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High Uintas Bookshelf

A High Uintas Bookshelf

In this column we’ll list 2-4 interesting articles, books or the like that have caught our attention. They aren’t necessarily recent or recently read-- sort of a random compilation. Within a year, hopefully, we’ll have an established and detailed reading list. It won’t be complete without your additions. Please send suggestions and a descriptive sentence or two.

This month our High Uintas Bookshelf will focus on the summary of the introduction of Wallace Hansen's The Geologic Story of the Uinta Mountains.We welcome your contribution to this section!


by Margaret Pettis (Sorry, that was a bald-faced tease to draw you to this overview of what I hope is a fascinating history of exploration of the Uintas 130 years ago! Having recently read The Geologic Story of the Uinta Mountains, a wonderful l975 Geological Survey B ulletin by Wallace Hansen, I offer this brief summary of Hansen s well-written and informative report with great debt to him, since I borrow many of his words, rely heavily on his thinking, and severely condense his geological detail. I present LYNX readers this information in the spirit of sharing more of the rich history of this wonderful, wild mountain range we call the High Uintas.)

Exploration of the western United States bloomed after the Civil War! And with the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad across Wyoming in l869, creating major junctions at Green River and Rock Springs, exploration of the Uinta Mountains was destined. Indeed, three major surveys were conducted and entwined in the great wild range during the same time: that of Major John Wesley Powell, another by Clarence King, and a third by Ferdinand V. Hayden.

"Above all, it is the rocky region; rocks are strewn along the valleys, over the plains and plateaus; the canon walls are of naked rock; long escarpments or cliffs of rock stand athwart the country, and everywhere are mountains of rock. It is the Rocky Mountain region." J.W. Powell, 1876 Report on the Geology of the Eastern Portion of the Uinta Mountains

Major Powell, largely self-taught, concentrated on the country south of the Uintas into southern Utah and northern Arizona. He entered the Uintas in 1868 from the White River on the south, travelled up to Green River, Wyoming, then south to Flaming Gorge and Browns Park, and wintered on the White River. In l874 and l875 Powell completed his investigation of the range and published his "Report on the Geology of the Eastern Portion of the Uinta Mountains and a Region of Country Adjacent Thereto" the following year.

In 1867 King of Yale University explored eastward from the Sierras to Cheyenne, including Yellowstone and most of Colorado. His famous "United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel," known as the "40th Parallel Survey," includes the region of the Uinta Mountains mapped by S. F. Emmons for King in 1869 and 1871. Emmons showed solid understanding of the geology of the range in his early work there.

Hayden, formally trained as a surgeon, visited the Uintas in 1870, tracking the main ridge from the Bear River to Browns Park, then down Henrys Fork to Flaming Gorge. His fascinating, detailed annual reports produced sophisticated and more current thinking than his competitors.

All three were greatly intrigued by the magnitude of unconformity. Had a lofty 20,000 foot high block been buried beneath the sediments of an ancient Uinta sea, wondered Powell? King concurred. But Hayden inclined to believe that the immense thickness of quartz [Red Creek] was thrust up beneath the red quartzites [Uinta Mountain Group] carrying the latter so high up that they have been swept away by erosion." Modern geologists now believe that the Red Creek Quartzite was uplifted by faulting. Powell had an unmistakable grasp of the geology.

In 1870, and in direct competition with the Hayden party's E.D.Cope, well-known Yale paleontologist 0.C. Marsh initiated studies of the Green River Basin's Tertiary vertebrates. Marsh Peak, looming above Vernal, bears his name. Marsh followed Henrys Fork to its mouth, turned at Flaming Gorge, travelled to Browns Park, then south to the Uinta Basin. Returning to Fort Bridger, he recrossed the Uintas via the Uinta River, Sheep Creek Gap, and North and South Burro Peaks.

Marsh reported that "While descending the northern slope of the mountains toward the great Tertiary basin of the Green River, which lay in the distance, 2,000 feet below us, we passed over a high ridge, from the summit of which appeared one of the most striking and instructive views, of geological structure to be seen in any country. Sweeping in gentle curves around the base of the mountains... was a descending series of concentric, wave-like ridges, formed of the upturned edges of different colored strata, which dipped successively away from the Uintahs... altogether a scene never to be forgotten." Marsh was undoubtedly looking north from Windy Ridge with Flaming Gorge to his right. Sheep Creek Gap, "a narrow and almost impassable side ravine," is now paved by Highway 44.

In l889 C. R. Van Hise, a top authority on this nation's Precambrian rocks, visited the range to study the core and consequently assigned the Uinta Mountain Group to the Precambrian, contradicting his contemporaries who held the range to be Paleozoic.

The Bridger and Uinta Formations offered incredibly rich vertebrate faunas, thus attracting paleontologists Joseph Leidy, for whom Leidy Peak is named, and who worked with King, as well as W. B. Scott and H.F. Osborne of Princeton University. In 1909, the Carnegie Institution s Earl Douglass discovered dinosaur-bone deposits north of Jensen, Utah. Dinosaur National Monument is dedicated to that find.

Wallace Hansen, noted Utah geologist, recognized that Most mountain ranges, by the names of their summits, honor the memories of statesmen, politicians, or explorers. It is unique that the Uintas honor geologists. A dozen Uintas summits commemorate early geologists or topographers, e.g. Hayden, Agassiz, Wilson, Gilbert, Emmons, and King. Indeed, 13,528 Kings Peak is Utah s highest point. But it is ironic that no peak in the Uintas was named for J.W. Powell, who gave so many imaginative names to places he visited, including Flaming Gorge, Echo Park, and the Dirty Devil River, until Wallace Hansen, 100 years later, successfully submitted the name "Mount Powell" to the Board of Geographic Names, for an unnamed 13,159 foot peak at th e crest of the Uinta Mountains just east of Red Castle. It is to Hansen s credit that John Wesley Powell s name now rides the high ridge of this incredible, wild range.

(Ed. note: For a more thorough portrayal of the conflicts between surveys and many other aspects of the Uinta Mountains, we suggest you read Philip Fradkin's Sagebrush Country (see HUPC Newsletter, June 97 and June 98.) Of course, Powell's The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons should be required reading as well for every lover of the West!)

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