Every Memorial Day Weekend, I have a yearning to go to Zion—Zion National Park, in Utah. Back when I was a new convert to geology, the department that took me in as a wayward English major, had a tradition of spending Memorial Day weekend at Zion. Every year we all enjoyed the same traditions: hiking the Narrows and the Canyon Overlook trail, zipping over to Bryce Canyon to see the hoodoos, having lunch on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Every year a new adventure was invented, but the traditional outings were always staples.
As I sit here at my computer writing about Zion, instead of actually being there, I find that what I miss isn’t just the tradition and comradery, but the geology itself—the geology of the Colorado Plateau. As much as all of us in that department may have enjoyed each other’s company, the main reason to return year after year was our affection for the geology there.
You see, the Colorado Plateau is like comfort food for geologists. This is where you take beginning classes to see nice, well-behaved rocks. All is well and “textbook” here. The display of horizontal rock layers are truly what they appear to be—not folded, refolded, then overturned; not faulted in fancy ways which mix the units like a shuffled deck of cards. Here, the units are easily identifiable and traceable as you drive down through time to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, or up through time to Bryce Canyon and then Cedar Breaks. This is a far cry from hiking all day through Cascades brush in Washington state to find two small outcrops of actual rock, or measuring fickle magmatic fabrics in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California. The Colorado Plateau is comforting; there are no surprises here. The geology is visible, accessible, and understood.
While life’s twists and turns, and continual challenges certainly add depth and texture to our existence, we all need a Colorado Plateau. We need the easy cavity to fill, the obvious wart to diagnose, the “A” paper to grade—the known. As I dine on life’s beautifully presented gourmet meals, I still need the simple dollop mashed potatoes hidden under the complex stack of richly flavored delicacies, in order to appreciate the dish as a whole. I need the grounding and perspective it gives me as I taste my way through the menu of life.