Land Lines

Writer Rose Houk and geologist Michael Collier take us to places on the Colorado Plateau in the new monthly KNAU series "Land Lines." Tune into Morning Edition and All Things Considered every third Thursday of the month as they explore places ranging from Grand Falls to Montezuma Well.

Michael Collier

If you stand at the brink of Toroweap Overlook and toss a penny into the Grand Canyon, the falling coin would hit the Colorado River two minutes later.

Michael Collier

Look at this–a crinoid stem. How can this be? A sea-floor fossil perched at 9000 feet in a volcanic field that stretches for miles in every direction?

Just north of Flagstaff, Mount Humphreys stands 12,633 feet above sea level, the highest summit in Arizona. Humphreys and the rest of the San Francisco Peaks are old volcanoes. Surrounding them is a necklace of dome-shaped mountains—Sugarloaf, O’Leary, Kendrick, the Dry Lake Hills, and Elden Mountain. They’re volcanic too, but they formed in a different way.

Michael Collier

When geologists see a straight line running across a landscape, they get suspicious.  Straight lines don’t happen by accident; they usually mean something.  Such a line, about 155 miles long, leads north out of Grand Canyon country into Utah. It’s called the Hurricane Fault.  Nineteenth-century geologist Clarence Dutton declared this one of the Earth’s most interesting “dislocations.”

Michael Collier

The cool pine-scented air of the Kaibab Plateau at 8,000 feet is a respite on a hot day. You might want to stop at Jacob Lake Lodge for one of the best chocolate milkshakes this side of Grand Canyon. Stretch your legs, take a last slurp of that ‘shake, then pedal on down the hill on Highway 89A.

The road’s fairly level at first, but heading east it plunges downhill past yellow-belly ponderosas, through pinyon and juniper, toward sagebrush below, dropping three thousand feet in a hurry. The reason for this impressive hill--the East Kaibab Monocline.

Michael Collier

At Navajo National Monument up in northeast Arizona, soaring rock alcoves provided shelter for Pueblo people in the thirteenth century. Many alcoves also hold springs, lush with plants. Today on Land Lines, we visit a well-known site, Betatakin--set like a jewel in one of those alcoves. 

"The name for this place is Talastima, place of flowers, or corn tasseling.  This is where we came from," says Lloyd Masayumptewa, a Hopi and a park archeologist.

Michael Collier

Montezuma Well is easy to find down in the Verde Valley–it’s located right at the intersection of geology and biology.  The blue-green pool–120 yards wide, cupped in a perfectly round sinkhole–is startling in the middle of a mesquite desert.

Michael Collier

Here’s some of that grey rock, it’s coming down the channel – your first clue. It’s all about discovery …..

Twenty-five years ago, I parked near Black Mesa, up in northeast Arizona.  On no particular schedule and with no real destination, I just started walking--because I knew I would discover something.  I wandered up an unnamed canyon with walls of sheer Navajo Sandstone.

Michael Collier and Rose Houk

Don't try the Kelly Grade in a rainstorm. When this steep stretch of the Smoky Mountain Road is wet, its mud surface is impossibly slick. Stay in granny gear, keep a tight grip on the wheel, and hope that nobody else is coming the other way. There's no guardrail and that cliff next to your tires drops hundreds of feet straight down.  The shale gives way to sandstone when the road straightens out on top of the Kaiparowits Plateau.


Michael Collier

Every month this fall, KNAU has been taking you to places on the Colorado Plateau. They may be places you know, they may be places you've only heard of. It's a series we call Land Lines and today we're visiting Monument Valley. People come from all over the world to see this valley, one of the most evocative landscapes in the southwest. But at least one rock feature doesn't quite fit the mold of the mesas and buttes. In today's Land Lines, Rose Houk and Michael Collier explore the origins of El Capitan.

S.P Crater

Nov 17, 2011
Michael Collier

S.P. Crater--Today on Land Lines, Michael Collier and Rose Houk take us to S.P. Crater near Flagstaff. Early cowboys gave this perfectly shaped cinder cone its initials--whose shape reminded them of a ……chamber pot.   

Climbing the steep slopes of S.P. Crater, you take one step forward and two steps back in the loose black cinders.  This beautifully symmetric cone, about thirty miles north of Flagstaff, reminded local cowboys a century ago of the shape of a chamber pot, thus the initials S.P.  As the old wranglers used to say, Volcanoes happen.