Curt Sewell is the author of God at Ground Zero

Rocks in the Grand Canyon

Author: Curt Sewell
Subject: Creation Overviews
Date: 11/8/1999

The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  Why take a tour of this world wonder from the ground when you can take an aerial tour of the Grand Canyon?  To get a bird’s eye view, check out the best in Grand Canyon Air Tours.  Don’t forget to bring your camera; this is one vacation you’ll want to remember!


As one stands at a lookout point at Grand Canyon, two questions come quickly to mind: 1) How did all those massive rocks get there?, and 2) How was that huge gully formed? This paper will deal very briefly with how those rocks were deposited, and the next will discuss the erosion of the Canyon.. Much of the information in these two papers comes from Steven A. Austin’s beautifully illlustrated book, “Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe,” (Institute for Creation Research, Santee, CA, 92071, 1994.) The sketch comes from page 24.

The lowest members in the sketch at right are the irregular Zoroaster granite surrounded by Vishnu metamorphic rocks. These were probably part of the original created bedrock, uplifted during Day 3 of Creation Week, when God separated the dry land from the watery early earth, which was “without form and void.” That most likely involved uplift of continental regions, and down-warping of oceanic basins. This must have involved sedimentation on a large scale. Some uplifting and sedimentation would have continued for many centuries, although at a lower rate. These sediments, most likely, account for the tilted lower layers of limestone, sandstone, and siltstone in the sketch at right. No fossils have been found in these, so geologists classify them as Precambrian.

Just above these tilted strata is the “Great Unconformity,” clearly visible in much of the Grand Canyon, and thought to extend over most of North America. This is probably the dividing line between the lower pre-Flood strata and the massive sedimentary deposits produced by the Great Flood of Noah. The onset of that Flood entailed vast erosion, scouring the Precambrain land surface to an almost level tabletop.

Above that Great Unconformity is a series of sedimentary deposits that extend over most of the U.S. They are some 4000 feet thick in the Grand Canyon area. These are alternating limestone, sandstone, and siltstone. Many marine fossils are found here, and they are classified as Paleozoic (“early life”). The topmost stratum in this region is the Kaibab limestone, said to be of Permian age (about 250 million years old). This forms the surface ground-level around much of the Grand Canyon’s rim. It’s obvious that much erosion has cleared off former deposits above this level.

The Grand Canyon of Arizona is the world’s prime geological showplace. More strata are displayed here than at any other spot. It’s natural that this would be surrounded by controversy. Most geological textbooks are saturated with the concept of Uniformitarianism, the idea that everything that has happened in the past has followed the laws of nature that we see operating around us today, and that this has proceeded slowly, with no supernatural intervention. Thus most geologists consider these strata to have formed slowly, over hundreds of millions of years. The standard explanation for limestone (calcium carbonate), for example, is that it was formed by the accumulation of tiny shell fragments that slowly sank to the bottom of warm shallow seas. These are known to be forming in tropical seas today, at a rate of about one foot per thousand years. Uniformitarians say that many times the land and ocean bottoms have been uplifted or downwarped, resulting in a sequence of many shallow placid seas covering the land, then draining away. This concept fits their materialistic philosophy very well, but it doesn’t fit the physical evidence in the ground. Therefore most geologists believe that the Grand Canyon limestones would require millions of years to accumulate.

However, there are many evidences showing this explanation to be wrong. Modern lime-muds are dominated by silt-sized crystals (approx 20 microns) of the mineral aragonite. But the micritic limestones in the Grand Canyon are primarily clay-sized crystals (< 4 microns) of the mineral calcite. The smaller size of the crystals is consistent with an inorganic (chemical) source for this limestone. Dr. Walter Brown gives a very plausible explanation.. Walter T. Brown, Jr., “In The Beginning,” (Phoenix: Center for Scientific Creation,” 5612 N. 20th Place, Phoenix, AZ 85016, 1989), pp. 79-80. He points out that the gases emitted by modern volcanoes are about 70% water steam and 15-20% carbon dioxide (CO2). One of the principal minerals in a basaltic lava is plagioclase feldspar, which comes as a mixture of two varieties — anorthite, which contains calcium (CaAl2Si2O8), and albite, which contains sodium (NaAlSi3O8). If anorthite has an opportunity, there’s a strong likelihood that its calcium will be exchanged for sodium, thus releasing a lot of free calcium.

Genesis 7:11 tells us that, as the Great Flood began, “the fountains of the great deep were broken up.” This must have involved massive volcanic activity in the oceans — possibly even the direct rupture of the mid-Atlantic rift and other divergent tectonic plate spreading zones. Much water, steam, and CO2 came up, as well as large amounts of basaltic lava, including its feldspar. Ocean water has a lot of salt (NaCl) in it, ready to react with the anorthite feldspar and release free calcium. Calcium reacts easily in water to form calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) and hydrogen, and this in turn reacts with carbon dioxide to form calcite (CaCO3) and hydrogen. Calcite is the mineral that’s found as the main ingredient of limestone, so here’s a probable source for a large fraction of the limestone formations produced during the Great Flood.

The Grand Canyon limestones also contain grains of quartz sand, which can’t be dissolved from calm water, and sand-size or larger shell fragments. These larger grains imply the influence of moving water, not the placid shallow seas envisioned by uniformitarians. The RedwallLimestone of Nautiloid Canyon, a side tributary of Grand Canyon, contains many fossils of nautiloids, large marine mollusks having straight cigar-shaped shells up to two feet long. These were not deposited randomly, but are oriented in alignment with each other. Dr. Austin concludes that this alignment shows they were deposited within water that was moving rapidly — another argument against the placid epeiric seas proposed by uniformitarians.

Austin’s book, referenced above, discusses several evidences (pp. 28-36) about the source of sand, and the method of depositions, of the vast sandstone layers seen in Grand Canyon. He tells how Dr. Leonard Brand performed detailed experiments to verify how the Coconino Sandstone’s quadruped footprint trackways may have been produced. Brand’s conclusion was that, almost certainly, these were made by newt-like animals walking under water and being pushed sideways by a current. The most common belief of uniformitarian geologists, that of the sand having been lithified from desert sand dunes, was ruled out completely. Geology Professor Glen Visher (not a creationist) showed that these sands must have been from underwater “sand waves.” Both of these conclusions fit the Great Flood model better than the uniformitarian model.

A final argument against the evolutionist’s Geologic Column explanation for Grand Canyon is the sequence of strata that are easily visible. The entire Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras are completely missing. The top several formations are classified as of Permian age (about 250 million years). The usual expectation of geologists would call for Pennsylvanian to be below that, but this too is completely missing. Next down is the Redstone Limestone, which is classed as Mississippian age (345-325 million years old). Below that should come Devonian, then Silurian, then Ordovician (totalling over 150 million years), but they are completely missing except for a few small lenses of Devonian resembling Karst topography. Instead, the Redwall is resting directly on the Muav Limestone, which has many trilobites and other Cambrian fossils. And, what is worse, on the north side of the Canyon there are several alternating layers of Cambrian Muav interspersed between layers of Mississippian Redstone. This interbedding of two periods widely separated in supposed age cannot be explained by the uniformitarian geologist; it’s like evolution went back and forth. Yet they lie conformably.

In summary, there are many real physical evidences showing the rocks of the Grand Canyon to have been formed by the Great Flood of Noah, rather than by any materialist’s uniformitarian explanation.