Cedar Breaks: A Rainbow in Stone

December 28, 2020

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Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

The ragged west rim of Utah’s Markagunt Plateau and the canyon drainages below mark the transition between the Colorado Plateau physiographic province to the east and the Great Basin province to the west. Here — over the course of 100 million yearssedimentation, geologic uplift and erosion have exposed and chiseled a rainbow-hued landscape featuring layered cliffs, hoodoos, arches, pinnacles, ridges and fins. The National Park Service tells us the area’s native Southern Paiutes described the rim’s amphitheaters as u-map-wich — “the place where the rocks are sliding down all the time.” Nineteenth-century settlers mistook the region’s juniper trees for cedars and called the broken bluffs breaks. In 1933, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the natural spectacle to be Cedar Breaks National Monument.

The first photograph here, taken late on the afternoon of Oct. 15, 2020, at Cedar Breaks’ North View overlook, near the resort village of Brian Head, Utah, presents most of those natural art forms in almost incandescent whites, yellows, oranges, pinks and reds. A second image, a panorama captured earlier the same day from a back-road perch to the west, offers an intriguing perspective of much of the Cedar Breaks formation.

Cedar Breaks’ colorful sedimentary limestone and siltstone beds and layers were deposited about 60 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous Period. At that time the area hosted a great lake, which geologists call Lake Claron. The lakebed’s subsequent Claron Formation — uplifted to over 10,000 feet (3000 m) above sea level — is composed of sands, silts and muds eroded from ancient mountain ranges; the calcareous fossils of water-based organisms; plus just enough rusty, oxidizing iron to tint many of the layers. World-renowned Bryce Canyon National Park, on the eastern edge of the nearby Paunsaugunt Plateau, is also a descendant of Lake Claron, which covered an area about the size of today’s Lake Erie.

Photo Details: Top - Camera: NIKON D3200; Exposure Time: 0.0040s (1/250); Aperture: ƒ/10.0; ISO equivalent: 400; Focal Length (35mm): 36. Bottom - Same except: Exposure Time: 0.0020s (1/500); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; Focal Length (35mm): 105