Sportsmens Report
May 27, 2018
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How to explore the state’s Geology

By: Bill Hanson
May 4, 2018

Rocks are a hoot, geology is cool, anthropology is fun. The finest book so far in the field of geology is written by John McPhee, “ASSEMBLING CALIFORNIA Farrar, Straus and Giroux” (isbn978-0-374-52393-0). The reader joins McPhee and notable geologist Eldridge Moores as they crisscross the state. McPhee takes what might be a very boring and slower than dirt subject and turns it on its head and challenges the reader to keep up. Did you know that most of California did not exist as a land mass when the dinosaurs walked the earth just east of us in Wyoming and Montana? 

What created the Sierra Nevada mountain chain? That it has eroded by 50 percent and still moves up a bit each year is quite fascinating. The book is well written and keeps the reader on his toes. You will understand how gold got into California and how the ‘49ers worked the ancient river beds to find the pockets of yellow metal. From school and with our own study, we understand how the San Andreas Fault works, at least those of us who live on or near the big crack. You will learn that most of our state rose up from the depths of a deep ocean in a way that makes sense. The prize is that the tectonics we take as a given are only 50 years old, an age that is still being debated and modified today. The book is a mover and shaker and, in the end, you will look at your dirt differently.

Whilst on the subject of geology there is another book, or series of books near and dear to my glovebox, “Roadside Geology and Geology Underfoot.” These little paperback books will help you learn about the geology of your favorite state. These books are great to take on a trip, but they work even better if you use them in advance, to plan your trip wisely. Don’t change from I-80 to the farm trails of horse and buggy days but you will find your journey exciting as you drive the long narrow ribbon of highway. Each book is a 6”x9” paperback loaded with maps, photos, cross-sections, sketches and expert descriptions. There are two for Northern-Central California and one for Southern California. They are written by different experts in the field, but I find them all exciting and vivid. Your first investment might be, “Roadside Geology of Northern & Central California,” by David D. Alt and Donald W. Hyndman. 

The narrative is keyed to the mile markers and the gross view out the windshield as you zip along. Huge geologic sign posts are before you, formally unseen, as your mind endures the journey for the journeys’ sake. You will be transported to bubbling lava fields and raging faults that slip underfoot. The trip takes on the aspect of a wild ride down the geology of our back yard. The hard part to grasp is the passage of time in human terms. We are a new breed on earth when measured against geologic time we become a tiny slice of the whole-earth dialogue. It may bring your kids out of their electronic device to look around.


Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Mycological Society. Look for his column each week in the Community Voice.