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Kimble: Is the Grand Canyon only 6,000 years old?

With Bible in mind, river guide reshapes theory on rock of ages

Mules take visitors into the depths of the Grand Canyon - where rocks are either 6,000 or 3 billion years old. A group that leads religious-themed trips through the canyon said it was cut by the Colorado River "in a matter of days."

Mules take visitors into the depths of the Grand Canyon - where rocks are either 6,000 or 3 billion years old. A group that leads religious-themed trips through the canyon said it was cut by the Colorado River "in a matter of days."

Forget that hooey about the Grand Canyon being really, really old. And forget that rumor that it took a couple million years for the Colorado River to cut the mile-deep canyon.

Here’s the real deal: The canyon is only about 6,000 years old – a geologic infant.

And it didn’t take that long to cut the canyon. When the big flood – the one that got Noah into the boat-building business – receded, the rush of water cut the Grand Canyon in a few days.

That’s not the way I learned it in Geology 101. And a geomorphology professor at the University of Arizona says it is nonsense.

But a lot of people believe it. And Tom Vail, a professional river guide from Phoenix who has taken thousands of people on trips through the Grand Canyon over the past 30 years, says he has no doubt the canyon is just a baby.

If you don’t believe Vail’s theory about how the Grand Canyon came to be, you can join him on a Canyon Ministries “Christ-centered motorized rafting trip” through the canyon.

But if you want to go this year, hurry. The trips are popular, and seven of this summer’s eight trips already are sold out. There is room only on a three-day, $990 trip in late August. “All trips include everything but your clothes, camera and Bible,” the Canyon Ministries Web site advises.

Years ago, when I took a nine-day boat trip through the canyon, I learned all about the Vishnu Schist – the oldest rocks visible at the bottom of the canyon. This layer of rock was up to 3 billion years old, we were told – some of the oldest rock on Earth.

That’s a little off, said Vail – by a factor of about 500,000.

“We look at the canyon from a biblical point of view,” he said. “The Bible says the Earth was created in six literal days about 6,000 years ago.”

For the first 15 years he led river trips through the canyon, Vail said he was an “evolutionist” – going along with the idea that the Earth and the canyon have been around for billions of years. “But then I received Christ as my savior and I started looking at the canyon in God’s view,” he said.

That view is that the many layers of rock making up the canyon were laid down not over billions of years but in about five months, Vail said. Then the big flood happened – the one that Noah survived. When it receded in a rush, it carved the Grand Canyon “in a matter of days,” Vail said.

Jon Pelletier, a UA associate professor of geomorphology, begs to differ. He wrote a book titled “Quantitative Modeling of Earth Surface Processes” and the publication “Numerical modeling of the late Cenozoic geomorphic evolution of Grand Canyon, Arizona,” so the topic is not foreign to him.

Pelletier said indisputable evidence shows that the Colorado River started carving the canyon at least 5 million to 6 million years ago – and continues carving it deeper today.

The age of volcanic rock in the canyon can be precisely dated, Pelletier said, so there is no way the canyon could be only 6,000 years old.

Nonetheless, Vail has assembled his theories – and the like-minded views of others – in the book “Grand Canyon, A Different View.” It has 23 contributors, 17 of whom are scientists, he said.

Several years ago, the book was sold alongside mainstream scientific books in the canyon bookstore. But when the Geological Resources Division of the National Park Service objected, it was relocated.

“It’s still sold in the park,” Vail said, “but now it’s in the ‘Inspiration’ section. They don’t agree with it, but that doesn’t make it not science.”

It’s not science, says Pelletier.

“I’m a super-open-minded guy,” he said, “but I don’t know a geologist at any university in the world that believes that.”

Mark Kimble appears at 6:30 p.m. Fridays on the Roundtable segment of “Arizona Illustrated” on KUAT-TV, Channel 6. He may be reached at mkimble@tucsoncitizen.com or 573-4662.



For more information on Canyon Ministries’ river trips through the Grand Canyon, go online to www.canyonministries.com.

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