Canyons in the Sand

By Henry H. Mitchell.

Canyons in the Sand, Myrtle Beach

“Canyon” formations (“rill marks”) appear spontaneously in the sand as the tide recedes (Myrtle Beach State Park).

Canyons in the Sand, Myrtle Beach

Headwaters of a “river” are in the foreground; “mountains” emerge at right and left.

Canyons in the Sand, Myrtle Beach

Beautiful varves form along the inland side of the “back bay.”

After high tide on the sloped beach at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, one can often see the spontaneous formation of miniature “canyons” as the waters recede.

The sand, saturated with water, gradually gives way in an intricate tree-like pattern. Water and sand flow together toward the ocean which is receding toward the low tide point just a short distance away.

The resulting patterns resemble canyons, or even an aerial view of a complex watershed with springs, creeks, and rivers converging to flow toward the sea. One could speculate that similar conditions of soil saturation and water flow are responsible for the similar pattern seen in all the above phenomena. Obviously, the beach canyons are sudden, quick, and temporary in comparison to the vastly larger-scale inland waterway manifestations.

The image at top right shows a miniature rill photographed in Myrtle Beach State Park during December 2008.

Then, on January 11, 2009, in the same location were found examples which were gigantic in comparison. On this day there was an entire “back bay” about 100 feet from the low tide level, and that back bay was being filled by water draining from the nearby sand.

I was astonished at the high volume of flow of the “rivers” pouring out of relatively tiny areas of the sand. I imagined that I was seeing the formation of an “Appalachian-like” chain of mountains. In the “back bay," to which the water was flowing, along the ocean-side wall of the bay, there were beautiful Grand Canyon - like “varves” (layered patterns) being cut away. It was as though I was, like Noah, seeing the earth re-formed before my very eyes!

This guide to Myrtle Beach is sponsored by Mitchells Publications.