Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Abajo Mountains

Anyone who has visited Arches or Canyonlands National Parks has surely noticed a cluster of mountains that rises to their south, towering above the dry, heavily dissected landscape of southeast Utah.  Just west of Monticello and north of Blanding, the Abajo Mountains, locally known as The Blues, are relatively gentle, rounded summits and were thus given a name that means "low" in Spanish.

The Abajos formed as intrusions of magma during the Miocene, some 25 million years ago.  As the Colorado Plateau rose during the Miocene-Pliocene Uplift, this laccolith, like the La Sals to its NNE and the Henry Mountains to its northwest, was uncovered as the softer sedimentary rocks in which it was encased eroded away.  Abajo Peak, the summit of this mountain cluster, tops out at 11,362 feet and is accessed by County Road 102 (reached via Forest Road 105, west of Monticello).  Topographically, the Abajos lie between the Colorado River canyon, to their northwest, and the canyon of the San Juan River, to the south; WSW of the Abajo Mountains, these two rivers merge within Lake Powell.

Remote and uncrowded, the Abajos are one of many "sky islands" across the Desert Southwest, offering a cool retreat in summer, spectacular aspen displays in autumn and a winter wonderland during the colder months of the year.  A ski resort once attracted visitors to the Abajo Mountains but has since closed; well prepared and adventurous hikers can thus explore this range in relative solitude, treated to a diverse population of mountain wildlife and to magnificent views across arid canyonlands to distant peaks and mesas.