A Conglomeration of Witches and Wonders

February 22, 2021


Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

In June 1858, the U.S. Army’s Capt. Albert Tracy descended northern Utah’s Echo Canyon and emerged at a junction with the Weber River and Weber Canyon. His party set up camp opposite what they called Witch Rocks. The stone pillars “jut upwards through the smooth surface of a rounded hill, and form a cluster,” he wrote in his journal, “so singularly like figures in kirtles [long skirts] and steeple-hats or bonnets that they have received the appellation stated.” As recorded on roadside signs below the site today, Tracy mistakenly identified the reddish-yellow rocks as being basalt. But his description of the scene remains apt, as shown in the first photograph here of The Witches (also known as Witch or Witches Rocks, as well as Witch or Witches Bluffs), taken on Oct. 4, 2020, above Interstate 84 between the rural communities of Echo and Henefer.

Geologists now identify the outcrops as features of the Henefer Formation. Like the nearby Echo Canyon Conglomerate, the formation is chunky evidence of western North America’s mountain-building Sevier Orogeny, which occurred during the Late Cretaceous 85-90 million years ago, preceding and somewhat overlapping the Rocky Mountains’ Laramide Orogeny. Unlike the familiar, fine-grained red-rock sandstone landscapes of the Colorado Plateau to the south, these mixed-clastic conglomerates are, according to the Utah Geological Survey, loaded with quartzite pebbles, cobbles and even boulders, as well as sandstones and mudstones, carried as sediments off the Sevier highlands that once rose to the west and northwest.

The Witches are just a few of the fantastic formations in the Supplication Hills and in Echo Canyon. Nearby are chimney-like Sentinel Rock and, up a hilly rill, Temple Rock Amphitheater, reminiscent of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, far to the southwest. Just to the east along Interstate 80 in Echo Canyon — also a natural corridor for Native Americans, Mormon and California-bound pioneers, the overland stage, the Pony Express and Union Pacific Railroad — are even more wonders. These include Monument Rock; numerous caves and ledges; a low, tan arch known as Hanging Rock; and the precipitous, pale-red conglomerate cliffs of Steamboat Rocks, said to resemble the bows of ships, perhaps lined up at anchor, shown here in a second photograph, also taken on Oct. 4, 2020.

Photo Details: Top - Camera: NIKON D3200; Exposure Time: 0.0031s (1/320); Aperture: ƒ/9.0; ISO equivalent: 100; Focal Length (35mm): 120. Bottom - same except: Exposure Time: 0.0020s (1/500); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; ISO equivalent: 400; Focal Length (35mm): 67.