December 26, 2011
The road from Zion National Park takes you not too far from a brilliant red collection of Navajo sandstone rocks known as Valley of Fire State Park, close to Las Vegas. While the sandstone in both parks is of the same, 150-year-old formation, the similarities between these two areas end there. While in Zion the inherent majesty of the cliffs and spires dominates; in the Valley of Fire the saturated colors of the tortured rocks are off the charts.
A network of strike-slip faults is the cause of the rock mangling; millions of years of uplift, folding, and other activities not conducive to the orderliness of rocks helped lay the twisted infrastructure of the park; further eons of erosion due to water and chemicals dissolved therein caused rocks to shear away along joints and form the holes, caves, and other textures of the park.
Etched into the dark desert patina on the rocks were petroglyphs, depicting humans, snakes, rain, thunderstorms, and more ideas of desert life. There’s no Rosetta stone for these carvings–your guess is probably as good as mine when it comes to what they mean.
An apocryphal tale gives name to Mouse’s Tank, about a renegade Indian who gave early settlers all sorts of grief, then dematerialized into the maze of canyons surrounding this natural depression that collected water. The stories about Little Mouse were probably enhanced, and the water in these cisterns wouldn’t have been potable. With good water sources a few miles away, would he really drink out of these pools at the intersection of two box canyons? Probably not, but regardless, his name stuck to this hiding space.
We drove back through the night to Los Angeles, watching the moon set over Joshua trees as I tried to explain lunar phases to my mother, rumbling over the high desert and descending back toward sea level.
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