Found in the canyon country of Utah and Arizona, and also in the canyon country of western Colorado and northwestern New Mexico, slickrock, buffed smooth by water and wind, undulates for miles in rounded waves of varying size. Slickrock plateaus were formed when the desiccation of vast oceans once covering the region left miles of bare sand dunes and seabeds to petrify. Although it is not truly slick or slippery (except perhaps when wet), it was named for the challenges it posed to the metal-shod livestock of early settlers. Later hikers, too, found treacherous passages along the slickrock, including several characters in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang: “They reach the rim of another incipient canyon, a typical slickrock-country gash in the stone, with overhanging walls and inaccessible floor—a cleft too wide to leap, too deep and too precipitous to descend.” Today, particularly near Moab, Utah, thrill-seeking mountain bikers put their faith in the friction their rubber tires create with the red Navajo Sandstone, traversing the miles of free-flowing trails threading the slickrock plateau between Moab and the Colorado River.

Lan Samantha Chang