Rocks Asking Stories

I wanted to write, “Rocks Telling Stories.” But these rocks ask more than they tell.

The above two pictures belong together, but they were not found together. The photo on the right is a boulder I found in a landslide or gravity slide along Kolob Canyon Road. The boulder is comprised of Shinarump–a conglomerate that is spread butter thin across thousands of square miles. It is recognized by its distinctive pebbles and prevalent petrified wood (top right of the rock I’m standing on). When I first saw this boulder in the landslide rubble, I was puzzled. The Shinarump formation occurs below the Navajo and Navajo debris comprised most of the flow. And when I looked at the canyon walls nearby, all I saw was Navajo Sandstone. So I had to be ABOVE the Shinarump. How could this boulder have landed here? I reconnoitered the area and finally found the bedrock (undisturbed or in situ) deposit pictured on the right. A close look identified petrified wood pieces in this conglomerate, confirming its Shinarump identity. This was up canyon from the slide. The strata in the entire area are dipping south, so as I went up canyon to the north I was actually going lower stratigraphically. Then I realized that the entire area for several miles had been involved in a gigantic slump or mass debris flow. The area of the slide was large enough that a boulder could have been ripped from this location and mixed with the Navajo Sandstone and left where I found it. A tiny mystery solved.

These two pictures are from Kolob Terrace. I was startled to see all these chert pebbles on top of the sandstone that comprises most of Zion Park’s cliffs. Then I was even more startled to see an arrowhead among the pebbles. Note the difference between the weathered surface of the pebble and the freshly-fractured surface of the arrowhead. (Fresh, as in hundreds of years old, maybe thousands. I once found a spear point on a mountain in southern California that was many hundreds of years, if not thousands, old. It looked like it had been chipped out yesterday.) The arrowhead and pebbles raise questions.

Who made the arrowhead? When? Out of what? Did the Indians use a chert pebble?

Then there’s the question: where did the pebbles come from? They form a carpet in some areas on top the Navajo Sandstone. How was the original chert formed? How was that chert eroded or weathered into chunks which could then be transported and rounded. And how did these pebbles end up strewn across hundreds of thousands of square miles?

The next two photos feature my favorite Colorado Plateau mystery.

The photo on the left was taken in the Paria river a short distance above its confluence with Buckskin Gulch. Coming down Buckskin from Wire Grass Flat trailhead, the rock in Buckskin Canyon is one hundred percent sandstone or carbonate or mud. When you reach the junction with the Paria and head upstream, almost immediately, you notice a change in the rock in the riverbed. That is not surprising, the respective streams drain different territory. But what was surprising were the cobbles of banded quartzite. I knew of no source in the area for these rocks. Everything I knew about was either sedimentary–sandstone, shale, conglomerate, limestone–or volcanic. But the quartzite is metamorphic rock. As if finding these rocks in the Paria streambed wasn’t mystery enough, I found a single fragment of the same kind of rock at the top of Hog Canyon Butte north of Kanab. I have found a large pavement of this kind of rock on a prominence out toward Toroweap in Grand Canyon National Park. But there is no known provenance for these rocks. Quartzite (a metamorphic rock) is formed when sand/sandstone is buried kilometers underground (where there is sufficient heat and pressure). If it is going to be eroded, the formation must subsequently be lifted by tectonic activity and raised above sea level so water and gravity can do their work. Where was the original sand before it became stone? How was the original sand buried deep enough to transform into quartzite? If it was lifted, shouldn’t there be some piece of that uplift still standing somewhere? Why is all that is left of this massive activity, just these distinctive cobbles and pebbles?

We’ll ask that question on Talking Rocks 2018. Unless there has been some major scientific breakthrough, we won’t get a decent the answer.

Buckskin Gulch

Some pictures from Buckskin Gulch 2017.


The water was cold. The muck sometimes wanted to keep our shoes. It reached our shorts but not all the way up to our butts.


A curious little sedimentary study: Walls are Navajo Sandstone which have been incised by the intermittent creek/river. In the bottom of the canyon is evidence of continued cutting along with examples of more recent deposition and even more recent cutting. The light colored layers are slack water deposits, placed and cut away in turn. The reddish “powder” is Navajo Sandstone which was eroded back into sand grains up on the high ground outside this canyon. This sand was then rolled, skipped, and lifted by wind and dropped into the canyon when the leap across the top was too far. It filtered down the hundred fifty feet and landed on the “windward” side of the canyon.

What to Bring

Several people have asked me what to bring on the Talking Rocks Tour. I’ll give a list below, but consider it tentative and provisional. These are camping trips. I presume those who come on our tours have some prior experience camping. If you do not, please call me. I want to make sure your first camping experience is pleasant as well as inspirational and informative.

Talking Rocks Camping List

Sleeping bag and pad.

Tent. Some of us sleep under the stars–no tent. If you are not bringing a tent, I need to know so I can have a spare in case of rain.

Food: It is all provided. The menus will be be lacto-ovo vegetarian. Let me know of any special dietary needs.

Dinner ware: provided. However, if you would like to bring your own personal cup and fork and spoon, you can help reduce the waste of disposables.

Coffee and tea: provided.

Lunches and snacks: provided.

Alcohol: none provided.

Water bottles: First one provided. You will need to carry a liter for ordinary hikes.

Sun protection: Bring it. Use it. Hat, long sleeves, long pants, sun screen. If you are inexperienced in desert sun, go overboard with protection. It is easy to uncover. It is hard to reverse sunburn.

Day pack. In addition to a jacket/shell/outer layer, it would be good to include a couple of band-aids, tissue, lip balm,

Hiking footwear: Some wear boots. I wear running shoes. We often hike in sandy washes. Sand is a bigger challenge than angular rocks. You might even want gaiters.

Warm jacket, knit hat, gloves. Nights can be cool. I even take overpants, just to be extra sure.

Trekking poles. Might be useful.

Shorts/swim suit: If we find water, we’ll get into it.

Toiletries/Towel: There will be opportunities to shower every day.

Flipflops or camp shoes.

Headlamp and batteries. Hopefully, this will only be needed in the evening in camp. However, it is required on long hikes, just in case.


If you are driving:

Camp chair. A really valuable item. The tour will provide as many as we can.

A cot. Especially if you enjoy sleeping under the stars.

Talking Rocks 2018

Our first tour, April 22 – 29 is nearly full. Lots of room still available on the second tour, April 29 – May 6.

One small piece of the Grand Staircase, the exposed layers of sedimentary rocks that begin (starting from the oldest) with the Tapeats Sandstone in Grand Canyon and top out in the Claron Formation in Bryce Canyon.


Sunshine and Campfires Tour, 2018

Talking Rocks Tours

The Sunshine and Campfires Tour

April 29 – May 6, 2018

Sunday. Arrive in St. George, Utah.

By air: Fly to Las Vegas and take a shuttle to St. George. Or car pool. Don’t reserve a shuttle seat without checking with me.

Sunday afternoon. Explore Snow Canyon State Park on your own. Lava caves, sandstone exposures, sandy washes.

Sunday evening. Camp in Snow Canyon (showers). Lecture: Geology 101 and local geology.

Monday morning. Hike to Snow Canyon petroglyphs (5 miles). Led by Gerry Bryant. Geology: Erosion, lava flows, topographic inversion, lag deposits, desert varnish, diagenetic color changes. Drive to the cinder cones at the top of the Snow Canyon lava flows.

Monday afternoon: Investigate the contact between the Kayenta and Navajo formations. Instruction by Gerry Bryant. Drive to Bryce Canyon.

Monday night. Camp at Bryce Canyon. (No showers.)

Tuesday morning. Dawn on the rim. After breakfast: Intro to local geology by Gerry Bryant. The Clarno Formation—the youngest bedrock we’ll examine on our trip. Midday: Hike along the rim. For the more adventuresome: the Tower Bridge Trail (3 miles) or the Fairyland Loop Trail (8 miles).

Tuesday afternoon. Drive to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

Tuesday night. Camp at Coral Pink (showers).

Wednesday morning. Dawn at the dunes. Instruction by Gerry Bryant.

Midday: Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur Trackway. Instruction by Gerry Bryant.

Local exploring of dunes, creek beds, and peaks.

Wednesday night. Camp at Coral Pink (showers).

Thursday. Buckskin Gulch hike (5 or 6 miles). We will hike in from Wiregrass Flat. If we have people wishing to hike the entire canyon (21 miles) that can be arranged for a small group.

Best web site for info:

Thursday night. Camp at Coral Pink (showers).

Friday morning. Drive to Grand Canyon. For the adventurous, we can hike down to the Coconino Sandstone with its fossil tracks.

Friday afternoon/evening. Hike/ride the shuttle along the rim.

Friday night: Camp at Grand Canyon (showers).

Sabbath. Hike to Plateau Point. 11 miles round trip. 3000 feet of elevation gain. In my opinion, this is the best hike in the park. We will take a very leisurely pace, eat lunch at the point, then take it very slow and easy back up. There are, of course, lots of shorter, easier options to experiencing the glory of the canyon.

Saturday night: Camp at Grand Canyon (showers).

Sunday morning. Drive to Las Vegas airport.

Feet and Miles Tour 2018

Talking Rocks Tours, Miles and Feet Tour, April 15-22, 2018.

Note: This tour features several long hikes. The longest hikes–Buckskin Gulch and Grand Canyon–will allow for shorter options.





Snow Canyon Showers

Fly to Las Vegas. Try to arrive by 1p.

Get a shuttle to St. George.

Afternoon. explore Snow Canyon. Lava caves, fossil sand dunes.

Evening: Lecture- Geology 101 and local geology.

It is possible we may arrange a car pool in a rental car. Let me know your air travel plans as soon as possible. Do not make a shuttle reservation yet.


Bryce Canyon

No showers

Morning. Hike to Snow Canyon petroglyphs (5 miles). Led by Gerry Bryant. Drive to cinder cones. Geology: Erosion, lava flows, topographic inversion, lag deposits, desert varnish, diagenic color changes.

Afternoon: Contact between the Kayenta and Navajo formations. Instruction by Gerry Bryant. Drive to Bryce Canyon.

No showers at Bryce.


Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP


Dawn on the rim. After breakfast, intro to local geology by Gerry Bryant. Midday: Hike 8 miles.

Afternoon. Drive to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. (CP)

Bryce is most spectacular at dawn.

The rocks at Bryce are Cenozoic—the youngest bedrock we’ll encounter on our trip.


Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP


Dawn at the dunes. Instruction by Gerry Bryant.

Midday: Moccasin Mountain Dinosaur Trackway. Instruction by Gerry Bryant.

Local exploring of dunes and creek beds.

Go to bed early for a very early start on Thursday.


Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP


Buckskin Gulch hike (20 miles).

Best web site for info:

There will be a shorter option of five or six miles in and out of the upper part of the Gulch.


Grand Canyon


Rim to rim (if the road to the North Rim trail head is open. Two people (including me) will not do the rim-to-rim. Instead, we will shuttle the cars to the south rim. The rim-to-rim is an option, not a requirement. Venture at your own risk.

North Kaibab Trail (elevation change 8,241 ft – 14.3 miles – mostly a descent) to Bright Angel Trail (mostly an ascent – 9.6 miles – elevation change 6,860 ft) for a total of 23.9 miles. Plan B: Hike to Plateau Point for sundown.


Grand Canyon


Hike to Plateau Pt. 11 miles, 3000 ft.

Plan B: Hermit Trail. Animal tracks in the Coconino Sandstone


Drive to Las Vegas

Sky Lover

I’m a sky lover. Dawn–I sit in meditation outside at dawn nearly every morning. Rain or shine, but I prefer shine.

Part of the magic of the desert is the unhindered sky gazing. On our Talking Rock tours, we eat good food, enjoy good conversation, study rocks and geological formations. All under desert sky–blue by day, black by night. golden at dawn and sunset.

IMG_20171213_073222 This is obviously not the desert. This is the view east from our farm. That’s Mt. Rainier at the lower right. I’d be happy to host you on a tour of that grand mountain if you’re in the area when the road is open, June – October, usually.