Desert Varnish in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by Tom Dempsey
Desert varnish streaks canyon walls along Lower Calf Creek Falls trail in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA. Manganese-rich desert varnish requires thousands of years to coat a rock face that is protected from precipitation and wind erosion. The varnish likely originates from airborne dust and external surface runoff, including: clay minerals, oxides and hydroxides of manganese (Mn) and/or iron (Fe), sand grains, trace elements, and usually organic matter. Streaks of black varnish often occur where water cascades over cliffs, but wind doesn’t sculpt its shape. Varnish color varies from shades of brown to black. Manganese-poor, iron-rich varnishes are red to orange, and intermediate concentrations are shaded brown. Manganese-oxidizing microbes may explain the unusually high concentration of manganese in black desert varnish, which can be smooth and shiny where densest.
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