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Glen Helen Gorge, Australia

How did it form?


Published: 7 April 2016 (GMT+10)
The water gap through Glen Helen Gorge.

Why does the Finke River at the Glen Helen Resort flow straight through the range, forming Glen Helen Gorge? Geologists call this a water gap. In Central Australia the Finke River flows across the grain of all the McDonnell Ranges and water gaps are common. In fact, water gaps are a global phenomenon, with more than 1000 across the earth.1 (See Do rivers erode through mountains?)

The rims of at least three of the ranges that the Finke River flows through have been ‘dated’ by evolutionary geologists as some 400 million years old. How erosive processes could have continued for so long defies belief. For example, using standard uniformitarian geology, it would only take about 17 million years to erode a whole continent (see Eroding ages: if our continents were old they would no longer be here).

If the Finke River had carved the landscape slowly over long ages, it should have flowed around the barrier instead of through it.

No one has ever seen a water gap form, so stories that attempt to explain these unexpected geological features are conjecture. One popular old-age geological explanation is that the river had already established when the terrain was flat. Then, as the range slowly uplifted, the river slowly cut through the uplifting rock at exactly the right speed, forming the gorge. But, how could such a delicate uplift and erosion relationship be achieved? Uplift of the range should have dammed the river, and we should be able to see accompanying lake deposits and places where the river was diverted. These are rarely found.

Rock cliff face opposite dining area at Glen Helen Lodge (see discussion in article). Click for larger image.

The catastrophic Flood described in the book of Genesis in the Bible easily explains the global phenomenon of water gaps. After the Flood waters reached their peak, and the whole earth was covered with water, the ocean basins began to sink. Over a period of about seven months the Flood waters retreated from the continents, initially eroding the surface flat. These vast flat plateaus can be seen on all continents today. Eventually, the higher parts of the plateaus’ mountain ranges rose above the surface, restricting the flow to channels in between. Cubic kilometres of water, ponded by uplift, would have had to flow in the narrow gaps through the rock barricades formed by the long mountain ranges. These mega water flows provided the erosive power (not available in present day stream flows) to carve water gaps across and into ridges and forming river pathways we see today. Where these gaps were not carved deep enough to allow water to flow, they are known as ‘wind gaps’.

If you drive from the west along Larapinta Drive towards Glen Helen and take a moment to view the shape of the landscape, imagine the water covering the tops of the ranges. It is not hard to visualise the lower lands filled by this water seeking a breakthrough across the ridges to lowering ocean basins to the south. The rock barrier at Glen Helen that the Finke River now flows through after retreating Flood waters cut a water gap, is the massive up-thrusted Heavitree Quartzite. The Todd River also flows through a water gap in the Heavitree Quartzite at Alice Springs. The 300 m (980 ft) deep Ormiston Gorge is also a water gap.2

Directly opposite the Glen Helen Resort’s outdoors dining area is a near vertical cliff exposure of the base of the Heavitree Quartzite.3 The quartzite is heavily fractured due to the powerful forces involved in the thrust faulting that formed the cliff (see photo). Note the relatively small volume of debris and boulders (called scree) at the foot of the cliffs. If the cliffs were millions of years old, as evolutionary geologists tell us, there should be an extensive boulder-filled scree slope at the base of the cliffs. This lack of scree indicates these cliffs are young, confirming the recent carving of these water gaps by receding Flood waters.

Once we understand how Noah’s Flood makes sense of the landscape, it changes the way we see our world. And for many people, that gives a new appreciation for the trustworthiness of the Bible and stimulates them to revisit its message.

References and notes

  1. Oard, M.J., Water Gaps in the Alaska Range, CRSQ 44(3):180–192; 2008. Return to text
  2. Walker, T., Ormiston Gorge, Central Australia,, accessed 2 June 2015. Return to text
  3. Walker, T., A Biblical Geological Model, 3rd ICC Proceedings, CSF, pp. 581–592, 1994. Return to text

Helpful Resources

Rocks Aren't Clocks
by John K Reed
US $10.00
Flood By Design
by Michael J Oard
US $15.00
The Genesis Flood: Fact or Fiction?
by Dr Tas Walker
US $3.50
The Geologic Column
by John K Reed, Michael J Oard
US $15.00
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Readers’ comments

Craig P.
How cool to see an article about geology in my back yard. Back in the 1980's I did year 11 and 12 geology and my teacher was really good. But back in those days I was a uniformatarian atheist, as per the standard.
The Mt St Helens Evidence for Catastrophe VHS changed all that in 1993, so while the geology is different to that of Washington state, it is great to see the landscape all over the world from a Genesis Flood and post-Flood perspective.
What is also neat about the Central Australian landscape is that being arid the landscape is also 'naked', that is not covered by trees and jungle so the formations are far more exposed and the layering really jumps out at you.

Thank you Dehne for this article and cheers to CMI for the ministry that He has placed into your hands.

Craig -Alice Springs
Martin S.
This is an excellent article. Geology fascinates me though I don't think I'd ever seriously study it.
I was raised in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, some miles from the Susquehanna River, but near the Lehigh Gorge, and in Arizona.
Not far from where I am today are strip mines (anthracite coal). Everywhere a person looked they could see tilted layers of rock caused by massive upheaval. Drift, we call it, because it looks like drifts of coal and stone.
On Niagara, if the earth were as old as evos claim, it would be a series of rapids, not a falls.
The rate of 'decay' can be measured, and the little ice age (which they claim ended 10,000 years ago) couldn't have had time to do that. The St. Lawrence has drained the Great Lakes long before that occurred and there should be no falls if ancient-earth evos are correct.
God's best to you, you rule!
Robert H.
There is one mechanism for backwards erosion. (Comment by Ken B.) That is, a waterfall such as Niagara Falls erodes its base, and the fall travels upstream. But this is not the kind of phenomenon found in this example. Waterfalls depend on having an existing flow, and a suitable drop.
Tas Walker
Yes, there needs to be a suitable upstream catchment, as explained in my response to Chris W's comment.
Chris W.
Dear Sirs,

I may have misunderstood Ken B's comments, but my understanding from previous articles on CMI's web site e.g. describing the Niagara Falls, is that erosion is indeed backwards.

Also, the author could, I think, have made the point that when moving water picks up a critical quantity of sediment, including larger stones and boulders, the density of the whole mix (slurry) increases. With enough speed astonishing amounts of stone debris can be lifted along, and it is this high density liquid which can then cut through the hardest of rocks in a minimal amount of time.

I'm no geologist but this my understanding of how these water gaps were aided in their creation. Am I correct?
Tas Walker
The Niagara falls does indeed erode backwards but that is because there is a huge catchment upstream and hence a great volume of water flowing across the falls. But if there is no upstream catchment (due to the mountain range) and hence no water how is there going to be erosion backwards?
Ken B.
Here is one 'explanation' put forward by US Geological Survey (USGS) for the formation of the Delware Water Gap. "the gaps are perhaps the result of stream capture processes as the steeper, higher energy streams carve back into their headlands". Think about that. How much water flows at the head of a river? A trickle. With a mountain range behind it there is little catchment to generate 'higher energy streams'. Rivers erode as they go downstream, not backwards through mountain ranges.

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