Desert Varnish

August 24, 2016

Desert varnish and limy cement

Desert varnish and limy cement (Click on photos to enlarge)

Aug 24

We set out on a big drive south from Rocky through central Colorado and spectacular mountains. Making our way down Rt. 24 we stop in Silverthorne at La Perla Carneteria, a restaurant/store/butcher that had some of the best Mexican food ever. There must be a pretty large Mexican population there, we saw lots of construction workers and families eating. Our first night on the road we stayed at the Crested Butte house of our friends Don and Vicki. They bought the place a couple of years ago and are slowly renovating it and eventually will move there. The next day we drive back through Gunnison, then Montrose and took an alternate route to avoid construction on 550. It took us through breathtaking mountain passes and torrential rain. We end up late in the afternoon at Mesa Verde National Park, where we stayed at the Far View Lodge in the park.

The cliff dwellings and pit houses at Mesa Verde are incredible and tell an amazing history of human history going back to the 6th century. We took the Petroglyph Point Trail hike, passing Spruce Tree House on our way into a canyon. Ann picked up the trail guide which was very helpful. It explained the dark desert varnish we saw on the cliff faces which is caused by the dissolving of iron oxide and manganese oxide in water during spring rains and snow melt. The water evaporates leaving the mineral deposits on the rock. The white substance is calcium sulfate (“limy cement”) dissolved in water and then deposited on the surface when the water evaporates. All this looked like modern art installations on the cliffs when you looked closely at the details. Not to mention the wild looking rock erosion and the multi-colored lichens, a fungus that actually grows on the rock absorbing minerals and water.

Next: more weather and fire remnants

Multi-hued lichen

Multi-hued lichen

Water erosion that resembles the cliff dwellings

Water erosion that resembles the cliff dwellings

The side of a cliff

The side of a cliff

A vertical hole eroded in a cliff

A vertical hole eroded in a cliff

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