My non-geo friends don’t get dry mouths and pounding hearts when passing road cuts. Sometimes, I think they’re blind to beauty. Unclothed rocks are some of the most beautiful sights on earth.
Behold this road cut near Kingman, Arizona that had me screaming for the camera:
|Road cut on I40, Kingman, AZ|
That’s a beauty that loves even elderly digital cameras. She has faults – that makes her even more alluring. She makes me want to take risks, find a place to pull off the interstate, run my hands along her, explore every nuance of her appearance, know her every detail. Unfortunately, we had a schedule, and we only got that one tantalizing glance across the freeway, and then she was gone. The nice thing about the earth, though, is that she doesn’t vanish into the night. She’ll be there when I go back, lovely as ever.
There are surfaces, and we only sometimes get to see beneath them. The earth’s beauty is far more than skin deep, but it’s so often only the skin we see, and that cloaked with water, draped with plants, capped with buildings. But I grew up in canyon country, where the continent likes off-the-shoulder fashions and takes a minimalist approach to coverings. She’s adventurous, daring, not afraid to show off. You don’t even need a nice road cut to see her layers – go anywhere, find a place where running water’s done some daring design, and you’ll be struck speechless.
|Box Canyon, Wupatki National Monument|
This gorgeous little canyon, cut into the Kaibab limestone, was so wonderful I had to steal my intrepid companion’s camera for a decent shot – my old beast wouldn’t do it justice. The near-sunset light, breaking through clouds, turned the stone creamy white and rich honey gold by turns as it shifted. This is old stone in an aging landscape, dusted with young volcanics, and the combination of youth and maturity brings out the best in both. You want to talk about a pounding heart: this sight had me literally off my feet, lying on a smooth expanse of bare stone in an attempt to catch her best angle.
|Box Canyon, Mt. Rainier|
In Arizona, there’s not much hiding the earth from view. In the Pacific Northwest, she often goes bundled up, and so those places where you can get a look beneath all the biology becomes even more intriguing. Here, the Cowlitz River, just starting out, has cut a box canyon through Mt. Rainier’s skin, polished it to a brilliant jet-black luster, and then set it against white water. There’s now jewelry made by human hands that enhances natural beauty quite so well as that.
|Road cut near Hurricane Ridge, Olympic Mountains|
In the mountains, the roads wind along her and she dances, sometimes in brilliant colors, the sea floor raised up on land and cut away, showing off what deep water usually hides. Basalt is beautiful where it wraps round the Olympics, a crescent cloak that in these places looks like a veil whipped around a spinning belly dancer. This road is one of those that will reduce anyone with the slightest sensitivity to geology to incoherent outbursts of appreciative sounds.
|Road cut at Ross Dam, Cascades|
Sometimes, to get somewhere and make something we consider useful, we cut down through massive mountain shoulders, and find that the rock we thought rather featureless and dull is endlessly intriguing. Orthogneiss glimmers and sparkles up close, threaded with white veins, riddled with faults that, like a dinner companion with a fascinating life story and a flair for the dramatic, keeps us entranced for hours. Other people might spend their time with the lovely blue lake and the snow-capped peaks – we’re likely to have our noses up against bare stone, listening, admiring, and always wanting more.
|Road cut on Highway 97, Oregon|
I’ve seen people take variously-colored sands and make art of them, but the earth does it effortlessly. Streams and lakes layer sediments in a cacophony of colors, then dry up and vanish, leaving puzzles behind. We stop the car. We walk alongside, we explore, we tease out those stories. These are the things that send my heart racing, leave my skin tingling, make me feel like I can fly. Beneath most surfaces, there’s fascination. And the more I know this great and glorious Gaia, the more I love her.
For AW #37, with love.