We’ve all seen photos of those exquisitely beautiful and mysterious canyons with swirling, multicolored sandstone layers that look almost like marble cake. Known as “slot canyons” (their depth is much greater than their narrow width), most usually have a “sometimes dry” streambed flowing through them. What formed these remarkably sculptured beauties?
These inspiring canyons are exotic and often remote. The state of Utah sports a concentration of them. Over the years, Native Americans have attached spiritual significance to these treasures. Many of the stirring photos we’ve seen were taken from helicopters or by daredevils on hang gliders, darting in and out among the rocks. Those fortunate enough to have visited these hard-to-access canyons and the contorted sandstone beds they display so valued their experience they returned with their own lasting memories on film.
The geologic deposits that host such variegated canyons are called cross-bedded sandstones, and the two most common are the Navajo and Coconino Sandstones. Geologists recognize that these types of rocks were once soft sand layers now hardened into stone—sandstone. Uniformitarian thinking ascribes such deposits to wind blowing desert sand into great sand dune fields. Most creation-Flood thinkers attribute those rocks and their shapes to giant underwater sand waves generated by the great Flood of Noah’s day.
Amateur Flood advocates might see the swirling strata and conclude that the Flood was exceptionally turbulent here, wrinkling originally flat-lying layers like taffy in a mixing bowl, but the truth—while no less catastrophic—lies elsewhere.
Let’s start by considering the original deposition of the sand—was it made with wind or with water? A dominant current direction (of either wind or water) is required to produce the parallel “dunes” in the field. We know from experiments that the slip faces of the dunes, which collect the sand on the back side, rest at a steeper angle when dry than wet. The angles at which the sandstone crossbeds lie match the underwater angle. Also, the small reptile and amphibian footprints found on many of the faces couldn’t be left on dry sand. The average sand grain-size within the sandstones is relatively large, requiring rapid flow. The “dunes” are high, so high they must have been deposited at great depth. The evidence better fits deposition by water than by dry desert winds. But if so, a “storm” of great intensity—far more intense than any storm ever witnessed—caused the required water movements. The fierce Flood comes to mind.
Consider that a sand dune grows as long as there is a continual supply of sand being carried along by a directional current. Deep, fast-flowing water deposits sand grains on the down-current face, which is then covered by the next increment of sand—and the next, and the next. Soon, an angular stack of rather thin parallel beds accumulates. The field of underwater dunes is more like a series of multi-leveled ripples. The irregular rockcarving erosion that followed, after the vast dune-strewn land rose above sea level, created the swirling appearance of today’s slot canyons. Uneven erosion of the uneven and sloping stacks of layers produced the stunning effect.
The great Flood of Noah’s day was a time of unequaled death and judgment on the sinful people of the day. We marvel as we study the worldwide extent of its dynamic geological effects. Yet we can also thrill as we see the beauty left in its wake. How marvelous the original beauty of creation must have been for its destruction to be so awe-inspiring.
* Dr. Morris is President of the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Morris, J. 2013. Slot Canyons, a Stunning Flood Formation. Acts & Facts. 42 (5): 15.