Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bluejohn Canyon and Slot Canyons

On April 26, 2003, outdoorsman Aron Ralston (then 27) was canyoneering in Bluejohn Canyon, a remote slot canyon in Utah, when a heavy boulder he had clambered over on his way down became dislodged and fell in such a way as to pin his right forearm against the canyon wall.

Having told no one exactly where he was heading (other than the somewhat general "Utah"), no one would know where to look for him if he didn't return on time. No one was coming to find him.

Thus began a gripping ordeal which is described in Mr. Ralston's own words in the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place and which is portrayed powerfully in the movie 127 Hours (2010).

If it is April 26 where you are right now on the globe, you can imagine being trapped on this day and celebrate Aron Ralston's compelling escape from his predicament five days from now, on May 1 (mark your calendar). Somewhere in those 127 hours, you might want to pick up the book and watch (or re-watch) the movie.

Not only did Mr. Ralston's perseverance and fortitude in finding a way to extricate himself (and his subsequent refusal to let the loss of his arm stop him from climbing and adventuring since then) make him justifiably famous around the world, but it also gave Bluejohn Canyon a new notoriety.

Let's take a look at the forces which might explain the existence of slot canyons, which (like so many other geological features on our planet) appear to be better explained by the catastrophic mechanisms of the hydroplate theory than by the conventional uniformitarian theories.

Slot canyons are steep-sided narrow canyons which are usually significantly deeper than they are wide (sometimes as narrow as three feet at the top but 100 feet in depth!) The most famous, perhaps, is the unmistakeable Antelope Canyon in Arizona, which (as discussed below), may well have been produced by the same forces and the same post-flood event that carved Bluejohn Canyon.

Bluejohn Canyon (see Google Maps image above) is located on the Colorado Plateau, which according to the hydroplate theory was uplifted by the sinking action of the adjacent Rocky Mountains in the catastrophic events surrounding a global flood.

If you are unfamiliar with this theory and are ready to dismiss it altogether because it proposes a global flood, don't do so until you check out the evidence presented elsewhere on this blog or in hydroplate theory originator Dr. Walt Brown's extensive online book examining worldwide geological evidence.  Most especially, check out the evidence suggesting that the Grand Canyon is better explained by this theory than by the conventional theories -- because the events surrounding the creation of the Grand Canyon are intimately connected with the events which created Antelope Canyon and Bluejohn Canyon as well, if the hydroplate theory is correct.

The dramatic events leading up to the creation of the Colorado Plateau, and the subsequent creation of the Grand Canyon and the other incredible geological features which surround it (including the slot canyons as well as petrified wood, the Goosenecks, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, and many other distinctive features of the American Southwest) are described by Dr. Brown on this webpage.

Essentially, he argues that when the drifting continents ground to a halt (after drifting apart during the flood in the direction of the Pacific Basin, as described in this previous post), they thickened and in some places created huge mountain ranges (almost always perpendicular to the direction the continents were moving). Floodwaters poured off the thickened continents, but in many places they were trapped in enormous inland seas or lakes (such as in California's Great Central Valley).

On the Colorado Plateau, two enormous lakes were not only trapped but elevated as the Colorado Plateau rose. When they later breached, the escaping waters carved the Grand Canyon quite rapidly -- explaining why the canyon goes right through the Kaibab Plateau (the conventional theory, of slow erosion by the Colorado River over millions of years, has a very hard time explaining why that river would choose to go over and through the Kaibab massif, or how it could have done so).

Less obvious but equally scientifically supportable, this theory argues that if these events explain the formation of the Grand Canyon, they would also explain geological features in the surrounding area that were created when sub-surface water erupted out due to the catastrophic draining of those two enormous lakes (which Dr. Brown names Grand Lake and Hopi Lake for convenience -- you can see the area that the geologic evidence suggests that they once occupied in this map).

The water table below the surface of the land surrounding these lakes was roughly at the same level as the lakes' former surface, and when the lakes suddenly drained, the surrounding water table was suddenly left next to two giant basins -- and sub-surface water began to burst out in ways that carved some of the world's most distinctive terrain features.  Later, some of that water from the land around those lakes would also erupt upwards out of the former lake-bottoms. As Dr. Brown explains:
Grand and Hopi Lakes emptied in weeks, so the water table surrounding those basins, in effect, quickly rose hundreds of feet. Perhaps several Great-Lakes’ worth of high-pressure subsurface water began seeking underground escape routes into those draining basins. Escaping groundwater exploited cracks and weak spots in the rock and opened up underground channels, many miles long. Those channels became destinations for even more escaping groundwater. The more water that flowed through these channels and their tributaries, the larger they became. In this way, hundreds of canyons formed that today enter the basins of the former Grand and Hopi Lakes. [That quotation is found on this page].
The hydrodynamic forces which created the slot canyons that are found in this general part of the world were carved by this subsurface water, according to Dr. Brown, and not by the erosive action of surface water flowing on the earth's surface (as the conventional theories propose). He explains:

Slot canyons have rough, vertical sandstone walls and can be a few hundred feet deep but only a few feet wide. They are usually found on the Colorado Plateau, along tributaries that feed into the Colorado River.73 [. . .] Conventional thinking says that slot canyons were carved by streams or flash floods eroding down from the surface. However, that would produce V-shaped canyons with relatively smooth walls, not extremely narrow, vertical canyons with jagged walls [. . .]. Besides, this quarter-mile long slot canyon, located at 36°51'46.14"N, 111°22'30.24"W, cuts through a ridge that rises 120 feet above ground. If the crack were not already there, a stream would flow along or around the ridge, not through it. Also, why would slot canyons be cut primarily through warped sandstone layers on the Colorado Plateau? Why are slot canyons not more uniformly scattered worldwide?
“Plateau Uplift” on page 208 explains why hydraulic uplifting of the Colorado Plateau warped horizontal layers and produced vertical fractures through those sedimentary layers. After Grand Lake breached, thin, vertical fractures that had penetrated wet layers of porous sand (aquifers) would have become drainage channels if flow could occur down to what would soon become the Colorado River. Drainage along those fractures eroded slot canyons and exposed warped, curved layers that were later cemented into sandstone by the silica-rich subsurface water. These vertical fractures produced slot canyons and streams; streams did not produce slot canyons. If all this happened millions of years ago, slot canyons would be much wider and shallower. [These sections of text are found on this page, at Figure 130, below photographs of Antelope Canyon].
These are very powerful points. Further support is provided by the clustering of features explained by this hypothesis in the geological region where we would expect them if in fact two huge lakes breached the way Dr. Brown believes that they did.

The series of maps below show how the location of Bluejohn Canyon is part of the area which would have been affected by this massive event, if the explanation proposed by Dr. Brown is correct (and there is ample evidence to suggest that it is). Note the other violently-disturbed terrain all around Bluejohn Canyon, starting with the Canyonlands and proceeding all the way to the Grand Canyon and beyond.

Each successive image "zooms out" to cover more ground, with the intent of showing how Bluejohn Canyon is part of a larger interconnected series of terrain features (including the Grand Canyon and also nearby Antelope Canyon) that were all carved by forces surrounding those breaching lakes (escaping water from the lakes, followed by violently escaping subsurface water). The area covered by the previous map is shown by a red rectangular outline in each successive map. The final map also shows the outline of the area covered by the very first map (which is the one above).

By "zooming out," this map shows how the line of canyons including Horseshoe Canyon and Bluejohn Canyon drain into Green River (northeast of the area covered in the red rectangle) -- Dr. Brown notes how many canyons (which he calls "barbed canyons") flow into rivers from the opposite direction that tributaries generally flow in regular river formations (the Green River, above, flows to the south, but the drainage of the slot canyons into it comes from the south and flows in from southwest to northeast). The explanation: these barbed canyons (including the slot canyons) were created by subsurface water flowing out into the basins that would later be occupied by the Colorado River and the Green River.

At this point we've almost zoomed out enough to see how all this terrain links together with the Grand Canyon (and many other features discussed by Dr. Brown on this page and this page of his website).

Below (at last) is a "Big Picture" image showing the location of Bluejohn Canyon in relation to the Grand Canyon, and other features that can be explained by the catastrophic draining of those two massive lakes.

In the map above (click on the image to enlarge it) you can see a label pointing to Bluejohn Canyon (inside the smaller red rectangle, which represents the area covered by the very first map up at the top of this post), as well as labels indicating the location of the Goosenecks (explained by Dr. Brown in the caption to figure 127, about three-fourths of the way down this long page), the famous Monument Valley (the backdrop for many John Wayne movies, its origins as the former lake-bottom of Grand Lake discussed by Dr. Brown in figure 124 on the same long web page), the stunning Antelope Canyon area (caused by the same rushing subsurface flows that carved Bluejohn and Horseshoe Canyons further north), the "funnel" formation at the origin point of Marble Canyon (where water blasted out on its way to setting the conditions for the carving of the Grand Canyon), Coal Mine Mesa (discussed, along with a photograph, at figure 129 at the bottom of that same page), and of course the Grand Canyon itself.

Dr. Brown also points out a host of problems with the conventional explanation for the Grand Canyon and the surrounding features (including "barbed canyons" that run "the wrong way" as Bluejohn does) on this web page.

This is all very powerful evidence, in my opinion, and worthy of careful consideration. It suggests that slot canyons are caused by relatively rare circumstances, typically involving a trapped post-flood body of water, uplifted due to nearby mountains, and then rapid breaching of large volumes of water and subsequent subsurface flows and eruptions of the "stranded" water table. They don't only occur in the American Southwest, but a large percentage of them do. Bluejohn Canyon certainly fits the description and appears to be evidence supporting the hydroplate theory's explanation of past events.

This is not to suggest, of course, that Aron Ralston accepts the hydroplate theory or its explanation for the creation of Bluejohn Canyon. However, as people around the world think back on his courageous escape, it is worth spending some time thinking about the amazing geology of our globe -- including slot canyons such as Bluejohn Canyon -- and how best to explain the evidence that we find to this day.