Don’t open until you arrive
11. Fire and Brimstone
Take a picture!
N 36° 21’ 36.7”
W 113° 12’ 47.5”
A fiery fate awaits.
From County Rd. 5, take BLM Rd. 1044 and follow it as it turns into BLM Rd. 1064. Park at the end of the road leaving enough room for additional vehicles to park and turn around. Requires 1 mile roundtrip way-finding hike with only a faint trail.
Difficulty: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Welcome to the brink of Hell’s Hole! This colorful amphitheater seems almost out of place amongst the ponderosa pine-covered hills around us. As you would expect, a place of such intricate beauty has quite a story behind it.
It began two hundred million years ago, when Arizona was still ocean front property and layers of sediment stacked up on its shores. These weren’t the crystalline shores of a sandy beach, however. At the edge of Arizona’s Triassic sea lay a rich soup of muddy tidal flats, similar to the coast of present day North Carolina. Regular storm events caused massive mudslides to pour down the coast, depositing thick, sticky layers of sediment. In addition to the mud slurries, endless waves tumbled onto shore delivering more sediment and debris. The deposition from this inland sea created the bedrock of the Hell’s Hole amphitheater. Today, geologists call this deep red layer-cake of alternating sand and mud deposits the Moenkopi Formation.
During the following geologic eras, new depositions covered up the layers left behind by the Triassic sea. Fresh ocean sediments piled up on top of the Moenkopi sandstone at thicknesses up to one mile deep! Additionally, the volcanic work of cinder cones and seeps almost put the Triassic secret to rest forever. Creeping lava flows covered the land, including the Hell’s Hole area, with a sturdy basalt cap.
The banded striations of the Moenkopi shale are an artist’s palette of colors alternating between blocks of brick red, thin layers of sea green, and stripes of sunset orange all of which may have remained buried if not for the uplift of the Colorado Plateau. This great movement brought the basalt-covered land out of reach of the oceans so that the new sediments could erode away beneath the basalt. Then, around one million years ago, rumblings beneath the crust caused detachment faulting. A spider web of fault lines radiated out across Hell’s Hole and the surrounding area. At least five small faults traverse Hell’s Hole, making it a geologically weak spot. The crust of basalt weathered away at this compromised junction of deep cracks in the earth.
Agents of erosion could now shape the fantastically-striped Moenkopi sandstone. Tools like water and ice helped create the deep amphitheater. Rain and snow melt rafted away large amounts of sediment, washing them into the lower terrain. In winter, the water that flowed into cracks in the rocks froze and expanded. This process of frost-wedging broke up the layers, making it easy for huge sections of rock to tumble away. Over millions of years, all the dirt and sediments that had engulfed this ancient coastline were brushed away, bringing a deep bowl of orange and red-banded rock into the light.
Today, visitors can enjoy the colorful formations and ancient secrets of Hell’s Hole. The sandstone’s beautiful rust and cream striations tell the story of fifty million years of waves and mud. Pause on a ledge of the amphitheater to admire the handy work of water and ice that whittled the Moenkopi sandstone into an exquisitely eroded collection of swooping fins and pleats. Linger long enough, and you just might hear the memory of bygone waves crashing onto shore.