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The "Little Grand Canyon"

by  Kyle Butt, M.Div.

The eruption of Mt. Saint Helens on May 18, 1980, was one of the most-watched geological catastrophes of all time. During the initial eruption, “the mountain released the energy equivalent of 20 million tons of TNT. The total energy output during the nine-hour eruption on May 18 was equivalent to 440 million tons of TNT, approximately 30,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs” (Morris and Austin, 2003, p. 28). This certainly would classify as a major explosion, to say the least. And yet, as huge as this particular eruption was, it paled in comparison to many other volcanic eruptions. For instance, Morris and Austin note that the “last big explosion at Yellowstone, for example, was over 2,000 times the explosive power of Mount St. Helens” (p. 12).

The full extent of what scientists learned from the 1980 eruption has yet to be measured, but certain geological features caused by the explosion have made Earth scientists take a closer look at their interpretations of current geological features. For instance, for many decades, the majority of the scientific community has looked to the Grand Canyon as an example of a geologic feature that was formed over multiplied millions of years. According to the popular mantra that “the present is the key to the past,” geologists have suggested that the Colorado River carved out the canyon slowly but surely. The Grand Canyon National Park Web site has this to say about the formation of the Canyon: “Grand Canyon is an erosional feature that owes its existence to the Colorado River. Of equal importance are the forces of erosion that have shaped and continue to shape the canyon today. These include running water from rain, snowmelt, and tributary streams which enter the canyon throughout its length” (“Geological Story”). Nothing is mentioned concerning a possible catastrophic origin of the canyon.

The effects of Mount St. Helens, however, have cast some serious doubt on the long-held uniformitarian theory that the Grand Canyon must have been slowly carved over millions of years. Before the eruption, Spirit Lake (the lake close to Mount St. Helens) drained into the Toutle River. The upper river, however, was buried by up to 600 feet of debris from the eruption, which blocked the lake’s usual drainage site. For two full years, Spirit Lake was unable to drain into the Toutle River. Then, on March 19, 1982, a small eruption around the summit of Mount St. Helens caused a mudflow that was 20 miles long. The mudflow pooled behind the debris dam, and sent mud flowing furiously over the west end of the big steam pit. The flow quickly cut a canyon that was 140 feet deep. “The canyon produced by the mud has been called ‘The Little Grand Canyon’ because it appears to be a one-fortieth scale model of the Grand Canyon” (Morris and Austin, 2003, pp. 74-75).

If the eruption of Mount St. Helens could initiate a situation in which a canyon one-fortieth the size of the Grand Canyon was formed in one day, and the eruption of Mount St. Helens was by no means the largest ever (dwarfed by the last eruption measured at Yellowstone, which produced 2,000 times the explosive power), then what would a person expect to happen when the “fountains of the deep” were broken up and the entire world was covered by water as in Noah’s Flood? Surely, the evidence from Mount St. Helens shows that catastrophic origins of geological features like the Grand Canyon are a possibility. The ideology of those who refuse to acknowledge the Flood’s geological force is discussed in 2 Peter 3:5-6: “For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water” (emp. added).


Morris, John and Steven A. Austin (2003), Footprints in the Ash: The Explosive Story of Mount St. Helens (Green Forest, AR: Master Books).

“The Geological Story of the Grand Canyon,” [On-line], URL:

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