Come see Texas’ new canyon!

Canyon Lake Gorge, Gorge website photo

Having a brand new canyon is sort of a once in a lifetime experience. It might even be more rare than that.

Texas’s Canyon Lake Gorge opened to the public last week — a gorge, a canyon, that was carved out over a couple of days in 2002 when flood waters charging over an overtaxed dam cut through soft soils and soft rock to expose millions of years of sediments. Dinosaur footprints were exposed by the flood, too.

A torrent of water from an overflowing lake sliced open the earth in 2002, exposing rock formations, fossils and even dinosaur footprints in just three days. Since then, the canyon has been accessible only to researchers to protect it from vandals, but on Saturday it opens to its first public tour.

“It exposed these rocks so quickly and it dug so deeply, there wasn’t a blade of grass or a layer of algae,” said Bill Ward, a retired geology professor from the University of New Orleans who started cataloging the gorge almost immediately after the flood.

The mile-and-a-half-long gorge, up to 80 feet deep, was dug out from what had been a nondescript valley covered in mesquite and oak trees. It sits behind a spillway built as a safety valve for Canyon Lake, a popular recreation spot in the Texas Hill Country between San Antonio and Austin.

The reservoir was built in the 1960s to prevent flash flooding along the Guadalupe River and to assure the water supply for central Texas. The spillway had never been overrun until July 4, 2002, when 70,000 cubic feet of water gushed downhill toward the Guadalupe River for three days, scraping off vegetation and topsoil and leaving only limestone walls.

Canyon Lake is southwest of Austin, almost due west from San Marcos about 20 miles. The lake backed up from a 1960 flood control project dam built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — the new Canyon Lake Gorge is managed jointly by the Corps and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority.

Watch carefully, dear reader: Creationists will soon start to claim that the rapid cutting of this canyon verifies a young age for all canyons, and shows that the Earth’s geology can indeed be very young. But that claim will gloss over the fact that while the gorge was cut quickly, it was cut through sediments that took millions or billions of years to lay down. The Associated Press reports problems with such a hypothesis:

The sudden exposure of such canyons is rare but not unprecedented. Flooding in Iowa in 1993 opened a limestone gorge behind a spillway at Corvalville Lake north of Iowa City, but that chasm, Devonian Fossil Gorge, is narrower and shallower than Canyon Lake Gorge.

Neither compares to the world’s most famous canyon. It took water around 5 million to 6 million years to carve the Grand Canyon, which plunges 6,000 feet at its deepest point and stretches 15 miles at its widest.

The more modest Canyon Lake Gorge still displays a fault line and rock formations carved by water that seeped down and bubbled up for millions of years before the flooding.

Some of the canyon’s rocks are punched with holes like Swiss cheese, and the fossils of worms and other ancient wildlife are everywhere. The rocks, typical of the limestone buried throughout central Texas, date back “111 million years, plus or minus a few hundred thousand years,” Ward said.

Six three-toed dinosaur footprints offer evidence of a two-legged carnivore strolling along the water. The footprints were temporarily covered with sand to protect them as workers reinforced the spillway, but they’ll be uncovered again eventually, Rhoad said.

Tours for the new gorge are booked for the next six months. Details on how to reserve space can be found at the website of the Gorge Preservation Society (GPS).

5 Responses to Come see Texas’ new canyon!

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Josh, you miss most of the point of the Grand Canyon. It’s not that it took millions of years to carve, but that the carving exposes the billions of years necessary for the layers of the canyon to accrete.

    In fact the carving probably took only about 7 million years, as the Colorado Plateau was thrust up — a wink of a god’s eye in geologic time. That’s almost nothing: The Niagara River Gorge may have taken less than a day, and the Scablands of western Washington and Oregon just a few days (over repeated events). Both of those examples show what a massive, short-term flood can do. Tellingly, those signs do not occur over most of the rest of the world (can you name even one other such site?).

    Nor is the Texas canyon a mile deep. You can’t fly an airplane below the rim without damaging the Texas canyon or killing yourself.

    But while we’re at it, we probably ought to note that, were the water from a Noachic flood responsible for carving a canyon in northern Arizona, the river would probably flow the opposite way. For the past three million years the Colorado Plateau has tilted so that water falling at the top of the plateau would flow west to east for a while, not carving a path to Baja California, but perhaps even joining the Rio Grande’s march to the Atlantic Basin (I may be giving too much tilt there, but you get the point).

    Building the Grand Canyon, from the Vishnu Schist on up, took more than three billion years. in that time oceans washed over the land, then deserts; desert dunes were fossilized, and then more oceans. Lava flowed over much of the land — some of the dunes were completely eroded away on one side of the canyon, not on the other.

    There are two stories the geology tells. The longer one is about the creation of the land into which the canyon is cut. The cutting is interesting, too. Creationist denial of one or both of the stories reveals more about the ability of people to deny all the evidence in a case, and nothing about God or science.


  2. Josh says:

    If this had happened 500 years ago you would be claiming that it took millions of years to carve out but since you witnessed it happen you know thats not true. So who is to say the Grand Canyon took that long? I believe that it came about as a result of the global flood.


  3. lowerleavell says:

    From a YEC to y’all. I’ll be kind and just leave this one alone. :-)


  4. bernarda says:

    Over eons, the Mediterranean Sea was dried up and then replenished several times. When the ocean level dropped below the barrier of the Straits of Gibralter, the sea dried up. When the ocean level rose again, it breached the straits and re-flooded the sea bed. One can hardly imagine the spectacle of the waterfall that was created. Of course all this happened long before even prehistoric human times, so it isn’t in ancient texts.


  5. Nothing, of course, will stop the YECs from spewing their nonsense. But they don’t need this canyon for evidence that a large canyon can be created in far lesss than millions of years. Or rather, they may need it, but only because of their profound ignorance, which is hardly a secret.

    Only 1300 miles from the Grand Canyon is the Columbia River Gorge, created in several very brief episodes of incredible flooding at the end of the most recent Ice Age, when a glacial dam broke (and was re-formed and broke again) releasing whole lakefulls of melt water down the Columbia. A broad valley suddenly (in geologic terms) had a deep gash down the middle, with the old tributaries making splendid waterfalls into the new gorge; you can drive up to the edge of the gorge and see the effect clearly.

    The fuddy-duddy geologists had trouble accepting this bit of catastrophism (score one for the eccentrics), but of course the evidence brought them around (take back that score). And J. Harlan Bretz didn’t freeze on the Greenland ice cap the way poor Wegener did, and lived to see his discovery vindicated.

    One little reality-based problem here, though, for the Young-Earth iconoclasts: it is abundantly evident when you look at the geology that the Columbia gorge is fresh and recent (e.g., waterfalls that are now eroding themselves toward non-existence), while the Colorado one is ancient and peaceful (all the tributaries having long since eroded away any sudden changes in elevation). There are multiple lines of evidence, but the falls are the most spectacular.

    If anybody had any brains, he’d put out a book, to be sold in the Grand Canyon book shop (you’ve heard about the creationist scandal there?) and at the tourist center at Willamette Falls. It would be called Old Canyon, New Canyon,and would have a beautiful color pic on the glosy cover, showing the two canyons so as to display their differences, with well-written text inside (& lots of good pictures) explaining the differences and how they show the different ages of the canyons.

    The Willamette shop, at least, would sell a lot of copies, being at a major attraction in one of the most literate states in the country. The Grand Canyon shop — who knows?


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