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.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Talking Rocks 2019” in the subject line.
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.
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.
Here’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.
The 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 f￼eet 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.
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.
(Dinosaur tracks in Navajo Sandstone, Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur Track Site near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park)
On Talking Rocks Tours, we spend our days engaged with actual rocks, raw data. In the evenings around the campfire, we spin our theories, ask our questions, ponder the Great Questions. In the day time, on the outcrop, the Bible offers no helpful insights. At night, the rocks are incapable of answering questions of meaning and purpose. They do not explain our wonder and awe. We live in both worlds, together.