Submitted by Ben Surpless (re-posted from:

A Magical Morning:

This morning, our fieldwork began as usual, but quickly became something more magical. After picking up where we left off yesterday, our group quickly began to experience what others come from all around the world to see: true slot canyons. In fact, Utah is famous for its slot canyons and there are over 1,000 slot canyons in the state, as well as the world’s longest known slot canyon (which extends into Arizona).

Geologically, these narrow, tall canyons are formed when rainwater, running through a set of fractures in the rock, erodes downward over time, causing the slot to deepen without growing much in width.

The slot we entered is an up-drainage feature of Red Hollow Canyon, so we are able to continue taking fracture measurements inside the canyon walls. The slot itself extends for about 900 feet into the bright red Navajo sandstone, before coming to a 20 foot tall vertical cliff; frayed rope is the only way up. Since taking measurements is tedious and slow, it took us several hours to walk these 900 feet. Then, once we examined the sketchy rope, we declared it impassible and decided to have lunch instead.

Everyone Loves Lunch:

Field lunches are quite possibly the most exciting thing a young geologist can do; not only does lunch mean a chance to eat Oreos and Nutter-butter cookies, but it also gives us students a chance to grill Ben with endless geology-related questions. At the beginning of “let’s all ask Ben tough questions” time, we give him some easy ones, such as: “Why do most of these fractures propagate in a similar orientation?” Next, and before Ben has time to eat much of his lunch, we start asking the harder questions, such as: “How might an in-depth analysis of slickenlines be used for characterizing original stress fields?” So, basically, we try to outpace his Geology knowledge; we always fail to do so. Finally, by the end of lunch, the questions tend to become more metaphysical in nature: “Ben, how would you know when you’ve found true happiness?” Still, Ben is always ready with an answer. For us students, working under Ben’s guidance is a pleasure, not only because of the depth of his field-related knowledge, but also because he sometimes seems just like one of us. He is one of the most personable and youthful teachers you’ll ever meet; sometimes he seems just as eager as the rest of us to scramble up a crumbling cliff simply for the fun of it.

There’s Always a New Problem:

After lunch, Ben decided it was time to call it quits. By then, we had finished mapping all of the accessible fractures, so we returned to the field vehicle and drove to a new location, in order to scout it out. As it turned out, the road we had planned to used to access the Elkheart Cliffs was fenced-off, so we spent the evening in camp trying to find a workaround.

Field Tip of the Day:

“Canyon Connections” -when you and your friends venture deep into a slot canyon, it can be hard to see one another. So, instead of relying on visual communication, try playing some 1970’s disco music. This way, as long as the last person in your group can hear well enough to sing along, you know your entire group is near one another.

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