Talking Rocks Geology Tours 2017

Talking Rocks Northwest 2017, Late Summer or Early Fall

I’m looking to put together a road trip in late summer or early fall. If you think you might be interested, let me know. I might do just three days instead of a full week like we do in the spring.

Talking Rocks Southwest (Wild Tour). May 28- June 4, 2017

Seven days of intense, pleasurable engagement with the rocks in the neighborhood of Zion National Park under the tutelage of Gerry Bryant, Ph.D. . Dinosaur tracks. Modern, living sand dunes. Ancient fossil dunes. Research sites. Magnificent vistas. Sleep in tents or under the stars. Share meals in camp and conversation around campfires. $600 includes everything–food, lodging, entrance fees, professional guide, local transportation.

Talking Rocks Southwest (Mystic Tour). Date still in flux.

Five days of leisurely engagement with the desert in the neighborhood of Death Valley or Grand Canyon–depending on weather. Hiking. Photography. Geology. Morning meditation. Shared meals in camp and conversation under the stars. Sleep in tents or under the sky. $300 (tentative) includes everything–food, lodging, entrance fees, local transportation.

Talking Rocks Northwest. Dates still open. Sometime in  July or August, 2017

Five days of intense engagement with the rocks in Oregon under the tutelage of a geology professor from the University of Oregon. Crater Lake. Lava. Volcanoes. Ice age lakes. Basin and range geology. John Day Fossil Beds. Miles of sweeping, magnificent vistas. Shared meals in camp and conversation around the campfire. Sleep under the stars. Price (still to be determined) includes everything–food, lodging, entrance fees, local transportation, professional guide.

For more info contact John McLarty

jtmclarty@gmail.com, 253-350-1211

 

Big and Small: Sabbath and Deep Time

Big and Small: Sabbath and Deep Time

June 2016

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On a Friday afternoon, I was sitting in a remote desert valley. Twelve miles west, the Inyo Mountains soared upward, a stark, sheer ten thousand foot wall cutting the sky. A geologist from the next camp site had joined me and we sat staring at the rocky face across the valley. We talked about the movement of mountains and the depth of geologic time. He waxed philosophical. What did I think about the scientific search for extra terrestrial life? How did I process our tiny place in the universe? He talked of how unsettling it was for him to confront the span of “deep time.” Billions of years—where did that leave us? How could we matter? Our lives are invisible specks against the sweep of the eons. How did a person hang onto his humanity when confronting this immensity?

I responded with a couple of stories of my own encounters with ineffable power. I remembered body surfing in my teens, the sheer exhilaration of riding a wave, especially a big one. Even now, when I close my eyes and look back I can recall—and almost feel in my bones—the magic of flying down the surface of a wave as it pushed toward the beach.

Sometimes a wave would grab me, snatch me off its surface and into its mountainous bulk, and then tumble me. I think the surfer term is getting “washing machined.” Those moments were terrifying, naturally. I didn’t know what the wave was going to do with me. I didn’t know how long it would hold me, when and where it would let me go. In those moments I knew my smallness. Still, I returned to it over and over, because in addition to knowing my smallness, I felt something else, too. As the wave was having its way with me, I became a part of the life of the wave. I knew myself as a piece of this thundering mountain of water. I had been transformed into an essential ingredient of the awesome power that held me. The space between my smallness and the immensity of the wave was not a measure of my insignificance, but a measure of the enormity of my community.

For millennia, devout thinkers in different religious traditions have lived with a deep knowledge of both our smallness and our bigness. A classic expression of this awareness in the Bible is this passage from the prophet Isaiah:

“To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One. Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing. . . . Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Isaiah 40:25-29

Our awareness of God confronts us with the fact of deep time–billions and billions of years–eternity. Our faith affirms our own significance in that sweeping vastness. In meditation we practice knowing that our present life is a speck, a miniscule bit, against the largeness of creation and the eternity of God AND that each of us is an essential, treasured speck. The words and music of Christian worship and prayers rehearse both the eternity of God and the glory of our place in it.

The speck of reality comprised by an individual human is an essential element of the largeness of God. We are part of the life of God. The Bible pictures God turning his attention our direction with an intensity out of all proportion to the space we occupy on a galactic map or cosmic calendar. God loves us so much he would rather die than live without us. God is like parents who find meaning through the life and well-being of their children, the artist who lives in her art, the shepherd who can rest only when the sheep are safely home, the lover whose affection is so insistent jealousy is the most apt description of its fire. Just as the wave, having engulfed me was then dependent on my presence for the fullness of its new identity, so God is no longer independent. Our tiny lives and the immense life of God are intertwined. Tumbled, sometimes terrified, still we are swept up in the grandeur of God. We ourselves—not just the rocks and galaxies—are part of “deep time,” part of the sweep of eternity.

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I went to bed early that Friday night after visiting with my geologist neighbor. It had been a good conversation, a pleasant exploration of the deep questions that naturally arise in easy conversation in wide spaces. Sometime after midnight I woke. I was sleeping on the ground under the sky, so when I opened my eyes, the night beckoned. A gibbous moon washed the sandy landscape with ethereal light. Stars poked pinpricks of light through the gauzy glow thrown across the sky by the moon. The air was warm. I pulled on my shoes, and went for a walk.

Every step was more enchanting than the last. My bare skin luxuriated in the warmth radiating up from the ground, still alive from the day’s heat. The sandy track seemed to possess an internal light it was so luminous. Walking and savoring the exquisite beauty of the night, I wished all my friends could be there with me. I wished all the angry people and anxious people and those hounded by poverty and disability could be there at least for a little while to taste the glory of the night. I was euphoric, nearly breathless with the wonder. For an hour and a half I walked, engulfed in the glory of the cosmos. I kept company with the stars and the ten-thousand foot bulk of the Inyo Mountains looming in the moonlight. I was caught up in the sweeping surf of the universe. I was a tiny speck in communion with the immensity. And it was good.

A perfect Sabbath.

Talking Rocks Tours

We study rocks, of course.

On some of our tours we run trails, ten to twenty miles a day.

On some of our tours we take a meditative approach. Slow, leisurely departures. Desultory walks savoring the glory of places and the company of people.

We are even working on a tour that allows people to stay in motels and “do the outdoors” only during the day.

On all of our tours, there is rich conversation and laughter. Under the stars, over lunch, while washing dishes, around the campfire.

 

Adventist and Scientist

In a recent Facebook conversation with a minister, I made the point that nearly all Adventists who attend Adventist schools through college and then go on to complete a Ph.D. in biology or the earth sciences reject a short geochronology–whether that is a chronology of all matter or of just the phanerozoic rocks.

In response the minister said he didn’t see why a Christian would study biology or geology since it is a known fact that those sciences undermine belief in the literal historicity of Genesis 1-9.

The conversation between us was courteous and respectful throughout, but once I clearly understood his idea that certain sciences should be precluded from Christian study, I realized there was no point in talking further. I value science as a tool for investigating the world–even when the truth it reveals corrects my understanding of the Bible. He believes that science is a useful tool for investigation the world only if the truth it reveals agrees with what we already know from the Bible.

I do not know how to bridge that chasm.

 

Dinosaur Track, Valley of Fire

Yesterday morning I went looking for a set of dinosaur tracks I photographed last year.

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(Actually, I don’t know what kind of animal it was, but it was contemporaneous with dinosaurs.) My camera had recorded the GPS coordinates. However, I was unable to find it this year.

But while looking for the tracks pictured above, I spotted another track way made by a larger animal. A real dinosaur, this time, I think. (You might need to play with the angle of your screen to see it clearly.) Note the rings around the heel. This is characteristic of the deformation caused by a foot stepping in moist sand.

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Most likely, the print we are seeing does not include the top layers of the original track. Those layers are missing and what we are seeing is the print made in layers below the surface as the pressure was transmitted down.

The Navajo Sandstone is full of animal tracks. These were not dead animals washed together into a heap by a flood or The Flood. They were living animals running around.

 

The pictures were taken in Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. The official name of the sandstone here is the Aztec Sandstone, but it is now recognized as an extension of the Navajo.

 

 

 

The Bible and Geology (and science in general)

Yesterday, I preached a sermon that addressed the role of secular knowledge.

The video is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5xhSyrb-GY

Sermon at Green Lake Church, June 17, 2017

I also wrote a manuscript, but in this case, I think the spoken sermon is far more pointed and captures what I was intending to say, than the written sermon. In short: I referenced the Bible’s description of Solomon’s wisdom for which he is so celebrated. His wisdom was entirely secular. First, it was knowledge of the natural world–what we would call science (1 Kings 4:29). Second it was political or judicial (1 Kings 3:16). Kings in the region sent ambassadors to “go to school” under Solomon. The ambassadors were not coming for sermons. They were coming for lessons in natural science and political science. Once in Jerusalem they would be exposed to the spiritual treasures of Israel, but they came because of Solomon’s secular knowledge–knowledge that could be validated or falsified by direct experience.

Today, we who are believers can hope to gain a hearing among nonbelievers if we demonstrate solid competence in areas of secular knowledge.  When we demonstrate incompetence in areas of secular knowledge, we undermine our overall credibility. Why would someone listen to us speak about God, the highest of all truth claims, if we demonstrate stubborn resistance to truth in areas open to investigation and direct observation.

This is where we stand as a church in regard to our current “Adventist geology.” Adventist geology is demonstrably false. Noah’s Flood did not create the Phanerozoic portion of the geologic column. (“Phanerozoic” refers to the portion of the geologic column in which fossils are abundant.)

Noah’s Ark in the Navajo

The picture below was sent to me by Tom Anderson, one of the participants in our 2017 Talking Rocks Tour. He noted that he had been so preoccupied with looking for dinosaur tracks that he failed to see the obvious feature on the sky line. It was only after he arrived home and was reviewing his photos that he realized he had a picture of Noah’s Ark.  Hope you can join us for the next tour, this fall or next spring. Who knows what we might find.  🙂

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Stories within Stories (and mysteries aplenty)

I came across this rock east of Austin, Nevada.

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I don’t recall ever seeing anything just like it. This was at a small quarry and the material appeared to be useful for fill or maybe road surfacing. My first impression was this was fossiliferous limestone. However, when I looked closely, the features that I imagined to be shell fragments gave no evidence of being shells. Instead, they appeared to be shards of limestone in a matrix of gritty limestone. The outcrop was a limestone breccia. (I spent a little while scouring the area looking for fossils. I did not find any fossils.)

There is a story here. My read: Limey mud was deposited. This requires still water, not flowing water. The mud was exposed to air and through evaporation began hardening into limestone–a process that would work its way from the surface downward. After the surface (millimeters to a centimeter) hardened, a flood shattered the surface and swept the mixture of limey mud and limestone shards together into another slack water area where the material settled. Again, it was exposed to air and through evaporation began again the process of turning into the rock we see today.

Polemic Note: When Sean Pittman writes that the carbonate interdune deposits (these are limestones containing varying proportions of sand) form by “settling” from the waters of the flood he is ignoring the limey breccias that are sometimes found on these interdune deposits. These breccias are evaporite deposits–skins of hard carbonate that formed over soft mud, skins that there then broken up by wind action and pushed to the lee side of the interdune surface where they resumed their drying and hardening. This is not readily reconciled with Flood geology.

One Limit on Bias in Geology–Money

It’s important to realize that geology is not purely theoretical. Because of the centrality of historical interpretation to the practice of geology, we might be tempted to think that geology is as susceptible to bias as political history. However, geology has multiple checks on the power of bias. One of those checks is mining. Mining puts geological theory to the rude and ruthless test of money. Is this mine worth the investment? When the hole is dug and the ore is assayed, the theory turns into hard, cold fact–you make money or don’t. Either way, the mine might become a photo shoot.

IMG_20170604_183728  This structure is the head of a tram that carried ore from mines on Treasure Hill above Pioche, Nevada, to a mill down in the valley. In 1928 it cost 6 cents a ton to deliver a ton of ore to the mill via this aerial tram.

Geology, not mere opinion

 

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One of the nice things about geology is you can see it. Your first or second interpretation may need to be modified after further investigation, but concrete, tangible reality exists, and we can return to it repeatedly for more information. In geology, opinions frequently can be corrected by facts, facts that can be verified or falsified by direct observation. This high regard for concrete, tangible reality–stuff you can see and touch–is central in our Talking Rocks Tours.

The picture is of Basin and Range country in central Nevada.

Tracks in the Navajo

I camped for a couple of nights at the top of Hog Canyon Road outside Kanab, Utah, to do some geological prospecting.

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Specifically, I was looking for protosuchus burrows. (This animal was an ancient version of crocodile.) I found some anomalous structures in the sandstone that might be burrows, but nothing with the kind of definition I was hoping for.

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However, I noticed the sand around my camp was covered with tracks made by bugs and lizards.

Then up on the outcrop where I was prospecting, I found this rock with tracks reminiscent of the tracks in the sand.

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Not exactly dinosaur tracks, but still pretty cool.

These tracks in the Navajo Sandstone tell us that when these sand dunes were created, there were living animals present running around on them. The animals in this ancient neighborhood ranged in size from worms to the size of horses judging from the tracks they left. (I mention horses only for size comparison. There are no modern mammal tracks in the Navajo.)