Questioning the "desert" environment for the Coconino Sandstone.

The Coconino Sandstone in Grand Canyon has long been interpreted by the secular scientific community as an ancient desert that blew across western North America some 250 million years ago.

In 1979, Dr. Leonard Brand, a creationist from Loma Linda University, published a remarkable paper in a secular journal that contradicted this conventional interpretation based on the presence of vertebrate fossil trackways.

Brand conducted several experiments with live amphibians crawling over sand-filled tanks. The experiments were conducted with dry sand, sand moistened with spray, sand that was permeated with water, and sand that was sitting under the water. At the beginning of each trial, amphibians could crawl over the different sands for the purpose of recording their trackways. These trackways were then compared to the fossil trackways found in the Coconino Sandstone.

The results were very interesting. The trackways created in the lab most consistent with the fossil trackways were the ones made “underwater.” These trackways were exceptionally distinct, right down to the tiny toe prints. Brand clearly shows that most Coconino trackways are also exceptionally distinct (see the image below from a slab of Coconino sandstone), almost exactly like the ones he’d created in the lab.

As Brand poured over many slabs of Coconino Sandstone, he also found that the trackways sometimes went “sideways.” This was intensely interesting because, although the animal walked sideways across the dune, its toes were always pointed to the “top” of the dune (see the trackways that go sideways across the image below). Yet animals do not walk across dune faces with their toes pointing upwards. It is almost as if the animal was trying to climb the dune, but some force was pushing it across the face of the dune at the same time.

Sometimes, the sideways tracks are separated by many feet. This would indicate the animal was completely picked up and transported before being dumped on the duneface some distance away. All this evidence strongly supports the notion of a very watery environment.

Importantly, Brand’s work neither “proves” that the Earth is young, nor that Noah’s Flood was global. The evidence is tantalizing and, in conjunction with more recent research, does seem to challenge a simplistic desert interpretation for the Coconino Sandstone, but it would be a mistake to use these data to “prove” the universality of Noah’s Flood.

Many creationists make this mistake. In geology, there is a progression of interpretive thought starting at the level of individual sediment particles, then moving to the processes that deposited those sediment particles, then comparing these processes and sedimentary features to modern analogues.

Once all these steps have been completed, a model can be proposed that explains the deposition of the ancient environment. YEC have yet to construct a model that fully satisfies these requirements for the Coconino Sandstone. As such, we should be careful when using these data to “prove” Noah’s Flood. What these data do suggest, however, is that these “desert” dunes were, at the very least, influenced in some strong way by a very lot of water.

Image with thanks to Leonard Brand

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