Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tafoni Jackpot on the Weiss Highway

This is the Weiss Highway.  I was on it in late April, at the recommendation of the Utah Geological Survey.
The UGS's great Geosights webpage.
The Weiss Highway is one of those well-maintained gravel roads that cross the basins and ranges of western Utah and much of Nevada.  About 30 miles west of Utah State Route 174, and roughly 25 air miles east of Nevada, there are some low hills just east of the highway -- the Honeycombs.
Big Honeycomb Hill.
Bell Hill.
A dirt two-track leads to the base of the rocks.
No wonder these hills are called the Honeycombs!  They are quite riddled with tafoni -- natural cavities.  The tafoni are so dense and close together in places that they resemble the cellular structure of beehives, hence the term “honeycomb weathering”.  Other names are lace rock, stone fretwork and stone lattice.
There are tafoni of all shapes and sizes, and tafoni within tafoni.

The rock is rhyolite, the remains of a 4.7 million-year-old lava dome.  The rhyolite dome sits on top of a 40-foot layer of volcanic tuff (consolidated ash), produced in early explosive stages of the volcano.  The rhyolite was deposited later, as lava flows.  This volcano is one of the younger ones of the beryllium belt of western Utah, aka Deep Creek--Tintic belt (below; courtesy US Geological Survey).
Remains of the volcano's main magma conduit are obvious in places.  Note flow-banding in rock near top of slope in photo below.
The rhyolite of the Honeycombs is enriched in beryllium, fluorine, uranium, tin, rubidium, thorium, cesium, yttrium and lithium.  There has been active exploration for beryllium and uranium in the area since the early 1960s, and all claims are now owned by Redhill Resources Corp., which mines gold and rare earths.  The Honeycombs also are a public community pit for collecting lace rock for aquaria.
As much as we need rare earth minerals, it would be a shame to lose the Honeycombs.  I have such wonderful memories of my time there and would love to go back.  After wandering around among the tafoni, I set up camp in the surreal landscape, built a small fire of juniper branches, and watched the sun set and evening come.  A canyon wren called, an occasional cow mooed in the distance, and a gopher snake crossed the wash.

It is difficult to recreate that evening in the Honeycombs now that I’ve been back in civilization for over two months, immersed in busy-ness and sound.  But I try to do it anyway ... to remember the peaceful evening in the west Utah desert, surrounded by remarkable sculptures made of rock and holes-in-rock.
Sunset on the Honeycombs.
Sparky missed the sunset, having turned in early

For more information, including detailed directions, see The Honeycombs, Juab County, Utah by Jim Davis (Utah Geological Survey).  [Note:  if you google “honeycombs Utah”, you may end up at Honeycomb Rocks near St. George.]

This is the final post of my tafoni series. The others are tafoni #1, #2 and #3.

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