Goosenecks State Park

What are the Goosenecks?

The Goosenecks of the San Juan River are a series of tight loops-- or “goosenecks”—made by the river as it flows towards the Colorado River.  Geologists refer to these loops as entrenched or incised meanders.  This state park has an easily accessible viewpoint above the river offering spectacular views of the goosenecks below. The San Juan River has carved a 1,000 foot (300 m) deep gorge here.  Over a distance of 1.5 miles “as the crow flies”, the San Juan River flows more than 6 miles through the loops of the goosenecks.

How Were the Goosenecks Formed?

When a river flows across a flat surface, the water tends to migrate sideways.  If the flat surface is lifted up, the river responds by cutting into soft sandstone layers on the surface, and then cutting deeper and deeper into older and more resistant underlying bedrock.  Millions of years ago, the Monument Upwarp provided such an uplift forcing the river to carve entrenched meanders as the surrounding landscape slowly rose in elevation.  Eroded by water, wind, frost, and gravity, the Goosenecks of the San Juan often appear in geology textbooks as a classic location for observing entrenched or incised meanders.

Geologists Love the Goosenecks

The canyon walls reveal the 300-million-year old rocks of the Pennsylvanian period.  Near the Goosenecks State Park is the Honaker Trail which leads from the river to the top of the canyon.  It was along this historic trail that early detailed studies were done on the Pennsylvanian period limestone, and is known as the “type locality” for the Honaker Trail Formation, a rock layer laid down in the Pennsylvanian period. Under the Honaker Trail Formation lies the Paradox Formation.  Geologists flock to this site for education because the Gooosenecks provide a very accessible place to study the Paradox Formation.  Geologists are interested in the Paradox Formation layer because rich amounts of oil have been found in this layer of rock in other areas.

Services and Directions

The Goosenecks State Park offers picnic areas, primitive camping, vault toilets, and an observation shelter.  The Goosenecks State Park is approximately 25 miles west of Bluff.  Drive west from Bluff on US 163 for 20 miles, then turn north on UT-261.  Turn left at the sign for Goosenecks State Park (UT-316).
Sources
Hopkins Ralph Lee.  Hiking the Southwest’s Geology; Four Corners Region.
Morris, Thomas H, Ritter Scott M, Laycock Dallin P.  Geology Unfolded.  An illustrated Guide to the Geology of Utah’s National Parks.