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Like a rock

by Andrew Kirk, OF THE RECORD STAFF

It’s everywhere from Colorado to California: statues, headstones, fireplaces, walkways, signs, Tom Cruise’s Telluride home, the fence at the Salt Lake City cemetery and on President’s Circle at the University of Utah.

Rock from Brown’s Canyon has been building Utah and the West for over 100 years. The rock in Summit County is harder than most sandstone, and is more colorful, but like other types, it splits easily into slabs making it perfect for landscaping and building, explained geologist Roger Bon with the Utah Geological Survey.

In pioneer times, sandstone from Quarry Mountain supplied builders in Salt Lake and Summit Counties. During the construction boom of the 1990s, an outcropping of the rock was identified in Brown’s Canyon and four businesses opened to provide boulders, blocks, slabs and gravel.

The three companies left, BMW Stone Inc. of Coalville, Rock Products of Utah and Mountain Valley Stone of Heber, have been quarrying in the canyon for almost 20 years.

"I have some at my house," Bon said. "It’s good for landscaping. It’s durable and it has good coloration."

The sandstone in the canyon was cemented by silica, Bon explained, which makes it harder and more resistant to water and weather than that cemented by carbonate in other places.

The color comes from what’s on the surface, said Develon Wurth, owner of Rock Products of Utah. Iron will, of course, stain rock red, but after water runs over certain vegetation and then seeps down into the soil, it will stain and marble the rock different colors depending upon the vegetation.

Each of the three quarries is mining a different vein of the outcropping and is getting different colors and density of stone.

"I can walk through Park City and tell you what quarry the rock came from," said Trenna Hiller of BMW Stone.

Local demand began when the stone from Salt Lake was used in walls which had begun to crack and crumble over the years, Wurth explained. Even though dense sandstone is found all over Utah, the close proximity of Brown Canyon made it the ideal supplier.

The color and strength has attracted buyers from all over the West. About 90 percent of BMW’s product is trucked out of state. There’s even an artist in southern California who sculpts with it impossible on softer stone.

The color is also making it popular for interiors as rough tiles and for fireplaces. A new resin coating is even making the stone suitable for countertops. New technology that can engrave and paint on the stone is responsible for the trend of using sandstone for exterior signs and markers even headstones, Hiller said.

When the businesses first opened, all pretty much had the same stone, Wurth said. As they’ve dug deeper, the color and quality began to differ, which has been good for all three.

But the boom may not last forever. The deeper the quarries go, the lighter the stone gets, Wurth said. Because the color comes from staining, the deeper stone is light, like that in Arizona.

White sandstone is found in abundance in Arizona, which is closer to construction booms in Las Vegas and California.

Hiller said she’s watching an experiment in Las Vegas to paint the white stone from Arizona to use on walls for a golf course. If that succeeds, the Utah stone may not be in such high demand, but it may open up a new market of "junk stone" to be used as raw material.

Unlike the silver of years ago, the sandstone is deposited in fairly flat dimensions making it easy to mine, Bon said. But as it gets used up and companies go looking for more, there may come a time when the overburden the rock and dirt on top is too much to remove economically.

Until then, the companies continue ship stone all over Utah and the West.


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