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Creation 28(3):30–32, June 2006

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Noah’s long-distance travelers

Quartzite boulders speak powerfully of the global Flood


Photo by John HergenratherWell-rounded-quartzites@1081w
Figure 1. Well-rounded quartzites from Central Oregon

Well-rounded quartzites like these (see figure 1) from Central Oregon have been transported some 500 km (300 miles) from their source. Sometimes they are 30 cm (12 inches) across and weigh more than 40 kg (90 lb).

Billions of rounded quartzite boulders and cobbles are found widely scattered throughout the northwestern United States and western Canada. You could easily overlook their significance unless you ask where they came from. The nearest source of quartzite rock is near the Continental Divide in Montana, Idaho and British Columbia (see map below). Yet quartzite boulders are found scattered eastward into Saskatchewan and North Dakota and westward throughout spots in Oregon and Washington. What could possibly have moved these rocks 500–1,000 km (300–600 miles) from their source over almost-level ground (slopes less than 0.1 degrees)? The geological processes that transported them are clearly not happening today!


What is quartzite?

Quartzites come in almost every colour of the rainbow. Many have percussion marks (pointed at in figure 2) indicating violent collisions during transport, in suspension at times, in deep torrential waters.

Quartzite rocks are so hard that they can be rolled long distances without disintegrating like most other rocks would do. They are composed of the mineral quartz (SiO2) and bound together with silica cement. Quartzite was once a softer sedimentary sandstone. But heat and pressure changed it into a hard metamorphic rock. Quartzites come in countless colours and designs. Some are banded with the original colours of the sandstone strata. Though usually mixed with other local rocks, quartzite cobbles can be easily recognized after a little practice. They are unusually smooth and rounded, and the lighter colours have a semi-opaque look. If you break one open, the inside has a sort of granulated or ‘sugared’ appearance. For this reason, some people call them ‘sugar agates’.

Quartzite locations

Photo by John Hergenrathecollision-marks@1152w
Figure 2. Collision marks

The map (above) shows some of the scattered deposits of rounded quartzites in the greater Northwest and Canada. The coloured area along the Continental Divide signifies the nearest sources from which the scattered quartzites could have come. This map is not complete, but reflects the locations that my friends and I have observed or have read about in the literature. As quartzites were carried east of the Rockies, they acted like gigantic cutting tools and planed the hills flat on the Northern Great Plains. The locations west of the Rockies are more isolated and scattered, probably reflecting a complicated mountain uplift. Interestingly, many of the western quartzites are found stranded on ridges or on mountain tops. How could this be explained? We have a clue in the retreating phases of Noah’s Flood.

The most likely process

For the waters of Noah’s Flood to recede, there had to be differential sinking and rising of the earth’s crust. This is probably what Psalm 104:6–8 is describing:

‘So You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters were standing above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled,
At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.
The mountains rose; the valleys sank down
To the place which You established for them.’ (NASB)

Thus the floodwaters receded off the earth with tremendous erosional force. The fact that quartzites were left on the tops of ridges and plateaus suggests that they were first carried by huge sheets of water which were flowing over a generally flat landscape. But as the mountain ranges continued to rise, land emerged above the eroding floodwaters, lifting the rocks as well. Further mountain uplift would have constricted and directed the waning Flood currents. This would have initiated a more ‘channelized’ phase of the receding Flood.1 Also, during this phase, major drainages and canyons were carved and probably much of our present day topography was formed. At this time, most of the quartzites were swept away with other eroded material. However some remained mixed with the gravels along major river valleys, and others collected in newly-formed deep basins.2 This is what we would expect to see with the Flood model, and this indeed is what we observe in the field.

A baffling puzzle

Photo by Mike OardQuartzite-boulders-Red-Mountain
Quartzite boulders on Red Mountain, Teton Mountains, Wyoming.

The long distances that quartzites have traveled are a great mystery for evolutionary geologists. Several variations of ‘ancestral river’ or ‘paleotorrent’ theories have been proposed by conventional geologists. For example, Dr Stephen Reidel, staff geologist with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and his associates say that ‘ancestral river’ systems distributed the quartzites now found in parts of the Columbia Gorge and throughout the Columbia Basin of Washington.3 But this theory is wholly inadequate to explain the presence of quartzites in the Puget Sound area near Seattle.

Also without good explanation is the presence of quartzite boulders in central Oregon, where there is no geological evidence for any ‘ancestral river’. Portland State University geologist Dr J.E. Allen discovered quartzite boulders up to 1 m (3 ft) in diameter on several mountains in northeastern Oregon. He wrote, ‘no nearby source for the quartzites has been recognized’, and suggested they were carried there by a ‘torrential paleoriver’. Then he admitted that this theory was ‘an outrageous hypothesis’ considering the wide distributions and the great distance of transport.4 

Transport mechanism studied

Geological researchers Peter Klevberg and Michael Oard have studied quartzite distributions in eastern Saskatchewan and North Dakota.5 They have asked what sort of currents would be required to carry boulders over 1,000 km (600 miles) from their source. By applying open-flow channel equations they calculated that oblong boulders 15 cm (6 inches) across would require currents of at least 105 km per hour (65 mph) in waters 60 m (200 ft) deep. These figures are minima! These rates are astounding, especially considering that modern-day flash floods seldom exceed 30 km per hour (20 mph) even when traveling down steep slopes. Modern floods don’t come close to explaining the distances most quartzites have traveled.

Photo by John Hergenrathersemi-circular-collision-marks@1152w
Figure 3. Semi-circular collision marks.

We can’t rule out that super-dense mudflows and other mass-wasting processes may also have played a part in transporting quartzites. However, most far-travelled quartzites show evidence of being rounded by a fluvial (watery) transport. In addition, many quartzites are scarred with semi-circular percussion marks (see figure 3). Most geologists agree that these marks indicate the rocks banged against each other while being carried in suspension in a violent watery flow.

A solemn reminder

Quartzite distributions are a powerful and convincing signature of the recessive phases of the Genesis Flood. The reality of the Flood is a solemn reminder that God is the Sovereign Ruler and Judge over His creation. So why are the evidences for the Flood outlined in this article so significant? Because, if the Flood happened the way the Bible says it did, then the supposed evidence for evolution and millions of years collapses. Either most of the earth’s fossils, sedimentary rocks and landforms signify long ages of evolution or they represent a recent watery catastrophe. They can’t represent both scenarios at the same time. What the Bible says about the Flood is important. It is foundational to clear and consistent Bible history and theology as well as underpinning accurate Earth science.

Posted on homepage: 2 July 2007


  1. Walker, T., A biblical geologic model; in: Walsh, R. E. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, pp. 581–592, 1994; also at biblicalgeology.net. Return to text.
  2. Oard, M.J., Hergenrather, J., Kevberg, P., Flood transported quartzites—east of the Rocky Mountains, Journal of Creation 19(3):76–90, 2005 has detailed descriptions of rounded quartzite boulders in the northwest United States and adjacent Canada which provide strong evidence for the Genesis Flood. Return to text.
  3. Fecht, K.R., Reidel, S.P., and Tallman, A.M., Paleodrainage of the Columbia river system on the Columbia Plateau of Washington State—a summary, Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources Bulletin 77:219, 226, 236, 238, 1987. Return to text.
  4. Allen, J.E., The case of the inverted auriferous paleotorrent—exotic gravels on Wallowa Mountain peaks, Oregon Geology, 53(5):104–107, September 1991. Return to text.
  5. Klevberg, P. and Oard, M.J., Paleohydrology of the Cypress Hills Formation and Flaxville gravel; in: Walsh, R.E. (editor), Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, p. 373, 1998. Return to text.

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