a walk on the rocks

I like to walk in rocky places. Fortunately, we have lots of this terrain here in our mountains overlooking Ogden and the surrounding area on the Wasatch Front. From here in my backyard mountains (as I like to think of them), I’m looking up at rock cliffs, or maybe across a canyon at a pile of broken rocks, or sometimes in a creek to see the wide array of rounded rocks in the water. I think of this all as “at-home” science observations because it’s so marvelously close to where I live. It’s a good way to get out of my house, go for a walk, and observe and wonder about nature, all at the same time.

A little farther away, in the Uinta Mountains, there are other places to go on a long hike or a shorter walk. I see all of the same things I do here in my “home” mountains, but also some other interesting new observations. Often I’m walking right on top of large rock slabs at high elevation.

When I was walking in this area above Ryder Lake, I loved to see all of the high ridges surrounding me, but the ground I was walking on in this wide open area was very flat and very smooth, as if the bottom of this big, wide bathtub shaped valley had been sanded. But there were also lots of big rocks that were sprinkled around on top, as though they had been dropped from above like a giant had a giant salt shaker that sprinkled really big boulders all around.

There are other areas like this one in the High Uintas, and I think they’re really fascinating and mysterious. Feeling the rock and seeing it firsthand make me that much more curious about how this all came to be. Here are my wonders:

  • Why was the ground I was walking on so flat, even though the mountains around me were so high and steep?
  • How did the rock slabs I was standing on get so smooth and almost shiny?
  • How does a high elevation basin like this one get so wide with lots of ponds and lakes? (The canyons in our backyard mountains are narrow with a single stream running through.)
  • And how did these boulders get here as though they’d been sprinkled around? Were they part of how the slabs got flat and smooth, or did they come later?
  • And the more I looked at the rocks, the more I wondered about the patterns I saw inside of them: layers and stripes, pockets and crinkles, hard edges and corners and cracks. I wonder how these rocks were made in the first place.

What do you imagine happened to make all of this? Can you tell a story that helps us put all these observations together? How does it fit with other things you know about rocks, mountains, and valleys?

I like to talk to my geologist friends about what I’ve found, and they help me to imagine what happens in these mountains and everywhere else. But the most important thing they tell me is that they, too, walk in these places and study these formations and have these same kinds of wonders. I think this is what makes them good scientists.