Taking Rocks 2019

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

253-350-1211

jtmclarty@gmail.com

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.

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

Another

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Bioturbation. HCB 2. Specimen in my possession.
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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
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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
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Have no idea what this is. HCB 6

 

 

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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.

 

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Rhizocast 1? Angel Canyon Road (ACR 1)

Another

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Rhizocast 2. ACR 2.
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Burrow. ACR 3.

 

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Track. ACR 4.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

Notes:

  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.)

 

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-20,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y
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?

 

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

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Burroughs Mtn Neighborhood

It’s geology, all right. Lave flows, gravity flows (rock falling to pieces and creeping down cliff and down slope just because gravity says so), pumice drapes, stream-cut channels and sediment-filled basins–all under a sky preparing for the evening’s star show, lit by the last light of our local star, the star that beckons the moisture up from the ocean’s surface which is dropped as snow and collects here and turns into sculpting glaciers or streams. It’s geology at its best and most glorious.

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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.

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.