I feel like waxing sentimental about sediments again. And one word, just one, is all it takes to put me in an altered state:
Just say it: kye-bab. Short. Slightly exotic. Maybe it doesn’t roll off your tongue. Maybe it sounds a bit hard, truncated, abrupt. It’s a Paiute word that means “mountain lying down” or “mountain inside-out.” It’s a good name, appropriate for a formation from which you can see a mountain that blew itself inside-out.
In a land of black volcanics, red beds, and tan dirt, it’s a dramatic snowy-white in certain light, shading to a pale golden beige. It was my first experience with the ocean. It’s astonishingly beautiful.
|Promontory of Kaibab Limestone, with ruins in the distance
Here we are, at Lomaki Ruin. Look at the crumbling Kaibab. Long, long ago, this area was submerged under a shallow tropical sea. Two hundred and fifty million years later, Sunset Crater laid down a sea of cinders, which you can see lapping against the promontory. The limestone shrugged off the young volcanic upstart here. The Sinauga used it to build their homes, perched on cliffs of it.
|Box Canyon Ruin, San Francisco Peaks, and the Box Canyon
You can see its bedding planes here in the canyon walls, with the San Francisco Peaks forming the backdrop. Fishes swam here once. Brachiopods, mollusks, sea lilies, and corals went about their lives in shallow warm waters, generations of them. There was a time when oceanfront property in Arizona wasn’t a joke. Depending on how you view matters, it still isn’t. The ancient peoples who lived here probably never knew it, but they had ocean views.
|Lomaki Ruins, with the Painted Desert in the distance
Look at that bright line of rock, far in the distance. That’s the Painted Desert. You can sit on the Kaibab here and look over ages, laid out in delicate, sweeping colors in the far distance. That’s the kind of land this is. Everywhere you turn, there’s a new scene. And I didn’t know it as a young college student, reading about karst landscapes for the first time, it turned out I’d been living in one all along. My old house backed onto a forest filled with limestone cliffs. Just down the road from here is an enormous sinkhole, which we shall visit sometime soon. The land beneath us is riddled with caverns, and in one utterly magical place, the wind blows from underground.
It was in a shallow pond at the bottom of a Kaibab canyon that I caught my first tadpoles. The first (and only) time I shot a rifle, I was standing on a ledge of the Kaibab, aiming at a fallen log across that self-same canyon. Hit it, too, which pissed off the boys I was shooting with – they who couldn’t hit the damned thing to safe their lives. The shot echoed off the ancient sea walls, and a little puff of dust went up from the log, and the boys gasped and then grumbled, because a girl had just outgunned them. They got over it.
Later, we’d ride our horses down those blocky limestone walls, finding a sure path down. Lichen grew in shades of gray-green and brilliant orange and delicate yellow on the old stones. Sometimes, you’d come across a surface many people had walked over, and it gleamed, polished and smooth and cool to the touch. We had an old white-and-gray boulder of it in the middle of our yard. It had defeated my dad, who’d had delusions of neat and tidy landscaping. When he mowed down the weeds, he’d have to leave a little island around that boulder, which in turns became my own personal mountain to climb or a throne to perch upon, depending on what imagination required that day. And if you turned over bits of it, you might find a nest of spiders or some really brilliant velvet ants, which would scream a squeaky sound like “help!” if you flipped them gently onto their backs with a stick. Those were amazing creatures, black with their furry abdomens in bright shades of scarlet or orange. They stood out like little drops of fire against the serene cream stone.
The Kaibab provided a solid foundation for excellent childhood memories. And so you can understand why I grinned so widely, coming across a spectacular outcrop of it at the Grand Canyon:
|Mi con Kaibab, snapped by my intrepid companion
Beautiful stuff. And now that I’m older, and while perhaps not wiser but at least more well-read, I can sit upon it, gaze out over the rolling hills toward distant mountains, and dream of wine-dark seas.