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Underneath Utah: The Ancient Lake of Cedar Breaks

CEDAR BREAKS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Utah (ABC4 - Utah) Good 4 Utah is celebrating Utah’s diverse and unique geologic history this summer. Kylie Bearse and photographer Gus Seashore are traveling to Utah’s famous landmarks, and a few spots you may not have known about, to learn more about our state’s geology.

CEDAR BREAKS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Utah (ABC4 - Utah) Good 4 Utah is celebrating Utah’s diverse and unique geologic history this summer. Kylie Bearse and photographer Gus Seashore are traveling to Utah’s famous landmarks, and a few spots you may not have known about, to learn more about our state’s geology.

If you were to stand overlooking Cedar Breaks National Monument millions of years ago, you'd have to standing on a boat.

60 million years ago Cedar Breaks was a lake. While these historic lakes were all across Utah, it takes a very specific climate to make the unique features that make up the monument.

Cedar Breaks’ formations go back millions of years to giant lakes across Utah.

“Cedar Breaks and Bryce, this Clairon formation, were all deposited in lakes, large lakes,” said Weaver. “These lakes were as big as the great lakes. They were in these big basins that stretched from here, this is the southern extent of Utah, and they went all the way up, there were even lakes in the Uinta Basin.”

As the lake filled with sediment, it created the rocks still in the monument today.

But then, the climate changed.

“Within a 20 million year period, all the remnants of the lakes were completely gone,” said Weaver.

The area was uplifted and the water started to drain from the area.

“After that point, all the area uplifted, and as the area uplifted you had all the ground water flow out of the basin,” said Weaver. “And the Colorado River system started to erode.”

“It's so unique there just aren't a lot of other places on earth that you see this type of colors, these types of formations especially the towers,” said Weaver.

The towers, or hoodoos, are unique to this area.

“You have different joint systems and the joint systems kind of make a square pattern you could say, in the rock,” said Weaver.

Water filters through that “checkerboard” of joint systems, eroding around the towers. It takes the right amount of water and a climate that gets hot and cold.

“The freeze-thaw cycles hollow out the joints,” said Weaver. “And as the joints get hollowed out you're left with these towers of rocks that make Cedar Breaks & Bryce Canyon so scenic.”

A quick walk around the rim will bring you to the oldest tree in the park. The Bristol Cone Pine is 1678 years old.

“It's so pretty, the colors are just so fantastic,” said Lance Weaver, a geologist with the Utah Geological Survey. “You've got these massive expanses where the rock is the story.”

The spectacular colors are simply different states of iron rust.

As the iron oxidizes or rusts, there's all these different of reds and browns and all the hues are different levels of rust,” said Weaver.

Geologists say Cedar Breaks is eroding about four feet every 100 years, but in 2007 eight feet broke off where the viewing point used to be. 

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