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As promised, a quick update on what we encountered in Idaho last week at Red Rock Pass. This is where Lake Bonneville broke through one of its Basin-contained edges and spilled north and west in what is believed to be the second largest flood in geologic history.
As far as we know, this is the one and only time that the Great Basin, which is notorious for having no outlets, had an immensely powerful one that channeled water outward at over 30 million cubic feet per second.
On our trip, it was a challenge to attempt to imagine a flood of “biblical” proportions rushing through the now dry area of the pass. This was especially true when human infrastructure (farms, cars, powerlines, B&Bs, gas stations etc.) populated the visual space of Red Rock Pass.
On this part of the expedition, our biggest surprise arrived 10-15 miles before the Pass. In the preceding valley, the land suddenly seemed to become water itself.
Our car, lost in a sea of land waves.
Could we be seeing the trace of monumental flood waters 15,000 years after the event? It seems possible given the extreme quantity and speed of water that squeezed through this relatively small channel. In the moment, we enjoyed imagining this as reality. We took the land for what it literally looked and felt like, water. We dipped and floated right up to the edge of the Red Rock Pass.
Today the surrounding area is used primarily for agriculture and industry. Not being geologists able to expertly “read” the landscape or rocks, we can’t claim to know what caused this gentle, but dramatically rolling landscape-as-water effect. We welcome anyone who studies the land forms of southeastern Idaho to chime in and add their expertise to this conversation. Were we traveling through waves of land that had been shaped directly by the Bonneville flood?
In the meantime, here are a couple views of the Pass today. It more certainly bears the trace of rushing waters, which scoured the red rocks to their bedrock core. This site marked the end of FOP’s circuit of the Bonneville Basin. Over the course of our two week, moving residency, we traveled over 1,700 miles through and around the lakes edges.
Shortly after we turned away from the Pass and headed back to Salt Lake City, we were stunned to pass a slow moving semi-truck. It was hauling radioactive nuclear waste on I-15. Because of our research during the past year, we immediately recognized the containers on the satellite tracked truck. Perhaps this vehicle was heading to WIPP to store its load, for a span of time that can only be called ‘geologic,’ deep within the Permian salt bed nearby Carlsbad, NM. Wherever it was headed, it was a timely reminder of how humans and the geologic move through one another continuously.
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