Talking Rocks 2019 Spring Tour, May 5-12. Fall tour, October 27 – November 3, 2019

For the latest information go to the Talking Rocks website



Seven days exploring the geology and scenery of southwest Utah and environs. Sleeping in tents or under the stars. Studying geology and paleontology with Gerry Bryant of the Colorado Plateau Institute and Stephen Rowland of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Eating incredibly delicious food prepared by Robert Johnston. Mulling the great questions of beauty and justice, purpose and theology, humanity and truth, in conversations facilitated by John McLarty.

May 5-12, 2019

Cost: $800

For reservations or info contact

John McLarty


Talking Rocks Tours 2018

Our first tour will be April 15-22, 2018. The second will be April 29-May 6.

Highlights: Snow Canyon petroglyphs, Bryce Canyon, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur Trackway, Buckskin Gulch, and Grand Canyon. Both tours will include instruction by Gerry Bryant, Ph. D., director of the Colorado Plateau Institute. Dr. Bryant is a geologist whose specialty is the Navajo Sandstone.

The first tour will emphasize hiking, featuring two hikes of 20+ miles. (With shorter options available.) The second tour will use the same campground itinerary, but the featured hiking will be shorter, five or six miles max with more time for campfire and conversation in the evenings. Cost for either tour is $600.  This covers everything, entrance fees, food, professional fee for our geologist, and local transportation. A reservation requires a deposit of $300. A check can be mailed to 43408 236th Ave SE, Enumclaw, WA  98022 or you can pay through Google Wallet. Up through the end of March, the deposit is fully refundable. Cancellation after the end of March, the refund will be $150.

Our adventure begins in St. George, UT, and ends in Las Vegas. For detailed itineraries click on the respective links to the right. The Feet and Miles Tour is the the first one featuring long hikes. The Sunshine and Campfire tour is the second tour which is less intense physically.

Any questions, feel free to contact me through email or by phone. or 253-350-1211.


Ash Meadows, Nevada

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, 253-350-1211


Big and Small: Sabbath and Deep Time

Big and Small: Sabbath and Deep Time

June 2016


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.


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 2019 more details

Our tour begins Sunday evening, May 5, in Snow Canyon State Park just outside St. George, Utah, and ends Sunday morning, May 12, in Valley of Fire State Park.

Those arriving by car join us at the campground. Those arriving by air usually fly into Las Vegas and get a shuttle to St George.

The cost is $800. This includes everything for the week–entrance fees, food, honoraria for our instructors, local transportation.

Scholarships are available for students and there are discounts for church employees and returning participants.

Participants are expected to bring their own sleeping gear and tent. However, limited equipment is available for borrowing.

The longest hike that is integral to the geology instruction is about five miles. There will be some longer options for those eager to stretch their legs. (Or maybe a second trip that will feature more hiking and less geology.)

To get on the list for updates or more information contact John McLarty.

253-350-1211 Put “Talking Rocks 2019” in the subject line.

Listening to the Rocks

Right now, I find it soothing to give my attention to the stories rocks tell. The stories include cataclysm and decay–eruptions and lahars in the South Cascades, massive talus aprons where granite mountains are falling to pieces right in front of my eyes in the North Cascades. But these ancient dramas do not twist my gut in knots like the lurching toward Armageddon I see in the nation and in my denomination. So I spend as much time as possible with the rocks.

Hope you can join us for Talking Rocks 2019.

Two Homes



My city. I take intense pleasure in my sojourns in wilderness. I have favorites among the visions available in dark skies–the star, Vega, in the late summer sky whispers to me still of August camping trips with cousins fifty years ago when I first learned to trace the constellation of Lyra and its neighbor, Cygnus the swan flying across the diaphanous Milky Way. Scorpio, full above the southern horizon when I open my eyes at midnight on my cot in Saline Valley in May. And the dazzling collection of winter constellations–Orion, the Big Dipper, Gemini, Auriga, and Taurus. All wilderness companions. There is a special pleasure on the ridge lines of the Norse Peak Wilderness in winter when snow is on the ground and fog is in the air and occasional shafts of sun transform the trees into wizards and temples and fairy lands. Yes, I love the wilderness. And I love my city–the dizzying metropolis, a kaleidoscope of humanity, successful and tortured, famous and obscure, green-haired and pierced, scarved and demur in clothes that speak of North Africa or Amish country. I’m at home in the wilderness, in the quiet and dark and wild. And I’m home here, too. Surrounded by lights and noise and technology. Two homes.

Talking Rocks 2018, First Tour

We had two tours in 2018. The itineraries were most the same. Extras for the second tour included Bryce Canyon, Kodachrome Basin, and the Overlook Trail. Below are photos from the first tour.


Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur Track Site. One of the highlights of the trip. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dinosaur tracks here. Gerry Bryant, on his elbow in the center of the photo, is explaining the relationship of the tracks to the structure of the underlying sandstone layers.


In the above photo, you can see two tracks. Track sizes at this location range from more than 12 inches long to less than two inches long. Quite a variety of animals. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve noticed some new feature that poses new questions or offers new insight.


We examine sandstone–the remains of ancient dunes–and living dunes being moved and sculpted by today’s wind and rain. Curiously, the dunes in this picture are comprised of sand eroded from sandstone which was the fossilized remains of ancient dunes. Gerry is on his knees begging us to understand.  🙂


We went earlier this year than usual and the weather was colder than normal. We had snow on the vehicles when we woke up. We were glad for the shelter over the kitchen table. The food was good even if the weather wasn’t.


This was our welcome to Grand Canyon. Fortunately, an hour later the skies cleared and we had sun for the weekend. But all our cold weather clothes were justified. With me are Robert Johnston, the chef on our first tour, and his wife Kathy. I’m going to start charging extra for the tours that feature Robert’s cooking. He’s incredible!

2018 - Geo Tour (438) Coral Pink Sand Dunes

This rock is central to the geological story of the Navajo Sandstone. It is not sandstone. It is a carbonate, a rock formed by evaporation in shallow ponds and lakes that occupied the hollows or troughs between dunes in the ancient environment. These ponds lasted long enough for large amounts of carbonate to precipitate. In places these carbonate deposits are more than two feet thick, indicating that the dunes were fairly stable for long periods of time. In the neighborhood of these ponds the dunes are littered with animal tracks and signs of vegetation, indicating that these ponds were, in fact, vital elements in the ancient living ecosystem. (In contrast, if Noah’s Flood had created this formation, we would expect to find a jumbled mess of dead things not this kind of coherent life assemblage.)


John Anholm (in the water) and Sheen Bergeron navigating a tricky part of Buckskin Gulch. Half our group braved the frigid water and shoe-sucking muck to travel about five miles into Buckskin Gulch. Last year, when conditions were warmer and dryer, the bravest in our group did a 21 mile through-hike of the Gulch.




The members of the first tour of 2018 (Except Gerry who had other duties for the last half of the week) left to right, back row: David Grellman, Robert Johnston, Jim Hayward. Middle row: John Anholm, John McLarty, Karin McLarty, Ken Schander, Bryan Harris, Brianna Payne. Front row: Tom Anderson, Debbie Lilly, Kevin Lilly, Kathy Johnston, Sheen Bergeron.

Ichnofossils in the Navajo Sandstone, Kabab area

The following pictures are from around a butte (HCB) at the top of Hog Canyon Road and from a complex of interdune deposits NW of the intersection Hwy 89 and Angel Canyon Road (ACR). The ACR area appears to me to hold the potential for discovery of many more tracks. The photos were taken in May 2017.

Tiny tracks on water-rippled sandstone. Swimming tracks? Hog Canyon Butte (HCB) Specimen in my possession. Photo ID: HCB 1


Bioturbation. HCB 2. Specimen in my possession.
Burrow? I wonder if it could be a modern creation because of its location on a fracture. Perhaps this feature was formed by a modern root infiltrating along a fracture in the rock before the outer block fell away. HCB 3
IMG_20170523_084841 (1)
Burrow. If this is, indeed, a burrow, it would be my most exciting find so far. I have not determined definitively whether this is biogenic or not. HCB 4
Have no idea what this is. HCB 6




Another bit of evidence of surface water. This block was near the one pictured in HCB 7.  There were several blocks in this vicinity showing obvious water ripples. HCB 8

Angel Canyon Road

The photos below were taken near the intersection of Angel Canyon Road and Hwy 89 near Kanab, UT. Visible from the intersection are multiple exposures of interdune deposits stacked one above the other on both sides of the highway. I figured it would be good track prospecting. I was pointed to the site by Gerald Bryant of the Colorado Plateau Institute.


Rhizocast 1? Angel Canyon Road (ACR 1)


Rhizocast 2. ACR 2.
Burrow. ACR 3.


Track. ACR 4.


Track. ACR 5.
Tracks. ACR 6.
Track, early mammal? ACR 7.
Track. ACR 8
Track. ACR 9


Therapod track ACR 10


Ichno Fossils of the Navajo Sandstone, Valley of Fire State Park

Posted April 28, 2018.

In May, 2016, Talking Rocks Tours visited Valley of Fire State Park outside Las Vegas. We were there to examine a massive overthrust, paleozoic rocks pushed up and over the Jurassic Aztec Sandstone (an extension of the Navajo Sandstone formation). Our geologist, Gerry Bryant hiked us out to a good exposure of the overthrust, pausing along the way to examine some petrified logs. The next morning before the rest of camp was up and about, I was clambering about on the rocks near Atlatl Rock and found this track way.

IMG_20160509_071036 (2)
Valley of Fire tracks. VF 1

The next year, 2017, I returned to Valley of Fire and searched for this trackway, but could not find it. Instead, I found this.


Boulder with tracks on two levels. VF 2

A three-print trackway on the boulder in the center. Below is a close up of the middle print.

VF 3

I returned in April, 2018, with my wife, Karin, and again looked for the original trackway that drew me to this site. Again I was unable to find it. But we found multiple other tracks. For example on the large block above, there is a six or seven print trackway on a layer about half a meter (stratigraphically) below the trackway pictured. The block has split several inches along a bedding plane so one can trace the trackway on the hidden surface.


Two different animals. Ichno species unknown to me. The tiny tracks also show up on surfaces exhibiting therapod tracks.

Tiny tracks with some larger tracks. VF 4

Stephen Rowland, of UNLV, examined the tracks above on May 7, 2018. He said the little animal is known from other Navajo SS track sites in Nevada, but not further east in Utah. These may be the best exemplars of this track known to date. I wonder if continued research will confirm that the range of these little animals was limited to the western (using current geography) edge of the Navajo Erg. If so, what else would this indicate about the paleo environment.

Curious tracks, total length about three inches, if I remember right. VF 5



  1. Most of the tracks are on fallen blocks (allochthonous). But they appear to have come from very close at hand. And some of the tracks are on in situ material.
  2. All of the tracks appear to be above a laterally extensive zone of deformation. For example, the layers below the tiny prints appear to have had much of their structure effaced by fluidization for a depth of approximately 3 meters. This alteration of the original dune structure is visible on the side of the block.

The most dramatic example of track/soft sediment deformation interaction is below. This appears to me to be tracks of a therapod and the Track 2 animal (above) on a soupy surface. (Soupy–now there’s a scientific term for you.) My interpretation of this surface is subject to review by Gerry Bryant who is famous for correcting my theories and by Stephen Rowland. (Update: Rowland found these “tracks” highly dubious.)


The saturated, disturbed surface that appears to be the lower limit for any tracks. All tracks that I found were formed in or above this layer. VF 6


The photo below raises questions about dune structure and alteration. The wavy lines appear to run perpendicular to the dip of the original dune face. The structure they express is a very thin layer perhaps only two or three grains thick. I observed the same phenomenon in the Coconino Sandstone in the neighborhood of the tracks along the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon. I think the wavy lines are created by the surface moving as a unit above the underlying (and undisturbed) layer. Does this happen because the surface layer somehow gets saturated with water and develops a consistency very different from the substrate? Does this happen because this is an avalanche layer and is fluffy with air?


Wavy lines perpendicular to the apparent original dip of the dune slope. Similar in appearance to features in the Coconino SS along the Hermit Trail in Grand Canyon in the neighborhood of the tracks there. VF 7.

The photo below is just meant to tantalize you and get you out of your chair to go prospecting for tracks. It is a single track about half mile north of the track area near Atlatl Rock. In the neighborhood, I found a few other isolated tracks and the predictable evidence of interdune wetlands. Not enough to call it a site, but enough to hint that there are lots more tracks in Valley of Fire waiting for dinosaur hunters.

Isolated therapod track half mile north of Atlatl Rock. VF 8.








Basin and Range, Great Waves of Stone

HIMG_20170604_212625ere’s how we tell our story: 6000 years ago God created Adam and Eve and the garden and the animals and plants and sky and ground and sun and moon and stars. This was the creation of the entire cosmos–everything. (The word “universe” had not yet been invented.) Adam and Eve messed up. Life became hard. But God promised to birth another Adam who would fix our world and inaugurate a Messianic age when everything will be lovely. This is how our story has been told for 2,000 years. If you had asked Jesus whether Genesis One referred to the creation on Earth or the solar system or the Milky Way Galaxy he would have stared at you blankly. If you had asked Paul if the deadly effect of Adam’s sin applied to planets circling other sun’s in other galaxies, he would not have been able to understand the question.I He knew nothing about solar system or galaxies or black holes. But we do. So we have edited our story. Now or story behind billions of years ago with the creation of galaxies and suns and our very own solar system. Our cosmos is larger than Earth and sun and Moon. In our universe, an entire galaxy can slide into a black hole and we remain untouched unchanged, not helped, not affected. We are aware it happened. Still, the obliteration of an entire galaxy does not merit a single sentence in our religious story. The death of a galaxy is irrelevant to our religion.
The grand and awful reality of a galactic death does not diminish our story. The billions of years hiding in the night sky does not diminish the art and drama and pathos of our births and romance and wat and making and creating and living and dying. Human reality and Christian reality is not made trivial by the facts of astronomy. But then neither does the intense drama and pathos of our story efface the reality of extra-galactic happenings or the reality of the geologic processes that built the ground under our feet.
A few days ago I went running in the hills east of Salt Lake City. From a splendid overlook, my eyes ran West toward the setting sun, sweeping across the 20 mile valley occupied by the city to the mountains to the west and then to the Northwest, where my eyes could run west across the water of the Great Salt Lake all the way to where the sky came down to earth. The mountain I stood on and the mountain I saw rising out of the flatland across the valley were both flat lands eons ago. This entire neighborhood–hundreds of thousands of square miles–was flat as a pancake back then, by turns it was soft oozy mud or wind-blown sand. In that world there were no humans, no dogs and cats, no bears or camels, no roses or strawberries, no dolphins or trout. All this sediment turned to rock. Mysterious forces beneath the pancake layers of mud and sand turned into brittle rock–shale, limestone, and sandstone–fractured the pancake into pieces like massive ice flows, icebergs of rock on a magma sea. The bergs tilted, dropping one edge, raising the other. The raised edges became the mountains in this neighborhood. The trailing dripping edges were buried under thousands tens of thousands of feet of former mountain sluiced off the rising edges as they rose. These heaving mountains–and they are still moving–are the stage on which our story is played. The immense valleys in this neighborhood were constructed over years beyond comprehension. These valleys are not part of our story–no more than a stage is part of the plot of a play. These mountains and valleys are no less real than the stage for a great production. But their creation is not part of our religious story. We can easily ignore the stage while attending to the story being performed. In fact, that’s intended. The director does not want you to think about the floor and backdrop and chandeliers and carpet. It is the story on stage that is supposed to engage us. The story of the building of the theater and the story on stage are different stories all together. Both worth telling, but not to be confused.

Large Space, Long Time

IMG_20180411_191013.jpgThe view west across Salt Lake City pulls my mind outward across both space and time. The sweeping miles of space are immediately obvious. This place is not called “viewpoint” for no reason. The eons of time are only slightly less obvious for a student of the rocks. The mountains here (in the region called the basin and range) are the upper edges of chunks of Earth’s crust that have tilted, raising one edge, dropping the other. The valleys are thousands–sometimes tens of thousands–of feet of sediment sluiced of the mountains as they rose. 20,000 years ago this place was so wet the entire flat land visible in the photo was under water–Lake Bonneville. That much rain ate at the mountains, biting their tops off as they rose. I see this same mountain-eating process in the wet mountains east of my house near Mt. Rainier. But even deluges take some time to eat mountains. Chewing 10K or 20K feet off a rising mountain takes some time. And lifting the edge of a piece of Earth’s crust 30K feet also takes some time. So, looking across the Salt Lake valley is looking across the time it took to lift the rocks in these mountains from their original flat to their present verticality. And there is more. The mountain Gus is standing on is made of limestone (at least the part right under his feet.) That limestone was created by accumulating lime sediment in a sea that used to exist here. After it accumulated, it needed time to turn to stone. And this accumulation and lithification had to happen before the crust on this region could be broken into pieces and tipped to form mountains that could be eroded to fill the valley before becoming a lake before drying out and turning the top of the valley into salt flats.

All this is on display from the Pipeline Trail Viewpoint above Mill Creek Canyon.

Other Geology

Amargosa Mtn

In southern Utah sedimentary rocks are the stars of the geology show–sandstone, especially, and conglomerate and carbonates. Volcanics make some dramatic guest appearances–cinder cones and lava flows. Most of this geology is fairly orderly, horizontal layers of sedimentary rock, canyons carved by water, lava draped over the landscape in a way that makes sense. But not too far away to the west, the geology goes crazy. Great chunks of earth (mountains) are tilted this way and that at thirty and forty degrees. These mountains stand in 20,000 feet of gravel eroded off the mountains as they tipped and raised their edges to the sky. This is the geology of the Basin and Range geologic province. It is the geology of Death Valley and nearly all of Nevada.

Maybe next year, we can explore some of that.