What does it take to make a canyon?

Yellowstone National Park is one of our great American treasures. We spent several summers at Montana State University and had the opportunity to spend a lot of time wandering around this great wilderness. Most people think of Old Faithful and the geyser basin when they think of Yellowstone, but the canyon and falls shown on the cover of our journal for this month is one of Yellowstone's most beautiful places.

 What does it take to make a canyon like this, and what does this tell us about the history of the earth? The answers to these questions are remarkably simple. You need something that is capable of cutting down through a material, and you need a material that can be cut. On Planet Earth, the main cutting agent is water. When water is frozen, it gouges and cuts a wide U-shaped channel. This is called a glacier and its shape is easy to identify. In the liquid form, water makes a V-shaped channel like the one on our cover. How long the channel is and how deep it has been cut is determined by how much water flows, how long it flows, and how hard the rock is that it flows through. In Yellowstone, most of the rock is geyserite, a soft yellow rock easily cut and eroded by water. Mt. St. Helens is a similar type of rock. These soft rocks are produced by volcanic processes, and deep canyons can happen quickly when flooding occurs.

 In other places like the Grand Canyon and most of the eastern part of the United States, the rock is much harder, and this takes much longer to erode. Yellowstone is a young topography caused by recent volcanism. The sedimenary rocks of the eastern United States and the Grand Canyon took a long time to deposit and a long time to erode. All of this points to God's patience and timelessness. Men should not try to lock God into a man-made time frame that makes God small and trivial. Remember that "a day is unto the Lord as is a thousand years." (2 Peter 3:8).

--John N. Clayton

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