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View a Jurassic Impact!
Overview: Upheaval Dome, in Canyonlands National Park, has long been viewed as an eroded salt upwelling. Recent evidence has caused scientists to reevaluate it's true origins. No matter how it formed, the Upheaval Dome Trail offers a great way to look at some interesting geological phenomena!
Warning: The trail is hot, dry, and exposed. Bring lots of water and take caution if you are visiting during the summer. The National Park Service specifically warns against building new cairns as well.
History: For many years, the origin of the Upheaval Dome has been a subject of some debate. Most geologists that visited in the 20th century regarded Upheaval Dome to be an eroded salt daipir. This would explain the steeply dipping rock beds found in the center of the Dome. In addition, salt upwellings are known around this area of the Colorado Plateau.
In the latter part of the 20th century, this view began to change. Starting in the mid-late 1980's, scientists began to examine the salt hypothesis in greater detail and found no evidence of the presence of any salt related minerals. Meanwhile people like Walter Alvarez and Shoemaker began testing for evidence that perhaps Upheaval Dome was a meteorite impact crater. As the 20th century drew to a close, data was mounting to support the meteorite impact hypothesis, but the idea was far from certain.
The first decade of the 21st century saw the data pile up further, with the final straw coming in 2008 with the discovery of shocked quartz. There are only two ways to make shocked quartz, which is normal quartz subjected to very sudden pressure and heat: a nuclear explosion or a meteorite impact. As only one of these events is natural, and none are related to salt, this pretty much sealed the case.
So, 170 million years ago, after the Navajo dune sea had been covered by a swampy environment, a rock or comet the size of the Empire State Building plunged into Earth's atmosphere. Moving at over 13,000 miles per hour, the bolide struck the wet ground with tremendous force, blasting out thousands of tons of mud, dirt, and rock. Local life would have been devastated.
Hike: The hike starts from the paved parking area and follows the well-marked trail into the crater. There is an overlook almost half a mile into the hike, where you can look into the interior of the Upheaval Dome crater. Following the trail along further, you come to a second overlook, fenced, where you get a better view of the crater. The trail ends here. When you are done viewing the crater, turn around and head back to your vehicle. If you want a closer look inside the crater, you can hike the Syncline Loop Trail (described elsewhere) to the Crater Spur Trail, but this is not accessible off of the Upheaval Dome Trail.
Water Sources: None, bring your own.
Camping: Allowed in designated spots within the park, including at the Syncline Campsite, a backpacking site on the northwest side of the crater. No spots exist along the Upheaval Dome Trail, however.
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