A family of moose (cow, twin calves, bull) cross the highway in front of us, the bull pausing long enough to get his photo taken. The black bull showers aspen leaves with his antlers as he crashes through the trees on the other side of the highway. He seems to enjoy beating up the red and gold bushes as he goes.

    If you follow Highway 150 to Kamas, you are out of the Uinta Mountains for a brief space before the Wasatch Range looms on the western horizon. The Wasatch Mountains stretch from the southern border of Idaho to Nephi (south of Provo), ending in the last hurrah of Mount Nebo. As we have found to be true in past years, the fall colors in the Wasatch Range are more impressive and more accessible, than those in the Uintas. Entire mountain sides are blanketed in red Maples, like one long hosanna to the blue autumn skies. I can never figure out what it is about those leaves that gives them an extra jolt of color. It's as if one were seeing the deep pinks, reds, and magentas through a thin layer of liquid icing.

    After our fall color tour of the Wasatch Range, we hurried down to Capitol Reef National Park for the real meat of this adventure, an assignment from Earth Magazine to do a story on a field of petrified wood that lies just outside the Park's borders. About two years ago, Leland and I happened on the ancient forest during one of our random forays in search of photo-worthy cliff and sandstone textures. I still remember poking my head up at the top of a 12-foot vertical climb and being struck dumb for just an instant (even an instant is a long time to be speechless for me) by the sight of petrified logs and whole trees lying in the eroding sandstone at my eye-level.

    Geology is seldom simple. It's like a puzzle you have to look at long and hard before you can make sense of it, or like a detective story that will yield an answer only after you gather enough clues.

    I approached the question of what was where and how it had gotten there by working slowly from the known to the unknown. The geology within Capitol Reef National Park has been fairly thoroughly explored by people more experienced than I can ever hope to be. So I looked at their maps, their                   descriptions and their tales, averaged the opinions and added my own observations to come up with a likely story for our ancient forest...

    As we neared the heaviest concentration of fallen logs, the only prints we saw were those of mule deer and our own, greatly faded and dimly visible prints from two years ago. There were Leland's tracks and there were mine. No one else had been there and it would have taken a keen eye with great experience to tell that we had been there. Dry climates preserve traces of human trails and habitations for centuries.

    At dawn, on the morning of our departure, the moon was still up in the northwestern sky as the sun rose near the Henry Mountains. Moonlight hung like a benediction over the red sandstone cliffs near our camp...

This is an excerpt from a longer story. Unless otherwise noted, the text and images that appear on this web page are copyrighted material. Please do not copy or redistribute these materials in any way without prior permission. Thank you, Lynna Howard, 1996-2008. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Leland Howard.