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The Bright Angel Trail trackways

Another set of arrows pointing to the global Flood

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Published: 13 October 2020 (GMT+10)
Photograph by Keaton Halleyfig-1
Figure 1. Well preserved trackways of four-footed animals exposed on the surface of a fallen sandstone boulder alongside the Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon.

Controversy has raged for decades surrounding mysterious four-footed (tetrapod) trackways preserved in the Coconino Sandstone of Grand Canyon. Creation scientists have convincingly argued, going back to the early 1990s, that these trackways are strong evidence of the global Flood, rather than being imprints in ancient wind-blown sand dunes.1 Now, apparently as a result of a chance encounter with a rockfall, a highly similar set of prints has been uncovered—though this time from a layer below the Coconino.2

The trackways in question, called the Bright Angel Trail trackways, belong to the Manakacha formation—part of the Supai Group—which are assigned an evolutionary ‘age’ of around 313 million years (based upon “stratigraphic and biostratigraphic relationships”3). Evolutionarily speaking, this places them in a different time period compared to the later Coconino Sandstone—the Manakacha formation is assigned to the Pennsylvanian subperiod of the Carboniferous period, whereas the Coconino Sandstone is assigned to the Permian, more than 50 million years younger, within their timeframe. Yet, strangely, we see very similar trackways in both of these fairly distant layers. In reality, both of these layers belong to the Inundatory Phase of Walker’s Biblical Geological Model (BGM), during which the floodwaters would have been on the rise. It’s no wonder, then, that we see these remarkably similar clues in both of these layers.

CMI’s speaker Keaton Halley came upon the actual specimen in question on his own travel to Arizona in late 2017, which shows that the ‘recent rockfall’ is not quite as recent as the reporting may have implied. Some of Keaton’s photos can be seen in figures 1–3 here.

Strange orientation

Perhaps the most interesting feature of these tracks is their strange orientation: the direction of walking is at a 40 degree angle to the direction the feet are facing. This is one of the factors that led scientists Leonard Brand and Thu Tang to propose similar trackways in the Coconino were produced underwater (not on desert sand dunes)! According to one report,

Photograph by Keaton Halleyfig-2
Figure 2. The near vertical walls of Grand Canyon, from which the well-cemented, hard boulder fell, are in the background. The trackways are crisp, indicating they were rapidly covered in sediment after they were made.
“Many of those [Coconino] tracks have characteristics that are just about impossible to explain unless the animal was underwater,” Brand told ScienceNews.
In particular, [Brand] notes that these [Coconino] tracks often show animals moving in one direction while their feet point in a different direction. … Brand suggests that newt-like animals created the tracks while walking underwater and being pushed by a current. To test that theory, he and Tang videotaped living newts walking through a tank with running water. The animals produced tracks with features similar to those in the Coconino, Brand says.4

Yet, here, in the case of the Bright Angel Trail trackways 50 million evo-years earlier, we find almost exactly the same scenario. Strange tracks are formed, allegedly in wind-blown sand dunes, with these odd characteristics of walking diagonally uphill. Rowland and his co-authors make no mention of Brand’s earlier work, and stick to the story of eolian sand dunes. Their only attempt to explain why the animal was walking diagonally reads as follows:

“Presumably to lessen the steepness of its ascent, the animal repeatedly stepped forward and to the right, resulting in a diagonal traverse across the sloping surface and the 40° difference between the direction of progression and the direction in which the feet were pointed.”3

What Dr Brand called, “just about impossible to explain,” Rowland and his co-authors have waved away with a simple presumption that the animal was trying to lessen the steepness of the climb. That might explain it if the animal were walking straight, but why would the animal sidestep awkwardly? Something does not add up, since this awkward gait would almost certainly not reduce the amount of work the animal had to do.

Wind-blown dunes?

Another factor to be considered here is the angle of the so-called “dunes”. As noted by Snelling and Austin before, one can measure the angle of eolian sand dunes compared to the angle of underwater sand waves. Wind-blown sand dunes slope at an angle of more than 25 degrees and up to 34 degrees,1 whereas the incline noted here in the Bright Angel Trail trackways is only 20 degrees.3

Photograph by Keaton Halleyfig-3
Figure 3. The Bright Angel Trail trackways are on a fallen boulder from the Manakacha formation, which is part of the Supai Group of Grand Canyon.

Why, then, do scientists insist on calling these features “eolian” (wind-driven)? Rowland and associates appear to take it for granted that they are dealing with eolian dunes, drawing on the views of others in the field rather than directly arguing against a watery formation. The fundamental reason is the huge size of the dunes. To form dunes of this size would require enormous water flows of biblical proportion, which is contrary to the philosophy of uniformitarianism. Hence the eolian interpretation. On the other side of the coin, interpreting these dunes as wind-blown is not compatible with a biblical Flood scenario for deposition, but water deposition is.

In justifying this eolian interpretation for the aforementioned Coconino tracks, Monastersky at Science News quotes Ralph Hunter of the US Geological Survey, “ … the formation has thin laminations consisting of fine sand on the bottom and coarse sand on top. ‘That is very distinctive and is a very reliable indicator of deposition by wind ripples.’”4 Creation geologists have since been able to debunk this claim that the Coconino sandstone grains are well-sorted as if blown by wind, showing that instead they are at best only partially sorted (as if by water).5 Regarding the idea of laminations: it has been demonstrated experimentally that moving water does produce fine laminations.6 Therefore, the alleged reasons why this ‘can’t be’ deposited by water are erroneous, and the powerful evidences that this surely must have involved a strong current of water stand unanswered.

How were the footprints preserved?

Rowland and associates cite experimental work done by Marchetti et al., showing that lizards were unable to leave trackways on wet or damp sand, and footprints were only left in dry sand (they didn’t consider the underwater hypothesis at all). But this raises a very ugly question: how can you possibly preserve a fossil trackway in dry, wind-blown desert sands? Marchetti et al. admit the problem and offer a very far-fetched solution:

“Nevertheless, the causes of preservation are still unclear, and include dampening … and/or grainflows possibly generated by the tetrapods themselves … In the latter, the progression of animals on the inclined surface may result in small grainflows that delicately cover the previously-formed footprints in a downslope area, preserving them from weathering.”7

Does one need to be a specialist to see the incredible nature of this explanation? Not to mention, after this delicate shower of grains propelled by the lizards settles and “preserves” the tracks, we still need catastrophic deposition of mineral within the grains to transform the loose grains into stone! This undermines the eolian explanation but points powerfully to the Flood. Here is what we wind up with, from Rowland et al:

“In the case of the two Manakacha Formation trackways described here, we postulate the following sequence of events: (1) Trackmaker 1 diagonally ascended a gentle slope of eolian, dry, quartz sand, employing a lateral-sequence gait, leaving a distinct trackway; (2) the uppermost few millimeters of the trackway surface were subsequently eroded, due to high wind speed and a paucity of loose sand, removing the prints of digits I and V, and leaving Trackway 1 as the shallow undertrackway that is exposed today; (3) the exposed undertrackway was then dampened by fog, dew, or light rain, creating a surficial crust of moist, compact, sand grains; (4) dry sand then covered this moist crust, perhaps one or two cm deep; (5) Trackmaker 2 then happened along, ascending straight up the same slope, moving more quickly than Trackmaker 1 had moved, employing a diagonal-sequence gait, digging its claws deeply enough for some of them to penetrate the buried but still damp Trackway 1 horizon, thereby creating Trackway 2; (6) the sand was subsequently buried, compacted, and cemented with calcite; (7) following uplift, exposure due to down-cutting by the Colorado River, and weathering, a boulder-size rock fell from a cliff along the Bright Angel Trail, and it split open along a weak parting surface that had been created approximately 313 million years earlier.”3

Notice how all the really tough bits to explain are rolled into step 6 and quickly brushed over: the sand was buried (how?), compacted (how?) and cemented with calcite (again, how?). Do all these steps not require catastrophic flooding?

Dr Brand did his own experimentation in dry and moist sand, and curiously did not arrive at those conclusions:

“The laboratory tracks made on dry and damp sand differed in several respects from the fossil tracks. Less than 12% of the dry sand and damp sand tracks displayed toe marks or other fine details, compared with more than 80% of the fossil tracks, underwater tracks and wet sand tracks. Furthermore, sand was often observed flowing backwards into previous prints. … The experimental tracks most closely resembling the fossil tracks were those made underwater.”8

The existence of these trackways provides strong evidence of their being preserved underwater.

Conclusion

The Bright Angel Trail trackways give us yet another piece of evidence in favor of Noah’s Flood. We have a trackway of some four-legged animal trudging uphill against a current, likely in a futile effort to escape the rising waters.

References and notes

  1. Snelling, A. and Austin, S., Startling evidence for Noah’s Flood, Creation 15(1):46–50, December 1992. Return to text.
  2. Capron, M., Cliff collapses in Grand Canyon, revealing 313 million-year-old footprints, park says, Miami Herald, 20 August 2020. Return to text.
  3. Rowland, S., Caputo, M., and Jensen, Z., Early adaptation to eolian sand dunes by basal amniotes is documented in two Pennsylvanian Grand Canyon trackways, PLoS ONE 15(8): e0237636, 19 August 2020. Return to text.
  4. Monastersky, R., Wading Newts May Explain Enigmatic Tracks. Science News, 141(1), 5. doi:10.2307/3976245, 1992. Return to text.
  5. Whitmore, J. and Maithel, S., Preliminary Report on Sorting and Rounding in the Coconino Sandstone, Creation Geology Society Abstracts, 9–10, 2010, cited in Whitmore, J., Coconino Sandstone—The Most Powerful Argument Against the Flood?, Answers July-September 2015, pp. 30–35. Return to text.
  6. Berthault, G., Sedimentation of a heterogranular mixture: experimental lamination in still and running water J. Creation, 4:95–102, 1990. Return to text.
  7. Marchetti, L. et al., Tetrapod ichnotaxonomy in eolian paleoenvironments (Coconino and De Chelly formations, Arizona) and late Cisuralian (Permian) sauropsid radiation, Earth-Science Reviews 190:148–170, March 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earscirev.2018.12.011. Return to text.
  8. Whitmore, J. and Garner, P., The Coconino Sandstone (Permian, Arizona, USA): Implications for the origin of ancient cross-bedded sandstones, Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism, pp. 581–627, 2018; summarizing Brand, L., Field and laboratory studies on the Coconino Sandstone (Permian) vertebrate footprints and their paleoecological implications, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 28:25–38, 1979. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

WR B.
Another Biblical model for the Flood, which I have been developing, involves astral-impacts, and can account for aeolian sedimentation. One evidence for this is that the Supai's red sandstone is mostly feldspar crystals instead of quartz with abundant hematite grains. The hematite does not coat the feldspar but are discreet crystals of their own. If the red were rust, that formed in water, it would coat the feldspar crystals, but hematite forms at 800+ degrees C. and the feldspar at slightly lower temperature. The wind could come from rushing air pushing back into the vacuum formed by impactors forming the large crater. The sediments would originate in vapor condensate from the vaporized rock in the impact. The longitudinal waves that the prints are in only form at very high wind speeds with a low proportion of sediment to wind current, and would be pointing back into the cratering location. The erg winds that produced the broad flat dune fields (ergs) would have been accompanied by lots of rain and salts which were also produced by vapor condensates. These are prominent in other aeolian erg sediments such as the Cutler Undivided in the Paradox Basin of Utah and Colorado, and the persistent Norphlet sandstone completely surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, and consistently pointing back into the gulf, which is the site of one major impact.
Nichola W.
I have spent a lot of time around sand, both dunal and beach, and very wind blown. Their explanations don't hold up at all. Tracks on wind blown sand are easily removed. Tracks on a hard crust are either very difficult to see because the animal was too light to leave an impression or if the animal is heavy enough, the crust breaks and the prints are just a blob, even worse on a slope.
Once again, their explanations are in their dreams.
Geoff C. W.
Could the surface have been flat or flatter, with uplift and tilting at a later date? That would be consistent with angled walking, partly against the floodwater current, would it not?
Paul Price
Since both sides of the slope are shown in the geological record, we would not appeal to uplift in this case. We would say the slope is a product of subaqueous waves from moving water.

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