Noah’s Ark in the Navajo

The picture below was sent to me by Tom Anderson, one of the participants in our 2017 Talking Rocks Tour. He noted that he had been so preoccupied with looking for dinosaur tracks that he failed to see the obvious feature on the sky line. It was only after he arrived home and was reviewing his photos that he realized he had a picture of Noah’s Ark.  Hope you can join us for the next tour, this fall or next spring. Who knows what we might find.  🙂

2017_Geo_Trip (22) groupShot (1)

Stories within Stories (and mysteries aplenty)

I came across this rock east of Austin, Nevada.


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.

One Limit on Bias in Geology–Money

It’s important to realize that geology is not purely theoretical. Because of the centrality of historical interpretation to the practice of geology, we might be tempted to think that geology is as susceptible to bias as political history. However, geology has multiple checks on the power of bias. One of those checks is mining. Mining puts geological theory to the rude and ruthless test of money. Is this mine worth the investment? When the hole is dug and the ore is assayed, the theory turns into hard, cold fact–you make money or don’t. Either way, the mine might become a photo shoot.

IMG_20170604_183728  This structure is the head of a tram that carried ore from mines on Treasure Hill above Pioche, Nevada, to a mill down in the valley. In 1928 it cost 6 cents a ton to deliver a ton of ore to the mill via this aerial tram.

Geology, not mere opinion



One of the nice things about geology is you can see it. Your first or second interpretation may need to be modified after further investigation, but concrete, tangible reality exists, and we can return to it repeatedly for more information. In geology, opinions frequently can be corrected by facts, facts that can be verified or falsified by direct observation. This high regard for concrete, tangible reality–stuff you can see and touch–is central in our Talking Rocks Tours.

The picture is of Basin and Range country in central Nevada.

Tracks in the Navajo

I camped for a couple of nights at the top of Hog Canyon Road outside Kanab, Utah, to do some geological prospecting.


Specifically, I was looking for protosuchus burrows. (This animal was an ancient version of crocodile.) I found some anomalous structures in the sandstone that might be burrows, but nothing with the kind of definition I was hoping for.


However, I noticed the sand around my camp was covered with tracks made by bugs and lizards.

Then up on the outcrop where I was prospecting, I found this rock with tracks reminiscent of the tracks in the sand.


Not exactly dinosaur tracks, but still pretty cool.

These tracks in the Navajo Sandstone tell us that when these sand dunes were created, there were living animals present running around on them. The animals in this ancient neighborhood ranged in size from worms to the size of horses judging from the tracks they left. (I mention horses only for size comparison. There are no modern mammal tracks in the Navajo.)

From the sublime to . . . well . . . the mud.

Talking Rocks Tour 2017: Buckskin Gulch on day five. A fantastic hike. One group did the full twenty-mile loop. Others did about five miles. Notice the person (the very tiny person) in the photo. The geology lessons we saw in this slot canyon were dramatic.

The walls of the canyon towered over us. There were flood deposits that spoke of cycles of deposition and erosion inside the canyon–obviously more recent than the formation of the canyon itself. Note this package of debris wedged into the canyon above Bryan’s head. Think of the force of the water required to pack all that woody debris so tightly that long after the water was gone, the debris dam remains.


I was endlessly fascinated by the mud on the canyon floor. Ripple patterns indicating different rates of water movement, different viscosities of the water (due to mud suspension), channel shape, and who knows what else. In addition to ripple patterns we saw mud cracks, mud curls, mud imprinted with dog paws and human feet, mud sprinkled with red sand from a passing wind storm above the canyon.


We had mud inside our shoes, mud on our clothes, mud everywhere. It was lovely.


A Mega Giga Flood

This evening I listened to a presentation at the monthly meeting of the Northwest Geological Society. The lecturer presented a new theory about a gargantuan flood created by the rapid release of waters ponded in the Arctic basin. The flood event was 14,000 years ago. The damming mechanism was the same as the for the Missoula Floods–a glacier, or in this case glaciers. Alpine glaciers from Siberia and Alaska closed off the Bering Straits. The rivers emptying into the Arctic provided so much fresh water that the Arctic itself became a fresh water body.

Is was an interesting argument. I’m going to look further at the handouts.

Devotees of Noah’s Flood will love it. If the theory turns out to be sustainable under cross examination and further research, it will be an even larger flood than the flooding of the Mediterranean basin. It will be the largest flood ever. –well, except for Noah’s Flood, if you believe the traditional telling.

One of the problems with Noah’s Flood is that is doesn’t work to explain any major features of geology. Floods have fingerprints, footprints. And no one has found the fingerprints of Noah in the geologic record.

The cool thing about geologic theories, you can go and check out the evidence. I’m ready to get a helicopter and head north and investigate the landscape. That would be fun!

Wild Is Best

The Wild Tour, May 28 – June 4 is filling up. The “Civilized Tour” has been cancelled for this spring. Maybe next year. Still working on details of the Mystic Tour. It will probably happen in the week of May 21-27.

Truth Tellers, Truth Seekers

I’ve taken a couple of geology classes in college–an intro course at Suffolk Community College and non-silicate mineralogy at University of Akron. I’ve read books about geology. I’ve spent a few weeks hanging out with a geologist who was doing field work. I have found things in the field that were relevant to current investigations. I thought I kind of “got” geology. Then I decided to read more seriously.

This past fall I read a Sedimentology and Stratigraphy text. Now, I’m working my way through a Structural Geology text. Even though these are still fairly basic textbooks, one fact leaps out at me: the science of geology includes oceans of data. These textbooks are densely packed with information, with data. Of course, there are interpretations. There are theories. But page after page impresses me with the amount of hard, concrete information that has been gathered by people studying the rocks. This information is the foundation of geology. Amateurs who imagine that reading a few creationist articles or books qualifies them to make pompous statements about the validity of the science of geology are fooling themselves.

Of course, there are lots of debatable points in geology. The reason we are aware of these elements of geologic theory that are problematic is because geologist publish articles about them.

I am committed to deepening my comprehensive knowledge of geology. I hope to be able to ask a few hard questions. But the more I learn, the more respect I have for the scientists who spend their lives exploring, probing, interrogating the earth. They are pursuing truth. I will join them.