Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Goosenecks of the San Juan River

The B.E.E.M.IN.T.WORLD at Goosenecks State Park

Soon after crossing the Utah state line driving north from Arizona, we crossed the San Juan River at a small town called Mexican Hat. I think you're wondering, so I'll just tell you and get it out of the way: this settlement got its name from a rock formation called Mexican Hat Rock just north of town.

How Mexican Hat, Utah got its name
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It turns out that the San Juan near here is no ordinary river. Read on...

We exited the main road, and took a four-mile detour from our route to see the Goosenecks.

Google Earth imagery of Goosenecks

The San Juan here flows 1,011 feet below the level of the surrounding plateau, and is so contorted that in the span of a mile it actually flows five miles!

If I might digress for just a moment, I am constantly reminded of the fact that people in the 1800s didn't spend a lot of time driving cars or in supermarkets and online. I know this because the place names they hit upon have little in common with a suburban lifestyle. They were intimately familiar with real animals. All I know about geese, for example, (secondhand, of course) is that they are force-fed through tubes to make fois gras. Instead of Goosenecks, someone of my generation might have named this place "Newly Factory-Produced Twizzler".

Getting back on track...Why is the river like this?

Geologists have named the phenomenon an entrenched meander. Originating in southwest Colorado, the San Juan is a tributary of the Colorado River, joining it not far from here at Lake Powell. Several million years ago, the river established this pattern when it was running (meandering if you will) in a flat plain, like the Mississippi River does today. It became entrenched when the entire plateau was slowly uplifted, a process which is still ongoing. Cutting downward, the river followed its initial pattern, which led to creation of the canyon.

One last thing to point out to any of you who decide to go there...
Rather than trying to irrigate the channel a thousand feet down, I would advise any males to use the restroom thoughtfully provided by the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation. The wind blowing off the rim of the canyon is extremely strong!

I almost forgot: B.E.E.M.IN.T. WORLD means "Best Example (of an) Entrenched Meander in the World." (I made that up, but it's quite possibly true.)

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Next: The Moki Dugway

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