Grand Canyon's mysteries put professor in National Geographic documentary

A Geneseo professor's research on one of the United States' most famous landmarks has made it to the national airwaves.

Distinguished service geology professor Dick Young was featured in a National Geographic Channel documentary for his long-term research in the Grand Canyon region. Young participated in the making of the documentary last June.

The program, which aired on Feb. 11, featured experts who offered theories about the formation of the canyon's iconic rock layers.

The Grand Canyon is a geological perplexity because of the speed with which it was formed. The Colorado River managed to erode two billion years' worth of sediment in just five million years. The modern theory that explains this phenomenon states that tectonic activity uplifted the Colorado plateau, amplifying the power of the river.

Young's work with the Grand Canyon has contributed to the theory. He noted that this particular riverbed contained rock specimens which were completely alien to the region. Young proposed that the tectonic forces responsible for uplifting the Colorado plateau also changed the direction of the river, which accounts for the mysterious rocks. Snail fossils found in rocks along the rim of the old canyon confirm this explanation.

Young has been involved in Grand Canyon geology since he began mapping for the Museum of Northern Arizona in 1962. As a student, Young attended a geological conference in Flagstaff, Ariz., which attempted to assemble a comprehensive theory of the canyon's origin.

During his time in Arizona, Young became acquainted with a family that lived on the border of the canyon. As a result, he was afforded unparalleled access to regions owned by the native Hualapai tribe.

Young said that most of the ideas that came out of the conference have survived, but new research continues to fill in the blanks and pose additional questions about the early days of the Grand Canyon.

"[Grand Canyon geology] is an ongoing, never-ending process," said Young. "There is always a new angle to examine."

Young attributes his presence in the National Geographic documentary to being in the right place at the right time. When National Geographic began their preliminary research for the special, they referred to Colorado River: Origin and Evolution, a multi-disciplinary volume covering a seven-day symposium which was organized by Young. He was in Las Vegas for a convention when he was approached and asked to be a part of the documentary.

The program will air again on Feb. 17 at 4 p.m.