Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday photo

Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. September 1993.

Okay, so everyplace has to have an "Inspiration Point," surely the least inspired place name in the English-speaking world next to "Main Street." It's still worth taking a look at Bryce Canyon. The Paiutes were purportedly inspired to imagine a bunch of people turned to stone; the Mormon settler Ebenezer Bryce was inspired to the hilariously prosaic, "It's a hell of a place to lose a cow."

Bryce Canyon isn't really a canyon -- it's the side of a cliff being eroded away. You might think - it being in the middle of a desert and all - that the hoodoos are created by wind erosion rather than water. This turns out to be wrong; it's all about water. Not a single stream, as canyons are generally carved, but innumerable rivulets formed from a bit of rain and melting snow, with the extra power of an almost year-round freezing and thawing.* On the top of each spire -- or hoodoo -- is a layer of relatively hard rock that doesn't erode away too easily. But once the water works its way through some cracks and reaches the softer rock underneath, it begins to carry away the soft stuff while leaving the hard rock behind. Since the wind isn't doing much of the work at Bryce, all the erosive action is at ground level -- which is why the upper parts of the hoodoos stay put, while the spaces between them just get deeper and deeper.

Utah is full of weird scenery, so weird that it inspired the alien scenery of Calvin & Hobbes. Here's how Bill Watterson described his Spaceman Spiff stories:
The Spiff strips are limited in narrative potential, but I keep doing them because they're so much fun to draw. The planets and monsters offer great visual possibilities, especially in the Sunday strips. Most of the alien landscapes come from the canyons and deserts of southern Utah, a place more weird and spectacular than anything I'd previously been able to make up. The landscapes have become a significant part of the Spaceman Spiff sequences, and I often write the strip around the topography I feel like drawing.**
But even by Utah standards, Bryce is one weird-looking place.

* Being at high altitude, but mid-latitude, the sun will easily melt much of the snow in the winter, while the temperature also dips below freezing on most summer nights.

** Watterson, The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, 1995.

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