Saturday 16 November 2013


Soaking in Diamond Fork Hot Springs
Our Group of Eight had walked already for one hour and a half when, suddenly, a sharp smell of sulphur permeated the air above the creek we were exploring. Was this a sudden warning from the underworld, telling us that "Hin Håle" was on his way, trying to inveigle us into sinning? We would soon find out. Around the next bend of the path, a serious of small water basins, colored in various shades of azure and green, welcomed us, and it was as if a voice whispered to us: forget about the travails of this world, isn't it time for you to start enjoying yourself?

It was easy to let us be seduced by this inner voice. Soon all of us, but me – I had to take the picture, did I not? –, succumbed to the temptation to soak their tired feet in water alternately hot or warm, depending on the exact position of their soaking.

Just three hours before, we had left our hotel in Ogden and started the car trip South to reach our hunting grounds for the next couple of days around Moab. Our guide Ingemar found it opportune to take a nice mid-day break, so that the voyage would not be felt too long. After all, we would be spending more than five hours on the trip.

As many other places in the US, the mountain region around and south of Salt Lake City is still not quite settled, geologically speaking. Even if volcanoes are long gone and only strata of old lava can be observed here and there, the movement of the tectonic plates has left faults, fractions and fissures, where the magma sphere from deep down can influence the upper strata.

The Wasatch Fault        Source:   
The Wasatch Mountain Range, along which most of Utah's inhabitants are living, is still very active in this regard. Along the whole range, especially below Salt Lake City, there is a deep fault, called Wasatch Fault, with an earthquake risk at par with that of the San Andreas Fault of the East Bay. This means that a quake of size 7 or larger is expected to occur every 300 years, and should occur according to this assessment any time now. We are talking here about a quake of a size that destroyed San Francisco way back in 1908! And the latter affected a town built on solid rock, whereas Salt Lake City is placed on a quivering former lake bottom, which will greatly reinforce any vibrations caused by a quake. Imagine!

Of course, hot springs, having their origin in a spiderweb of minor cracks and fissures of the Earthen crust, are essentially harmless and pleasurable. They occur here mostly in a region, called Uintah, with a mountain range extending perpendicularly to the East from the Wasatch Range at about the latitude of the town Provo. There, water is percolating down the cracks and fissures, meeting rising magma halfway down in the Earth crust. Mightily heated by the meeting, the water, enriched by minerals, rushes up back to the surface and appears as a series of hot springs adorning the region.

Boulder Conglomerate along former sea shore – Diamond Fork Hot Springs Trail Head
A two hours' drive had brought us all the way down to South of Provo, where Utah State road 6 branches off from Interstate 15. Looking forward to a pleasurable hike, we we took a small byroad into the Uinta foothills, up Spanish Fork Canyon, until we arrived at a quiet parking lot indicating the trailhead for our hike.

Soon we were on our way, crossing a bridge where the Sixth Water Creek was joining the Fifth Water Creek (Don't they have any imagination for naming in Utah?). From then on it was just a question of climbing a ravine steadily uphill, with the Fifth gurgling contentedly below our feet.

Bridge at Fifth and Sixth Water Creek junction
I have to admit to a certain anxiety whilst treading the path. Did I not see enormous boulders balancing precariously on the crevasses just above our heads? And did we not stumble over, or had to find a way around, substantial boulders that had already fallen and were blocking our path? If for no other reason, this warranted a rather hurried pace in our uphill progress.

Interestingly, those huge boulders did not consist of solid, contiguous stone. Rather, they looked like a collection of minor boulders, some of them as big as my head, cemented together as if a giant had formed meatballs with his paws out of stone junks, instead of junky pieces of meat. Unfortunately, I do not have a close-up to demonstrate this, but you can get the idea by looking at the earlier picture of the trail head, with what looks like a giant termite roost, in which the smaller boulders are also embedded and clearly visible.

How to explain such geologic abnormity? Well, the region must once, millions of years ago, have been a shoreline, on which stormy waves deposited boulder after boulder and, furthermore, hollowed out the cliffs forming the shore and loosening the boulders embedded therein. Eventually, sand and lime bonded, like concrete, those stones together and preserved the structures over year millions, for us to admire and puzzle out their provenance. This type of stone structure is called Boulder Conglomerate and it exists, in the Uinta Region, in a geologic stratum called North Horn Formation.

But enough of those geologic details. There is a hike to report on! As said in the introduction, it took us only one hour and a half to arrive at the goal for our promenade, the Diamond Fork Hot Springs. We had nursed the hope of being the first visitors of the day, since the nicest part of this area is the lower basins, where some kind forerunners had in the past fabricated crudely made but eminently usable basins to soak in. But, we weren't so lucky, this is a popular hiking spot, and those basins were already occupied by a relaxed family.

Lower section of Diamond Fork Hot Springs
We had better luck with the upper section. This is a much wilder, but as enticing part of the compound. A waterfall is feeding the springs from up high and has over the ages formed some natural basins you can wade into with some effort. But once in, they are as comfortable to use as any old bath tub.

I think the title picture says it all; a happy-go-lucky group of contended travelers, enjoying the pleasures provided by nature! But what about the waterfall you say? Can't you show us any pictures of it? Well, your wish is my command!

Diamond Fork Hot Springs Waterfall
As you can see in the picture, this is not only a waterfall of water, so to speak, but also one of stone. The latter is of a material called Calcareous Tufa and has been deposited over the ages by the mineral-rich water, as it gushes down the crevice. Interestingly, water has interacted with stone and bored a hole in the latter. In spring, when water aplenty is rushing down the creek, it will come streaming through the hole as well as over it, providing an intricate view of this convoluted structure.

When seeing it, I immediately felt the urge to climb up there and exhibit myself glancing through the hole. But caution got the better of me, thinking about the slickness of wet stone and the risk of falling off the cliff. But the rashest among our group showed no such concerns and did the deed I only dared dream about. Here you can see him returning, his task accomplished!

What else is there to tell from this hike? At our return, the sun's angle had changed and a section of the path, hitherto in shadow, was now illuminated beautifully, shining in bright red that induced some "Ohh!"s and "Ahh!"s from the group. Little did we know that this would be only the first of numerous such views, to be experienced down South on our continued journey. Soon, such admiring sounds would be sounding ridiculous in view of a region that was completely clothed in stones shining in various shades of red.

Red sandstone along Fifth Water Creek
The hike down went of course a lot faster than the uphill labour and after less than an hour we were back at the trail head, as can be seen in the picture below.

Back at  Diamond Fork Hot Springs Trail Head
Tired but satisfied, we relaxed in our small bus and let the guide drive us out of the Uintah ranges. However, shortly before we returned to State Road 6, we shouted to the driver to stop the car. In the distance, we were glancing at a classic Western scene: a herd of cows being driven by Cowboys! So out we rushed from the vehicle to document this iconic view. The two riders, being quite amiable, humored us by putting up a show, driving the cows along with verve. One of them was especially vigorous, swinging his lasso with abandon. To honor him, I have put him into the picture twice, and it makes it a nice composition that way, don't you agree?

Cowboys driving herd in Spanish Ford Canyon
This essentially concludes the report of that day's hike. But let me ramble on a bit more, since – as you probably have realised by now – I love to extemporise on landscape features prevalent in this outer-worldly land of the Saints.

As we continued our drive South on Utah Road 6 we were still, at the outset, traveling in mountain terrain, a bit similar to Austria's middle ranges. But soon we drove over the last passes and began a several hours' long descent, after having left the two coal mining towns of Halpern and Price behind us. And now I have to call myself lucky for having been granted the luxury of sitting as passenger beside the driver.

Before my eyes wide open, a seemingly limitless scenery spread its wings. The road went on without the slightest curve apparent for miles and miles (and I am using Swedish miles here!), until it converged to a tiny line in the far distance. The land slanted slightly downhill, almost unnoticeable, but the car had no difficulties ambling along. In the far distance you could just barely glance a dark band of a wall, covering all of the horizon, from far left to far right. as if circumcising a city of unlimited size. To my left and right, a steppe reached as far again as the eye could see. All in all, this was Big Sky Country if I ever saw one. And you did not even have to go to Montana to experience it.

As we drove on, and after an hour or so, I could begin to see contours in the far wall and started to understand that I must be experiencing the grandmother of all table lands. And how right I was; this was one of the larger plateau lands existing in the US and I had the supreme luck of seeing it spread out right before my eyes! We are talking her of the TAVAPUTS PLATEAU (it deserves to be written in capitals). This remarkable table land has an escarpment (the wall I was perceiving earlier) that runs unbroken for some 170 kilometers and is at places more than 1 kilometer high. The land on the table is one of the last unbroken wildernesses of continental US (not counting Alaska). There are no paved roads through it, warranting relative calm for the rich wildlife roaming on the top. Only 20 years ago, the completely roadless area comprised some 10 000 square kilometers! Unfortunately, mineral exploitation has brought that area down by half since then, and this development will not stop in future!

The immense escarpment of an immense tableland
This remarkable landscape was completely unknown to me before seeing its escarpment appear before my very eyes; the details provided above I found out just now, doing research for the blog post. Neither do I believe the average American to ever have heard of it. Still, the Green River cuts right through it and forms a canyon, quite as deep and large as the Grand Canyon in Arizona. But how many people have ever taken note of this, not to speak of having visited the canyon?  Its first explorer called it Desolation Canyon for a reason! Its remoteness used to be its shield, since it kept most people away from it, protecting flora and fauna all over the plateau. But nowadays it is a disadvantage, since mining companies can feel free and unobserved whilst projecting for the rich deposits of mineral, gas and oil to be found in the region.

Large as it is, the Tavaputs is only the first of several plateaus that we would experience in the following days. But it was an impressive beacon for me, or road sign if you would prefer, to make me aware that we had entered the fabulous fairyland of the Colorado Plateau. This region, as large again as the Great Basin, consists of a multitude of many-colored tablelands, like Tavaputs (even if the latter is mostly grey in color). About one third of it is placed in Utah; the remainder of our hikes would lead us to many exciting places therein!

The Utah Part of the Colorado Plateau – Tavaputs on upper right


Per Magnus Wijkman said...

I do not wish to disparage your hiking endeavours. However, your blog makes me recall with admiration the trials and tribulations of the pioneers who settled the West a couple of centuries ago. We owe them a debt of gratitude for preserving this impressive area for us relatively unspoilt.
Thanks for sharing your story with us,


Emil Ems said...

Dear Per,

How right you are! We have to thank the Mormons for that. The low basin region lying just North of the Tavaputs Plateau, as well as the Plateau itself drew little interest during the initial phase of their settlement. Early in the 1860s Brigham Young commanded a small expedition there to determine the suitability for locating settlements in the region. Upon the expedition's return, the newspaper "Desert News" could report that the expedition had found little to show for it there and that the region was a "vast contiguity of waste … valueless excepting for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for Indians and to hold the world together."

This did not prevent individual Mormons and Gentiles to go there and build small ranges and forts, for instance, at the bottom of Desolation Canyon, where it was the widest and alluvial earth provided some growing earth. But no Mormon villages were ever established in the area.

Alice said...

Lieber Emil,

danke für diese Traumwelt!
Wir dachten, dass wir hier in Österreich schöne Landschaften haben, sie erblassen leider beim Anblick deiner Fotos. Danke, dass du die Welt auch für uns fotografierst!
Schöne Zeit, bleib gesund und genieße! wir warten auf die nächsten Berichte und Fotos....Alice und Jan

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Emil and his outstanding photos I can participate at this part of the USA I will never see.
Tanks Emil
Yours Werner Stastny - Sweden

Anonymous said...

Emil, Du är en mästerlig fotograf. Har badat i Salt lake en gång – 1964 – och fann det svårt att simma, eftersom jag flöt som en kork. Din story om staden på lösan grund påminner om Bill Brysons "A short history of nearly everything", avsnittet IV Dangerous planet.