Friday, May 27, 2016

The Sedona Westerners Raft the Colorado River

The first of five Grand Canyon river trips that I will make in 2016 took place during the second week of May. The group was composed mostly of hiking enthusiasts and members of the Sedona Westerners, an active hiking club in northern Arizona. Not one of the trips participants had ever before been on a Grand Canyon river trip and this was the first time I think this has ever happened to me. We had a great time with a great group of rafters and hikers!

Northern Arizona is on track to experience its fifth coolest May on record and the weather on our trip was sometimes cloudy and cool. We did have some rain the first few days but it was just a few drops.

Making our way down into Marble Canyon, we are treated to seeing each and every sedimentary layer rise up from below river level. Not only does the river chisel down into the strata at about 8 feet per mile, but the layers are arched up as one moves downstream such that the Grand Canyon deepens a total of about 70 feet per mile.

While moving through the Supai Group rocks, we saw a very nice reptile trackway, whose viewing was accentuated by a recent light rain on the rocks.

Some rock surfaces are quite durable and become coated through time in an exceedingly dark layer of desert varnish. It is now known that up to 70% of the coating is composed of clay size particles that act to trap iron and manganese oxide grains that arrive on the wind.

A happy group of geology travelers on the Colorado River. The upper portion of Marble Canyon was the coolish part of our trip. We had plenty of great weather but some days at the start were cool.

Dropping into the Redwall Limestone is always a thrill for me as its sheer walls make for a  spectacular run down along the river.

The Redwall is Mississippian in age (about 340 Ma) and is composed of different kinds of limestone and chert. The banding here is the result of weathering on different types of limestone. The darker bands are limestone beds that hold readily hold a dark varnish on their surface, while the lighter colored bands have smooth surfaces that expose the true color of the limestone.

Springs are quite abundant in Marble Canyon and Vasey's Paradise is one of the more spectacular of these. It was nice to see it running so full as the last few years it has had greatly diminished flow.

This is a little spring right at river level that has created a travertine cone around it. As you float by, you can hear the water running gently inside the cone.

A small cave in the Redwall that has some large specimens of calcite crystal known as dog-tooth spar.

Early morning light illuminates the Triple Alcoves in the Redwall Limestone at Saddle Canyon camp.

And a downstream view at Saddle Canyon camp on the Colorado River in Marble Canyon.

The name Marble Canyon extends down to the confluence with the Little Colorado River at river mile 62. The dry, spring weather meant that the water from Blue Springs (located 13 miles upstream from the confluence) would actively color the water, rather than the brown sediment that colors it when runoff is in the river.

Later in the day, we completed the 4.5 mile Carbon Canyon/Lava Chuar loop hike. Here we climb up through a spectacular rock slide that occurred in pre-historic time.

As we finished the loop hike, we returned to the river across from the Palisades fault that places the upthrown Cardenas Lava on the right, next to other rocks (left). The fault is part of the Butte fault system and propagates all the way to the the low saddle on the rim in the background.

Comanche Point on Grand Canyon's east rim is actually connected to the lower-appearing rim behind it. The entire section of rock is visible here from top to bottom.

Passing Desert View on the rim (barely visible on the highest part of the South Rim) we enter the "big bend" area of the Colorado River. It is here that the river makes a great westward turn after traveling southwest from Utah.

And immediately after the "big bend" is Tanner Rapids on a beautifully clear day.

A nice dinner circle was made while overnighting at Rattlesnake camp. I would say that this is one of my favorite times of the day, when our day hikes and river running is complete and we can relax and enjoy the clean air, some conversation and the company of like-minded friends. I often will help folks to 'fill in the blanks' on their river guidebooks in settings such as this.

Hiking the loop at Escalante and Seventy-Five Mile Canyon.

And doing the down-climb into the canyon while on the Shinumo Quartzite.

Entering the Upper Granite Gorge of Grand Canyon, where the Vishnu Basement rocks squeeze in close to the rivers edge. I was not always enamored with these rocks, I being a student mainly interested in sedimentary rocks. But a fantastic story of crustal growth during the Precambrian Eon was unraveled in the 1990's and now the story of the Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite is one of my favorite stories to tell on river trips and guided hikes.

Here the Zoroaster Granite (pink) has intruded into dark black meta-basalt rocks called amphibolite.

Traveling down the river in the Inner Gorge above Bass Rapid.

We were able to complete a great hike on the North Bass Trail from our camp at Hotauta Canyon. This was six-mile round trip hike into Shinumo Canyon and William W. Bass's Shinumo Gardens.

Looking back down to the river in the Upper Granite Gorge.

 Group picture at the saddle along the trail.

Tilted and faulted layers in the Grand Canyon Supergroup beckons our hikers into Shinumo Canyon. The Supergroup contains nine different formations and two groups of formations. They have a cumulative thickness of over 12,000 feet. This entire sequence was deposited across the whole Grand Canyon region by the latest Precambrian. Later uplift, faulting, and erosion removed most of it but the faulted blocks that remained lowest in the ancient landscape escaped this erosion and thus preserved as isolated blocks within the canyon.

Artifacts from W. W. Bass's Shinumo Gardens location.

More meta-basalt in the Middle Granite Gorge.

This is a spectacular part of the canyon that can normally be seen only on river trips. There are very few trails in this section of the canyon.

We were very lucky to find the Stone Creek camp open and available to us when we arrived near the end of our day. This is one of the most popular camps along the river in Grand Canyon.

Scenic relaxation!

Group shot at the Stone Creek waterfall.

Colorful scene along the river near Tapeats Creek.

The Owl Eyes beneath the Great Thumb Mesa are alcoves that have formed along the Kaibab-Toroweap contact.

Making our way back into the Deer Creek Narrows. The cliffs are composed of Tapeats Sandstone and the ledges are formed in thin shale horizons.

A barrel cactus as seen from above.

At the Deer Creek "patio" is this interesting contact. The view is to the west so the bedded deposits on the left (south) are covered with landslide debris that came from the right (north). The contact represents an old canyon wall that was north-facing before it was covered in the landslide debris. I wonder if this canyon wall might have been within the canyon of the Colorado River or maybe Tapeats Creek before the landslide caused the reorganization of the drainage system? Whatever the story, something big happened here!

Back in the main canyon looking west from Deer Creek, we can see more spectacular evidence from a landslide - Poncho's Radical Run-up. Note the rusty-brown dolomite layer in the Bright Angel Shale in place on the far left. This is viewed within the south wall of Grand Canyon. But note also that this same layer can be seen in the lower right on top of the dark brown cliff and trending up through the center of the photograph to near the upper left. This is where the rusty-brown dolomite from the north side of the canyon became mobilized in a landslide and in-filled the canyon of the river. It actually ran uphill from the momentum of the slide. A remnant of Redwall Limestone can be seen just left of center in the photograph that was riding on top of the dolomite sled!

Small and intimate camp at Olo Canyon with the river nearby.

Another spring along the river.

We took a very nice hike along Havasu Creek. On this trip we visited two of three largest springs in Arizona - Fossil Springs is the other outside of the Grand Canyon.

Walker Mackay was a great leader for this trip and executed the itinerary to perfection. Thank you Walker and great thanks to all of our rafting companions!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Flagstaff's Arizona Daily Sun Newspaper Runs Article on "Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth"

The front page, above the fold headline in the May 25 edition of the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper states, "Canyon Book Takes on Noah's Flood." Daily Sun reporter Emery Cowan writes about the controversy that inspired my newest book, "Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth." Cowan relates how huge portions of the American public believe the pseudo-science for how a biblical flood created the Grand Canyon. This in spite of the inconvenient fact that not a single shred of evidence exists for such a recent flood. You can read Cowan's article here.

In one of my favorite graphics from the new book,written with 10 co-authors, we show how so-called "flood geologists" actually contradict what is written in the Bible to come up with their nefarious claims that have hood-winked so many unsuspecting people in the American populace.

The diagram shows that during the Biblically described 'days' of creation, specific locations in the modern Middle East are described. The Garden of Eden is described as being in the vicinity of the "four rivers" (the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon, and Gihon rivers) in modern day Kuwait. Other landscape features are described in Genesis, such as the archaeological site of Ashur. All of these features are described before "the flood" such that the Garden of Eden location predates Noah's flood. But Young Earth Creationists also maintain that all post-Precambrian rocks on Earth were deposited in the flood, which according to them means that the Garden of Eden sits atop deposits from the flood. This one fact shows that flood geologists not only contradict their own "reasoning" but also what is written in the Bible. In our book, we highlight numerous other instances where the flood geology model contradicts the Bible and doesn't hold water (pardon the pun).

People can keep their religious or spirituality views and believe in the evidence for an old Earth. Don't be duped by ministers or pastors who misrepresent science for their other, politically motivated goals.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Museum of Northern Arizona Ventures - Three Trips in One Month to Utah Parklands

Since 1982, I have served as an educator and guide for the Ventures Program at the Museum of Northern Arizona. It has been an incredible experience and I have been privileged to share the beauty and geology of the Colorado Plateau with hundreds of Venturers. This year however, I got to share it with a special lady, my wife Helen, who served as my assistant on three trips to Utah during the month of April. I decided to use her photographs in this posting, that shows images from all three trips to Canyonlands and Arches national parks, Capitol Reef National Park, and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Canyonlands and Arches - April 4 to 8, 2016

On the way to Moab from Flagstaff, we always stop at Monument Valley and hike the 3.5 mile Wildcat Trail that circum-transits the West Midden (left).

The strata here play a huge role in the geologic story we tell in this part of the eastern Colorado Plateau. The lower "aprons" in the monuments are composed of Permian Organ Rock Shale with the caps composed mostly of DeChelly Sandstone (with minor amounts of Moenkopi Fm. and Shinarump Mbr. of the Chinle Fm. on the very top). This Organ Rock/DeChelly interval will coarsen to the northeast near Moab (see below).

Our first big hike was in Negro Bill Canyon, a well-watered stream that is a rarity in the desert southwest.

After 2.75 miles, Morning Glory arch appears at the head of a side canyon. This arch might more rightly be considered a bridge since the stream does underlay the span.

Later in the day, we stopped by Fisher Towers in the Professor Valley of the Colorado River. These fantastic spires have served as a backdrop in many a Western movie but their geology tells an even more compelling story. This is the same interval of strata as seen in Monument Valley (see above) but here the sediment is located much closer to the source, the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. Pebbles and boulders of schist and granite are found in these deposits suggesting that this was part of a proximal alluvial fan off of that ancient range. In Monument Valley, the strata were far enough away to differentiate into different formations.

Our little group at Fisher Towers!

The next day we began early to beat the spring-break crowds that might hime to Delicate Arch, carved into the Estrada Sandstone.

Looking south into the Salt Valley, where Pennsylvanian-age salt deposits bulged upwards after burial and later escaped and dissolved to form a salt valley. Note the dip on the strata to the left where overlying layers were hinged downward as the salt escaped and created a void in the subsurface.

Landscape Arch. Hmm? I wonder if the names Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch were mistakenly transposed on an old map??

Looking south from Broken Arch to the La Sal Mountain laccolith. In the middle distance is the Professor Valley near the Colorado River.

Balanced Rock has to be one of the most unusual rock formation anywhere.

Helen holds up the top.

The new day we headed uphill to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park. The first hike was to Whale Rock.

Looking west into Upheaval Canyon and the Upheaval Dome. The block of Navajo Sandstone on the right is out of place having slipped down on a small fault from where the photographer stands.

Panorama view from the top of Whale Rock.

Near Grandview Point, at the south end of Island in the Sky, a trail leads past an outcrop of the Kayenta Formation. Here a small Jurassic-age channel is been filled with sand but at the channel base are rip-up clasts, sections of floodplain mud that were ripped up during a flood and deposited in the channel.

At the last moment we decided to take the Shafer Trail back to Moab. This uranium-era road descends the Wingate cliff in spectacular fashion and then traverses the Shafer shelf toward Moab. Here isa shot from Thelma and Louise point, where they filmed the final scene in the movie of the same name.

Our final stop was in the Needles District of Canyonlands where we hiked at the Elephant Hill trailhead. These strata, known as the Cedar Mesa Sandstone, are also part of the Cutler Group rocks that are associated with the paleotopography of Ancestral Rockies drainage system.

Interbedded shale and sandstone form wonderful mushroom rocks.

Cross-bedded sandstone of the Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Thanks to my fellow travelers on this one!

Capitol Reef National Park - April 18 to 22, 2016

Our Capitol Reef trip began by driving through eastern Arizona and Utah. This is a view looking upstream on the Colorado River near Hite. Note the Lake Powell deposits that fill the floodplain. The reservoir is currently down 108 feet from full pool.

Looking downstream from the same vantage, showing how high and dry the boat ramp is at Hite! That's it as the long concrete ramp beneath the red cliff. The river is barely visible in the foreground.

Giving a brief geology talk on the bench in front of the Park Visitor Center. On these trips we always get passers-by who hear the talk and become interested. To visit these parks with a knowledgeable scientist is totally unlike a visit without one.

The Fremont River near the beginning of the Hickman Bridge Trail.

Along the way, I found this channel cut and fill sequence within the Kayenta Formation (the angled line from upper right to lower left).

The clasts in this exposure were the largest I have ever seen in the Kayenta Fm.!

Capitol Gorge hike. Old Highway 24 used to go through here as late as 1962.

I had never before seen a contact like this! Kay C. puts her hand on top of a lee set (below), right where another dune laps up onto it from another direction. Normally, lee sets are truncated or beveled to near horizontal with the overlying sets covering them. The evidence here suggests that an active dune (below) was buried by another dune. Wow!

The next day we headed north in the park toward Cathedral Valley. The Bentonite Hills are fantastic exposures of the Morrison Formation.

You don't want to be here after a rain as the clay turns to goop. An artistic scene from Helen!

More of the Bentonite Hills toward the east. The sis the Brushy Basin Member, which admittedly looks a lot like a the Petrified Forest Member of the Chinle Formation. Students are often confused. But knowing the stratigraphic succession will reveal which is which. You have to see the sequence to know where you are at within it.

Jailhouse Rock with the Thousand Lakes Plateau in the distance.

An unnamed Cathedral Valley overlook. The soft brown sandstone is the Estrada Ss. with a cap of the whitish Curtis Formation.

Same sequence, different place.

This is the Temple of the Sun in the foreground and the Temple of the Moon behind. This ends the narrative about the Capitol Reef trip. We drove home through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which is the subject of the final trip.

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument - April 25 to 29, 2016

Our Grand Staircase Escalante trip this year experienced some interesting weather with snow, hail, rain and wind. Up to 3 inches of snow fell in Boulder Utah on Thursday April 28. Fo this reason, few photographs were taken. But we did visit Lower Calf Creek Falls, Anasazi State Park, petroglyphs, and the Burr Trail.

Large petrified wood specimen at the Wolverine Petrified Wood Special Use Area. The Chinle Formation is famous for its petrified wood and the wolverine area does not disappoint.

A giant specimen that has fractured during uplift of the Plateau.

Our secret lunch spot near the Burr Trail switchbacks. We always walk the switchbacks and get picked up below. It is the best way to see the tilt on the Waterpocket Fold.

Our group at the Strike Valley Overlook in Capitol Reef National Park. You can see the storm clouds gathering - we got this hike in just before it let loose that night.

On our way home, Helen had arranged for us to pay a visit to the Paleontology Lab for the Monument in Kanab, Utah. There are incredible dinosaur finds that have been made since it was declared a Monument 20 years ago. To those who decry the establishment of the Monument, these finds more than negate the selfish reasons to leave the area unprotected.

Helen poses with lab volunteer and Plateau photographer extraordinaire Gary Ladd, through the frill of a ceratopsian dinosaur (cast).

Some of the more exciting finds in the Monument include rare skin impression of dinosaurs. These were made when the carcass pressed against soft sediment.

The specimens are spectacular! One of the great finds in all of the digs at GSENM is that the area looks like it was a separate ecosystem from that of the same age up north in Montana and Alberta. Perhaps that system was more temperate with GSENM being more tropical - the species are different here for the same age rocks - about 71 Ma.

Alan Titus (left) is the Monument Paleontologist and his capable assistant is Scott Richardson (center). I was honored to pose with them both.

A final hike at the Toadstools off of Highway 89. This is Estrada Sandstone with a boulder of Dakota Sandstone as its cap rock. What a month it was! I cannot thank Helen enough for the excellent job she did in assisting me. These are great trips!