In a few places, the canyon narrows almost to the point of being a slot canyon. Unfortunately, I started my hike after the sun had mostly set and so these images are a bit muted and don't really reflect the fairly intense pinks and reds of the rocks.

Take Me to the River
Eventually the Cathedral Canyon suddenly opens out into Marble Canyon and you are right next to the river on your own private little beach. For the last couple hundred yards, You can feel the cool air from the water coming up the canyon to meet you.

Bridge to the Past
When it was built in 1929, the famous Navajo Bridge was an engineering marvel (it still is) and finally connected the largely isolated 'Arizona Strip' to the north of the canyon with the rest of the state (whether they wanted it or not). For many years, it was the only bridge over the Colorado River for a couple hundred miles in either direction. In the 1990s, they built a new automobile bridge and turned the original one into a very cool exhibit and pedestrian bridge. Can you tell which is the old one and which is the new?

Upstream from Mid-Bridge
Walking out on the old bridge gives you great views up the canyon. You can see Cathedral Rock off in the distance to the left. The mouth of Cathedral Canyon is a bit beyond view just upstream.

Downtown Cliff Dwellers
A few miles further down the road toward the North Rim is another little collection of balanced rocks called 'Cliff Dwellers'. In the 1920s, Blanche and Bill Russell used the rocks to build a small cafe, gas station and trading post that served local cowboys and travelers along the old highway. I suspect the food was gritty. Just beyond view is the current Cliff Dwellers Lodge and Cafe as well as 'Hatchland' the headquarters of the Hatch River Expeditions Company.

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