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25th October, 2010

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Hoodoos: whodun'em?

Though God ceased creating some time ago, the processes He created continue to transform the world in which we live. Nature continues to dance in segue with gradually changing melodies rather than having been snap frozen the instant Adam awoke from surgery. Continents continue to drift, promising, eventually, dramatic changes in ocean currents. Interacting assemblages of animals and plants are constantly broken and new ones made in lockstep with environmental changes brought about by whatever causes. The species of birds frequenting urban areas change as suburbs age and the saplings planted by proud new homeowners decades ago reach maturity. This dynamism in the atmosphere above, the earth beneath, and in the living things that surround us produces a plethora of natural phenomena. Such fluidity in nature resounds with praise to the One whose wisdom decreed it so.

Each lover of nature has his own favorite phenomenon, whether it be the bliss effect of sunrays streaming through clouds, the crash of waves upon a rocky shore, waterfalls, or the courting rituals of grebes. This author particularly delights in the natural products of weathering and erosion. When exposed to chemical attack by natural acids and mechanical attack by freezing and heating (weathering), the toughest of rock crumbles, albeit very slowly. Wind and running water then transport the weathered products elsewhere (erosion), sometimes leaving behind formations of startling natural beauty. Pilgrims flock in the millions to take in the majesty of the Grand Canyon and the otherworldly beauty of Carlsbad Caverns, some of the world's best known products of weathering and erosion. One of the least known but most unusual children borne of the union of rock and weather is hoodoos, "tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and 'broken' lands" that range in height from man-sized to ten-story building. The spires often display a surreal lumpiness caused by differential rates of weathering up and down the height of the spire that is in turn due to the varying hardness of the strata of rock of which the spires are made. The multi-layered nature of the strata is in turn due to the changing depositional environment in the area over the course of the millions of years during which the sediments were being laid.

Hoodoos are created by the same basic weathering agents that affect all rocks around the world; what makes them

relatively rare is the simple fact that the particular combinations of weathering conditions and rock properties needed to produce them is far from universal. An additional reason for their relative scarcity is their life span; once such a spire is formed the very forces that carved it out in the first place rapidly conspire to reduce it to rubble. A simple explanation of how they are formed can be found here. Hoodoos that are capped by a conspicuous chunk of harder material are often called fairy chimneys. The best-known fairy chimneys in the world are found in the Cappadocia region of Turkey (pic above right) where houses have been carved into the formations (that's faith for you), luring many thousands of tourists every year.

The magic of hoodoos seems to fire the imagination of most people who get to see them - at least of those whose brains have not been pickled or turned to spaghetti mush by a lifetime of training in the fine arts of apathy. Most fans of 3D computer graphics are familiar with the amazing program called "Bryce" that produces realistic-looking terrains at the click of a mouse button. Why did the creators of the program name it Bryce? Let the definitive user guide by Kitchens and Gavenda explain:

In the southern part of Utah, there is a national park called Bryce Canyon. The park is a place of fantastic geological columnar formations, called hoodoos, that were created by millennia of erosion. The formations look like fanciful images, and many are named for the myths and legends and images that are evoked by their shapes. The play of light on these formations in the early morning and late afternoon creates dramatic vistas. You can hike down from the rim to walk among the tall hoodoos deep into a wonderland filled with discovery that stirs the imagination. A natural place of mystery - this is Bryce the place. Bryce the software. is named for that park.

Believers in the divine origin of all that exists cannot help but sing the praises of the One who devised processes that have the power to transmogrify a huge rocky outcrop into a labyrinth of enchanting elegant spires. Evolution? No way. Could it be that such features are fortuitous and unforeseen (by God) byproducts of the putative Big Bang? Don't be absurd. To Him alone goes the credit for all of nature's wondrous processes and their spectacular products.


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