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 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 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.

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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.