Rodeonexis Photo

Tattooed Sandstone

Color is one of the first things that viewers see when they visit the desert. Shades of red, orange, and white dominate the landscape and offer a moon-like presence. Much of the Colorado Plateau (which spans the vast 4 corners area of the US) has been nicknamed “Red Rock Country.” This is quite true for more famous places like Moab, and Zion National Park. But as usual, there’s much more to see than meets the eye when it comes to desert color and exploration.

Cottonwood Cove Sunset Wave

A rock formation in Cottonwood Cove demonstrating the bleaching process. Outside Page, AZ.

The color of minerals (and rocks) depends on the chemical composition, and also the wavelength of light that a particular element emits. This can be tricky, since different elements can display the same color, and homogeneous minerals (such as sandstone) can have varying colors. Even more bizarre, waves of color can be found in rocks like sandstone when the whole thing is uniform. Read more on chemical colors and wavelengths HERE.

A bleaching process that effects sandstone comes from the rock’s porous properties, and natural force. Acting like a filter, the rock permeates water through microscopic holes. Under certain conditions, iron and other elements become dissolved within this runoff, and are flushed from the sandstone. Depending on which elements are more easily dissolved will lead to certain parts of the sandstone keeping color, or losing it all together. This fantastic natural phenomenon leads to seemingly “tattooed” rock. For more information on sandstone coloring and striations, please read the Rainbow of Rocks PDF, written by Marjorie A. Chan and William T. Parry.

Check back later this week for more details and images from © Rodeonexis Photography…brought to you by Jeremy Weir

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