California Desert Reveals Ancient Mystery

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Painted Gorge and Fossil Canyon have preserved 50-million years of geologic history. Located in the Imperial County desert near Ocotillo, California, the gorge was formed by layers upon layers of sedimentary rocks.

Eons ago, the Imperial Valley was covered by an ancient lake. Geologists refer to it as a “rift” valley because it sits atop a break in the tectonic plate. The earth’s crust is very thin here. Consequently, the region is a goldmine of geothermal energy.

The gorge was formed over time by natural forces such as erosion and volcanic disturbance. It lies at the southern end of the San Andreas Fault Zone.

As the sun passes over, rock formations reflect a kaleidoscope of color. Look carefully and you will see fossilized oyster shells embedded within the sediment.

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In the early 1900’s, geologists made an amazing discovery. Fossilized Atlantic coral was found in the canyon walls of Painted Gorge. How was coral from the Atlantic Ocean deposited in an ancient lakebed in Southern California’s desert?

Millions of years ago, a waterway through Central America connected the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Currents transported the coral from east to west, then north via the Gulf of California.

The gulf (or Sea of Cortés) was interconnected with the lower Colorado River and Lake Cahuilla — the ancient lake that once covered the Coachella Valley, Imperial Valley and northern Mexico.

The region was a hot, dry desert when Juan Bautista de Anza arrived in 1774. Named after the Spanish explorer, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park sits at the crossroads of the Mojave and Colorado deserts. (Borrego is Spanish for the Bighorn Sheep that roam the local mountains.)

The Painted Gorge is a bucket-list challenge that attracts hikers from around the world. It is dry, rugged, hostile (rattlesnakes), remote and brutally hot.

– Images presented under Fair Use for non-monetary presentation –

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Shell Reef — Desert USA
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Clam shell — Anza-Borrego Desert Paleontology Society
Bighorn — Desert USA

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