Why Are the Vermilion Cliffs So Pink?

Hikers pausing to view a rock formation referred to as The Wave within the Vermilion Cliffs Nationwide Monument in Arizona. AP Photograph/Brian Witte

The Vermilion Cliffs are the second “step” up within the 5-step Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau, in northern Arizona and southern Utah. The Vermilion Cliffs are made up of deposited silt and desert dunes, cemented by infiltrated carbonates and intensely coloured by pink iron oxide and different minerals, notably bluish manganese.

The rock unit referred to as the Navajo Sandstone options prominently in a lot of this panorama, and accommodates a few of the largest and most ample iron concretions discovered anyplace on the earth. The Navajo Sandstone was named for the “Navajo nation” of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The pink rock nation on the Colorado Plateau the place the Navajo Sandstone and different associated  rock formations are prominently uncovered is centered across the 4 Corners area the place the states of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona meet. This story of the pink rocks began hundreds of thousands of years in the past.


This story begins tens of millions of years in the past in a world and panorama  very totally different from in the present day: in the course of the Jurassic Interval (one hundred forty four-206  million years in the past) when the North American continent was at a special latitude, and this space was near the equator in a belt of robust commerce winds. These winds moved quartz sand to construct dunes that coated an space greater than the Sahara Desert. An accumulation of desert sand dunes known as an “erg” or “sand sea.”  The most important erg to ever exist in North America is preserved within the Jurassic-age Navajo Sandstone  (roughly one hundred eighty-one hundred ninety million years previous) that’s as much as 2,500 ft (750+ m) thick.

The Navajo Sandstone was deposited over a broad space of the Colorado Plateau and is now properly uncovered in nationwide parks and monuments  similar to Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and quite a few surrounding areas, together with close to right here. Different rock formations such because the Wingate Sandstone and Entrada Sandstone (see determine of Jurassic models) are additionally historic sand dune deposits that present comparable coloration and iron concretions. Nevertheless, the Navajo Sandstone  is particularly distinctive as a result of it shows such a variety of shade (from white to many shades of purple) and accommodates a few of the biggest number of iron concretions discovered anyplace on the planet.


Brett Pelletier Images

Blood of the Dwelling Rocks

What colours the sandstone purple?  The pink shade is brought on by a union of iron and oxygen (an iron oxide) often known as hematite (Fe2Othree), a mineral named from the Greek phrase for blood. Iron is a strong pigment current in lots of sediments and rocks, thus it generally imparts shade to the  rocks. Though purple is the widespread pigment colour, not all iron oxides are purple; some  are brown or yellow (minerals – limonite or goethite), and a few are black (mineral – magnetite). Some iron minerals are metallic yellow (mineral – pyrite consisting of iron sulfide) or inexperienced (minerals – chlorite or clay consisting of iron silicate). Though geologists have lengthy understood that sandstone coloration is a perform of various quantities of iron, it is just lately that scientific research element how this occurs.


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