This composite shot of the Cosmic Navel, in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is almost 200 feet wide, with the rock in the middle rising 33 feet above the indentation.

Image credit: Cosmic Navel by John Fowler/flickr/CC BY 2.0

Photographer John Fowler, who took this shot, lists its other monikers: Cosmic Ashtray, Red Breaks Volcano, or Islomania Dome. As for how he took this shot, Fowler explains:

After about 500 feet of climb, I arrived at the location. The formation is much bigger than it looks in the photo. The central rock rises about 40 feet above the smooth layer of orange sand. To get this shot, I stitched together 13 images using the widest-angle (24mm) setting on my Sony RX-100 III camera. On the far wall there is a set of Moki steps that might be useful if one were to fall in.

The formation is hard to photograph in direct sunlight because part of it will always be in shadow and part in bright light. I hung around until sunset to get this shot. In the fading light I hurried down the steep slick rock before it became too dark to see. The moon was a tiny crescent in the western sky.

The formation may be as many as 216,000 years old. John Bartley, chair of the geology and geophysics department at the University of Utah, told Smithsonian Magazine how these sorts of formations are created:

“This landform … was almost certainly produced by erosion by a meandering river, probably deepened somewhat by later wind erosion,” Bartley says. “Compare it to the goosenecks of the San Juan River. Imagine what would the result would be if the ridge in the middle of one of the loops were breached—what is now a ridge would become a central peak isolated by river erosion.”


Contact the author at katharine@io9.com.