The Squishy Sands of South Utah

by William A. Hoesch, M.S. Geology | Mar 11, 2013

“Great are the works of the LORD, they are studied by all who delight in them”
(Psalm 111:2)

It is implied more than often stated that: the only alternative to an old earth of billions of years in age is the scientifically ignorant belief in a young-earth. “The debate is over,” one can almost hear. However, the old-earth view is not nearly as smooth and seamless as it is usually presented. Let us consider the subject of sand injectites.

Kodachrome Basin

Deep in the canyon-country of southern Utah is a beautiful state park called Kodachrome Basin, which is frequently bypassed in favor of its nearby but more-photogenic sister—Bryce Canyon. In a two square mile area are 67 sandstone pillars from a few feet to 52 feet across, which stand vertically as high as 172 feet above the basin floor1. Surrounding the pillars on three sides is an amphitheater-like backdrop of colorful 700-foot cliffs composed of sedimentary rock layers regarded to be Jurassic, Cretaceous, and Tertiary in age. An examination of the pillars reveals a “Heinz-57” composition of rounded pebbles, cobbles, carbonized wood, and wildly tilted meter-sized blocks of sedimentary rock, all floating in a matrix of well-cemented sandstone. The sandstone matrix matches in composition with a layer known to be buried 300 feet below the basin floor. What does all this mean?

Figure 1: One of dozens of such pillars in Kodachrome Basin State Park,
which are all “rooted” in a layer hundreds of feet below surface.

The following interpretation seems inescapable. The well-layered sandstone, mudstone, and siltstone in the surrounding cliffs began their story as water-deposited sands, muds, and silts. Both marine and terrestrial creatures, including dinosaurs, are entombed in these layers in a manner that suggests rapid burial. Sometime before these sediments had a chance to harden to stone, the earth shook. Sand particles in one or more layers, which had been resting grain-upon-grain, suddenly mobilized into a fluidized sand/water slurry. Its effective specific gravity reduced, the slurry forcefully intruded or “injected” upward, shooting for hundreds of feet before lodging into the overlying strata. Wall-rock eroded from its violent passage was incorporated into the slurry; and the whole mass was emplaced probably in minutes if not seconds. Eventually the sediment de-watered and turned to stone, but for whatever reason, the injected sand bodies or injectites hardened to a greater degree than their surrounding host-rock. Erosion later preferentially removed the softer host-rock, exposing as stony pillars or “pipes” what had once been conduits for the explosively injected sand slurries. This interpretation is widely accepted in the scientific community.

Figure 2: Fluidized sand from Layer C must have been injected upward sometime
after layer F was deposited. If the layers really accumulated over millions of years
then how the sand could remain in a soft condition is a mystery.

Here’s one remarkable aspect of this story: the total sedimentary rock thickness penetrated by the injectites is 1,035 feet. Assuming standard “deep time” age assignments, this stratigraphic thickness accumulated over a period of 10 million years; that is, it took more than 3 years, on average, to deposit each paper-thin layer of sediment. At such an infinitesmally slow rate, one would think there would be ample time for one layer to de-water and harden to stone before the next layer came on top of it. Certainly after 10 million years and 1,035 feet of overburden, one would not expect a buried layer to be so water-saturated that it could mobilize and shoot upward as liquified sand! Few old-earth geologists have even offered an explanation for this awkward problem.
The mystery is heightened as we consider the origin of the rounded pebbles and cobbles found in many of the injectites. The only rigorous study to address the question2 found that they were derived from Pleistocene gravels that somehow got incorporated into the injected sands. Now if Pleistocene material was present at the time these Jurassic sands mobilized in slurry-form, then the time disparity is not 10 million years, but closer to 150 million!
The obvious alternative to such a strained interpretation is the “unthinkable” solution that the geologic timescale is somehow in gross error. Simply remove the artificial age-dates of millions of years for these strata, and the problem disappears completely. Given that the layers in question are distributed across vast portions of the American Southwest, and given that the fossils in these layers are the remains of creatures that appear to have met violent deaths, a model involving very rapid sediment accumulation is not only plausible but compelling! It is for reasons like this that the founders of the science of geology viewed layers like these as the products of the Genesis Flood, not for the sake of force-fitting geology to their religion, but because it was a model that worked. It redeemed the data; and still does.

The Wider Context

Since 2005 sand injectites are popping up everywhere and are a hot topic of geology research. Why? Millions of barrels of oil have been discovered in sand-injectite-reservoirs buried beneath the North Sea, offshore Angola, the Mediterranean, and other places around the world.3 No longer geologic oddities, there is now tremendous commercial interest in sand injectites. Places like southern Utah are now crawling with European geologists, not because it is a prospective oil province, but because these well-exposed injectites are instructive in exploring for their buried counterparts. One finding from this recent wave of research is that the Kodachrome Basin injectites are part of a much larger field of similar structures that stretch across an 8,000 square mile area.4 Pipes in other parts of the world known to penetrate 3,300 feet of overlying strata completely dwarf the Kodachrome examples.5
Sand injectites in other regions have similar timescale problems. For example, in California’s Central Valley is an intensely studied sand-injectite complex, also with a time disparity on the order of 10 million years.6 In Libya, North Africa, field research indicates that Cambrian-aged sand mobilized in a water-saturated state in the Devonian, some 70 to 100 million years later.7 Peculiar structures in central Utah’s San Rafael Swell are now being re-interpreted as injectites, suggesting that early Permian sand mobilized in the Paleocene, 220 million years later.8 Finally, in the Colorado Front Range outside of Colorado Springs is compelling evidence that Cambrian sand mobilized as wet slurries into some spectacular injectites in the late Cretaceous, 435 million years later.9 If true, this would indicate that the bulk of the sedimentary rock record was, in its entirety, in a soft and water-saturated state at some time in the past. Here is a view of the geologic record with profound implications for petroleum and mineral exploration, and one that is consistent with a global Flood model of earth history.
These timescale issues may be dismissed as “anomolies,” “mysteries” or mere “wrinkles” in an otherwise smooth and seamless old-earth tapestry. But they are not likely to go away—for they are nearly as numerous as the injectites themselves. To the student of earth history who places a premium on truth, sand injectites serve as a flag that not all is right with the “deep time” scenario. A young-earth, global-flood model of earth history provides the best understanding for sand injectites.


  1. Baer, J. and R. Steed. 2000. Geology of Kodachrome Basin State Park, Kane County, Utah. In Sprinkel, D.A. et al (eds.), Geology of Utah’s Parks and Monuments, Utah Geological Association Publication 28. Salt Lake City: Utah Geological Association, 449-463.
  2. Hornbacher, Dwight. 1984. Geology and structure of Kodachrome Basin State Reserve and vicinity, Kane and Garfield Counties, Utah. Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Loma Linda University.
  3. Hurst, A. and J. Cartwright (eds.). 2007. Sand Injectites: Implications for Hydrocarbon Exploration and Production. Tulsa, OK: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Memoir 87, 274 p.
  4. Huuse, M. et al. 2005. Giant sandstone pipes record basin-scale liquefaction of buried dune sands in the Middle Jurassic of SE Utah. Terra Nova. 17 (1): 80-85.
  5. Cartwright, J., Huuse, M., and Aplin, A. 2007. Seal bypass systems. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 91, no. 8, p. 1141–1166.
  6. Minisini, D., and H. Schwartz. 2007. An early Paleocene cold seep system in the Panoche and Tumey Hills, Central California (United States), in A. Hurst and J. Cartwright, eds., Sand injectites: Implications for hydrocarbon exploration and production: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Memoir 87, p. 185-197.
  7. Moreau, J., Ghienne, J. F. and Hurst, A. 2012. Kilometre-scale sand injectites in the intracratonic Murzuq Basin (South-west Libya): an igneous trigger? Sedimentology, 59: 1321–1344.
  8. Allison, L., 2012. Origin of the breccia pipes in the Colorado Plateau and Paradox Basin. Entry to the Arizona Geological Survey Blog from State Geologist Lee Allison, March 25, 2012.
  9. Hoesch, W.A. 2008. Sandstone dikes of the Colorado Front Range and their relation to petroleum exploration in the adjacent Denver Basin. Subsurface Sediment Remobilization and Fluid Flow in Sedimentary Basins Proceedings, Geological Society of London, p. 107.

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