A Landing a Day

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Monument Valley, Arizona

Posted by graywacke on January 12, 2015

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-four-days blog), I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean in the first paragraph), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

 Landing number 2147; A Landing A Day blog post number 575.

Dan:  I can’t buy two USers in a row, and of course the landing god doesn’t accept bribes..  So, now my OSer count is at 14/17, thanks to this landing in . . . AZ; 86/80; 3/10; 13; 149.4.  Here’s my regional landing map:

 landing 1

My local landing map shows why I’m featuring Monument Valley:

 new 1

I used the Google Earth (GE) elevation tool to trace the downhill path from my landing.  The drainage heads generally southwest, before being picked up by the Oljeto Wash, on to the San Juan (19th hit); to the Colorado (168th hit):

 landing 3

Here’s my GE trip to my landing:


I landed just a couple of hundred yards west of Route 163.  And of course, there is Street View coverage on this major N-S road.  Here’s the SV shot of my landing:

 GE SV landing

Now bear with me for a minute.  All of you readers out there of course know that this post features Monument Valley.  But after I looked at my landing maps, Monument Valley wasn’t even on my radar (I added “Monument Valley” to my landing map).  Plus, I always thought that Monument Valley was much closer to the Four Corners.  Anyway, I looked around with GE and still had no clue about Monument Valley.  It wasn’t until I looked north along Route 163 on Street View that I thought, “Hey!  That looks like Monument Valley:

 GE SV looking north

And it was!  As a teaser, here’s a lovely Wiki shot of the Valley (by Moritz Zimmerman), taken from the Visitors Center:

 Monumentvalley wiki from visitor's center

After a little research, I was able to put together this GE shot, showing many of the more famous landmarks:

 new 2

By the way, the Wiki photo from the Visitors Center features West Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Butte.

Before looking at more pretty pictures, I figured that I needed to do a little geology.  I mean, really.  How did these incredibly impressive landforms come to be?

It’s actually pretty simple.  About 275 million years ago, the ancestral Rockies were north and northeast of my landing.  As they eroded, sand, gravel, silts and clays were washed down to the south and southwest, where they were deposited on coastal lowland plains.  These sediments were buried by subsequently-deposited younger sediments.

Then, the whole kit and caboodle was uplifted something more than 5,000 feet (along with the entire Colorado Plateau).  The uplift began about 65 million years ago (coincidently around the time that the meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs).  The reason for the uplift is still being debated.

Anyway, we ended up with pretty-much flat-lying beds of sandstone & shale.  To explain how the landscape evolved, I found a series of figures from the book “Landscape Evolution in the United States” by Joseph A. DePietro that lays out the basics.  It’s important to realize that the heavy lifting (err. . . . I mean, heavy eroding) is done by streams & rivers.  They do the cutting and then they carry away of all of that eroded sand and silt.  For Monument Valley, the San Juan River & tributaries did all of the work.

Another important thing is that the landscape is arid to semi-arid.  If it were as wet as the eastern U.S., the whole landscape would be gentler, fully vegetated, and way less dramatic.  Anyway, here  are the figures from the book:

 cross-section 1a

 cross-section 1

 cross section 3a





The process continues, until the following Monument Valley-like landscape evolves:

cross section 3

There is typically a “cap rock” involved, which is a layer of particularly-resistant rock on top of (or part of) the upper sandstone layer.  This cap rock protects the underlying rocks from erosion.  The cap rock will typically erode where it is fractured or for some reason weaker.  The tops of buttes are likely where the caprock is entirely unfractured and especially erosion-resistant.

Note to readers of my recent “Jail Rock, Courthouse Rock and Chimney Rock, Nebraska” post (particularly Cheryl and Jordan who specifically asked).  The above process also explains the evolution of the rock formations there.

It turns out that Wiki has more lovely MV shots.  Here’s one looking south (right down Route 163) from Utah by Marc Averette:

 800px-Monumentvalleyviewfromnorth wiki

By the way, if you were driving south on Route 163, you wouldn’t actually see the above view.  This is one of those pictures where the use of a telephoto lens unnaturally magnifies distant objects.  Makes for a great photo, though.

Here’s a shot of one of the Mittens (by Huebi):


And this one, of the Totem Pole (by Bernard Gagnon):

 Monument_Valley_10  wiki totem pole (by Bernard Gagnon)

As you might imagine, there are countless MV photos on Google Images; many of the sites have whole albums of photos.  One of these digital albums is from “Evanescent Light,” photos by Ian Parker.  Click here to peruse his wonderful MV pictures.

I’ll use one of Ian’s shots as my closer:

 ian parker closer

That’ll do it.




© 2014 A Landing A Day




One Response to “Monument Valley, Arizona”

  1. Jordan said

    Very cool! Thanks for the shoutout.

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