Along Cow Dung Road, the red and gray striped hills look like pieces of peppermint candy. A telltale signature of the Morrison Formation, the strata were deposited at the end of the Jurassic when volcanoes, great rivers, marshes and dinosaurs reigned. Now an arid expanse, its sculpted hillsides and flats are peppered with brown boulders, the eroded remains of an overlaying layer of Dakota sandstone. I see no evidence of the Cedar Mountain Formation, which formed after the Dakota. Either the Cretaceous river and floodplain waters responsible for its deposition did not flow here, or it eroded away before the sandstone was deposited. Cedar Mountain’s absence represents a gap in the geologic record called an unconformity. Another hill of candy wets my appetite.
I love the word unconformity. In the same league as confluence, it is suggestive of the writing process. Write, erase, write, erase. Take a break, have a cup of tea. Floods and small streams carry away boulders, rocks, pebbles and sand grains. Erosive winds blow. A divergent path may appear and an unanticipated idea finds its way to paper. Results camouflaging their origins, the poet knows their genesis and evolution, and loves the process that may require months or years of effort before the poem that is meant to be completely deposits itself.
The journey along Cow Dung Road to the fossil quarry doesn’t want to finish itself just yet. Four miles from the unmarked highway turnoff (the sign for the road continually stolen!), I arrive at the entrance to the Mars Desert Research Station. Operated by the Mars Society, an organization dedicated to the exploration and habitation of Mars, this landscape was picked as a one of their research sites because of its resemblance Mars. Pictures beamed back by NASA’s Mars rovers look strangely familiar to southern Utah.
The station’s wooden name sign posts No Entry Please. Politeness may reign on Mars. Researchers blogging on the Society’s webpage report as if living on a Mars colony. I was told people might be walking about in spacesuits. None are around. And unfortunately I am a few days early to see rover researchers and engineers from around the world testing their latest designs. The gritty environment will jam exposed gear trains and fray wires, disabling most of the tested rovers quickly. The Hanksville scuttlebutt was Poland’s team was favored.
Past and future merging in the badlands of southern Utah, I drive on thinking about unconformities. A thorough bunch, geologists also identified other of types of unconformities, including nonconformities – junctures between overlaying sedimentary and underlying eroded metamorphic or igneous rock. Rules have changed from the chemistry of heat to that of precipitation, transformation occurring or in the opting. Good advice for stuck writers and stumped rover engineers alike.