MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–At first glance this rocky outcrop in the middle of Makhtesh Ramon appears to be a typical columnar-jointed basalt. We’ve seen this many times on our blog (for example here and here). However, these rocks are entirely a quartzose sandstone. They have the typical polygonal joints of a cooled lava flow, but the rock is an unmetamorphosed sedimentary unit. This remarkable site is known as “the carpentry” (Haminsara) in the park.
How did these joints form? It is not from the sandstone melting and then cooling, like you’ll see in some places on Wikipedia. (And some people think this is basalt, which is a good reason for more interpretive signs in this place.) Likely it was a hydrothermal process by which superheated water from nearby intrusions warmed up the sandstone until it expanded a bit, and then it cracked along these joints during cooling. The sandstone was never heated to temperatures that would turn it into quartzite, much less liquid. Columnar-jointed sandstone is rare but not unique, as you can see here and here.
This was the first stop for the Wooster Geologists in Israel today as we explored parts of Makhtesh Ramon to follow up on various small projects.