The Great Unconformity
of the Grand Canyon
Sacred Site of the Epic of Evolution
report by Connie Barlow, August 2009
Blacktail Canyon (mile 120) is a fabulous place for rafters and kayakers to wallow in the wooziness one feels when faced with the reality of deep time. Here "The Great Unconformity" is easily accessible on a short hike up a side canyon. And it is here that the Grand Canyon offers a 1.2 billion year gap in the rock record. Above the gap is 500 million-year-old sandstone Cambrian age: a time of shelly marine creatures but no fish yet. Below the gap is rock so old it has been metamorphosed into gneiss. The gneiss clocks in at 1.75 billion years; bacteria are the peak of Earth's biological complexity at this time. Thus more than 1.2 billion years of Earth history has left no record at this spot on Earth.
Perhaps this was an upland area for all of that time, and so no deposition occurred. Or maybe this spot was underwater during part of the gap time, but then an uplift occurred and all of the regional Earth history was eroded away.
CONNIE BARLOW (above left) and MICHAEL DOWD (above right) experience 1.2 billion years of missing time (July 2009).
Five minute VIDEO of Duane Gishlet, geologist , explaining this feature on our trip.
Connie and Michael were on-board for the annual Grand Canyon trip of the National Center for Science Education. EUGENIE SCOTT (left) is executive director. She is standing in front of the Great Unconformity, explaining how "young Earth creationists" view this rock feature from their peculiar, scriptural perpsective. Our trip attracted 2 professional geologists, in addition to our geological guide: ALAN GISHLICK (photo above right, sitting on the Cambrian layer). It also attracted science teachers and editorial page editor MITCHELL WALDROP (in the blue shirt) of a top science journal: Nature.
Click for VIDEO of Mitch Waldrop in the Grand Canyon defending the teaching of evolution.
REFLECTIONS BY CONNIE BARLOW: What a roller coaster ride of feeling big and feeling small! At the Great Unconformity I felt immense and immensely privileged to safely travel this dangerous river to this sacred site of the Epic of Evolution. Other times, while floating the river in silence, peering up at the red walls that vanished high in the sky, I would focus on a single thin layer and reflect that my own life would span a flitting blip of time far less than that represented in the horizontal sliver of rock. And while the rock has a legacy that lasts for millions of years, how long will my impress on this world last? How soon will any good work that I might do in these few decades vanish utterly, without a trace. Or might something I set in motion amplify in the years ahead, and combine with the good works of others to make a lasting contribution if not to Earth history than perhaps to the cultural history of the first species in this star system whose technological prowess gave it the wherewithal to dig up and reach out in quest of the real story of our creation?
Light sandstone over ancient gneiss (above left) marks the Great Unconformity from a river view.
(Above) A short stroll upstream of the Great Unconformity,
MICHAEL DOWD immersed himself in water, in an act of awe and gratitude.
(Below) Other opportunities for immersion by Michael and Connie in side canyons.
Documentary film-maker GRETA SCHILLER (with video camera above left) brought 2 film assistants with her
to record our exploration of the evolution v. creationism debate on this raft journey. MICHAEL DOWD center front of raft.
Grand Canyon VIDEO of Connie Barlow explaining why the teaching of evolution is important.
Above: More side canyon photos by Connie Barlow
Enhancing my journey was a song that lodged in my brain and delightfully kept popping in and out of consciousness. Just a few days before our canyon pilgrimage, I experienced "So Blessed" performed by singer-songwriter Keith Mesecher at an "Evolutionary Revival" that he and I co-produced in Santa Barbara California. (Keith provided the vocals and music, and I created and ran the powerpoint text, so that participants could sing-along.) Yes, as Keith sings, "How did I get to be so lucky? How did I come to be so blessed?" You can listen on this website to an AUDIO raw version of this song, just with Keith and his guitar. Keith has a fabulous CD of SONGS he composed for Evolutionary Revivals, available for purchase online. See photos of our first evolutionary revival, staged in San Diego CA, February 2008.
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