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State and Regional Geology: A Guide to Resources (June 2014): New Southwest

By Linda R. Zellmer

New Southwest

The states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California make up the region called the New Southwest.  It includes several physiographic regions, including the Basin and Range, Colorado Plateau, and Great Basin.  Several books are available on the geology of the region.  Keith Meldahl’s Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains, the most comprehensive and readable of the selections, describes the geologic development, exploration, and mineral resources of the Southwest and Rocky Mountains in simple, nontechnical terms.  It includes notes on quotations for each chapter, a glossary, bibliography, and GPS (global positioning system) coordinates for the locations described in the book.

More technical volumes on the region’s geology are also available.  Geology of the American Southwest: A Journey through Two-Billion Years of Plate-Tectonic History by W. Baldridge reviews the geologic history and evolution of the southern part of the Colorado Plateau, centering on Arizona and New Mexico, in light of plate tectonics.  Geological Evolution of the Colorado Plateau of Eastern Utah and Western Colorado by Robert Fillmore focuses on the geology of eastern Utah and Colorado.  It includes road logs to significant geological sites in the region.  In Geology of the Great Basin, Bill Fiero summarizes the geology of the region, which covers most of Nevada, the western half of Utah, and sections of Idaho, Oregon, and California.  It includes chapters on geological concepts as well as the geologic history, mineral and water resources, and caves of the Great Basin.

Messages in Stone: Colorado’s Colorful Geology, edited by Vincent Matthews, Katie Keller Lynn, and Betty Fox, is an illustrated introduction to Colorado’s geology, landforms, and geologic hazards.  It introduces the state’s fossil record, geologic structures, rock types (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary), and describes their distribution in Colorado.  It then surveys the state’s geology through geologic time.  Although heavily illustrated, it is an excellent introduction to Colorado geology.  Colorado Geology, edited by Harry Kent and Karen Porter, is a collection of technical articles on the geology, geologic history, and natural resources of the state.

The Geology of New Mexico: A Geologic History, edited by Greg Mack and Katherine Giles, is a volume of technical papers on the geologic history of the state published by the New Mexico Geological Society in honor of its fiftieth anniversary.  Papers in the volume deal with the geology and tectonic evolution of the state from the Proterozoic to the Quaternary.  New Mexico’s Ice Ages, edited by Spencer Lucas et al., is a collection of technical articles on the Quaternary geology, geomorphology, flora, and vertebrates of the state, including an article on past and potential future climate.

Most people who think about geology and Arizona think of the Grand Canyon.  Though there are many publications on Grand Canyon geology, there are only two major works on the geology of Arizona.  Geologic Evolution of Arizona, edited by Judith Jenny and Stephen Reynolds, is a collection of technical articles on Arizona’s history through geologic time.  It also includes articles on the state’s mineral resources and environmental geology.  Dale Nations and Edmund Stump’s Geology of Arizona describes Arizona’s geology in more general terms.  Grand Canyon Geology: Two Billion Years of Earth’s History, edited by Michael Timmons, is a collection of technical papers summarizing current views on the canyon’s geology and geologic history; it includes a separate two-sheet map of the area.

Geologic History of Utah: A Field Guide to Utah’s Rocks by Lehi Hintze and Bart Kowallis is an up-to-date introduction to recent interpretations of Utah’s geology.  It contains information on the state’s geologic history and evolution in the light of plate tectonics and summarizes the results of recent studies on the Wasatch Fault, Lake Bonneville, and the Precambrian.  Utah’s Spectacular Geology: How It Came to Be by Lehi Hintze begins with introductory material on geology and geologic concepts, followed by nine chapters on the geologic evolution of Utah.  It then introduces the geology of noteworthy geologic sites in the state through annotated panoramic photographs.  This is followed by information on the geology of the sites, including stratigraphic columns, cross-sections, and descriptive notes that refer to the events described in the nine chapters.  Although meant for general readers, it effectively introduces the geology of the state and its amazing geologic landscapes.

The Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology published John Stewart’s Geology of Nevada to accompany the release of the state’s geologic map.  The book describes Nevada’s geology and tectonic events by geologic time period.  The bureau has also published summaries (bulletins) on the geology of every county in Nevada; many of these are available online on the bureau’s website.  An index map of the counties labeled with the bulletins dealing with each county is available in the bureau’s complete publication list in the Publication Sales section of the site.  Another useful publication, Traveling America’s Loneliest Road: A Geologic and Natural History Tour through Nevada along U.S. Highway 50 by Joseph Tingley and Kris Pizarro, describes the geology, landforms, history, and biology along the highway as it crosses the state from California to Utah.

California’s geology is described in a number of different sources, ranging from titles describing the geology of specific areas within the state to titles describing the entire state.  The most current work focusing on the entire state is Deborah Harden’s California Geology.  It contains introductory information on geology, rock types, geologic time, fossils, geologic information sources, water, and earthquakes as well as information on the geology of areas within California.  It closes with chapters on California’s geologic evolution and geology’s impact on California citizens.  Each chapter contains lists of references and websites with additional information on the respective topic, including many California Geological Survey publications about areas within the state.  The California Geological Survey also has a website, The California Geotour, created by Les Youngs, Joy Arthur, and Milton Fonseca; it is an interactive index of web pages containing geologic field trip guides within the state.  This site would be useful to people planning trips to California.

The only comprehensive volume on the geology of Alaska is The Geology of Alaska, edited by George Plafker and Henry Berg; it is a volume from the Geological Society of America’s “Geology of North America” series.  It contains technical articles on the geology of major regions of the state, as well as articles on Alaska’s crystalline rocks, resources, and Quaternary geology.  Geology of Southeast Alaska: Rock and Ice in Motion by Harold Stowell is a travel guide to the geology of the southeastern Alaska islands frequented by cruise ships.  It discusses the geologic, glacial, and tectonic history of the region.

Hawaii is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world.  Thus, the state’s geology is primarily related to volcanism, although the Hawaiian Islands have also been subject to erosion by wind, waves, rivers, and even glaciers.  Volcanoes in the Sea: The Geology of Hawaii by Gordon Macdonald, Agatin Abbott, and Frank Peterson describes the geologic history of the state, including the volcanic and tectonic activity that formed the islands; their age; the minerals, rocks, and sediments of the state; groundwater; natural hazards; and the forces that are eroding the islands.  It also includes chapters on the geology of each of the major islands in the chain as well as the smaller islands to the northwest.  Volcanism in Hawaii, edited by Robert Decker, Thomas Wright, and Peter Stauffer, is a massive two-volume set published in honor of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.  It includes several chapters on the Hawaiian volcanoes and islands, but primarily deals with volcanic activity on the island of Hawaii (Kilauea and Mauna Loa) and summarizes what has been learned about volcanic activity by observing active eruptions at the observatory.


The phrase “more work needs to be done” is frequently heard at meetings and talks by geologists; this is also the case when considering publications related to the geology of states and regions.  This review of titles on the geology of the United States, U.S. regions, and individual states reveals that there is information available on the geology of most states.  Some publications reflect current geological thinking on the evolution of features within each state and region, although in some cases, the information available is rather dated or even incomplete.  Because some titles have been published by government agencies, institutes associated with universities, museums, geological organizations, and small presses, they may not be included in the standard reviewing literature or treated by vendors. Only 18 of the 150-plus titles discussed in this essay were reviewed in Choice; many more were reviewed in geology and geography journals.  Some state geological survey websites provide information about publications that relate to the geology of their state that were not published by the survey, while others do not contain these references.  Thus, librarians seeking information on the geology of their respective state or region need to monitor activities of state agencies, museums, local publishers, and organizations.  Hopefully, this essay will provide a good starting point for developing academic library collections.

Works Cited