Friday, 16 October 2009

Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau

As a frustrated geologist of years too many to mention, I have an almost unquenchable thirst for knowledge on the subject, particularly since my family’s trip to Grand Canyon last year. But for the keen beginner or ‘interested layman’ it can be a struggle to find books on the subject that adequately help. Yes, there are plenty of geology books, but all too often the infamous ‘geo-jargon’ is there to stop the wanabee geologist in his tracks.

As I’ve mentioned before, I needed a book on Grand Canyon that went some way to answering the myriad of questions I needed answering when I returned home to ‘Blighty’. Wayne Ranney’s book, ‘Carving Grand Canyon’ answered my prayers by laying out all the theories and mysteries surrounding the canyon and it’s history in a highly enjoyable and understandable way. It’s a book that will work for anyone with a modicum of interest in the subject.

Such was the impact of this book on me personally, it caused me to look beyond Grand Canyon and outwards to the Colorado Plateau as a whole. The more you look around Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and the staggering geological wonders to be found there, the more fascinating the American south-west becomes.

So, right on cue, Wayne in collaboration with his old college lecturer, Ron Blakey, last year published a truly stunning book entitled ‘Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau’.

Viewers of this blog will hopefully have noticed the little slideshow (in the right hand column) of Ron’s palaeogeograhical maps of the world. These have been available on his own web site for some time, but this book at last brings his ground breaking maps to a wider audience.

Above: An example of one of Ron Blakey's palaeogeographicalmaps to be found on his web site (See link on right hand column of this blog!)

Palaeogeographical maps are strangely absent from many geology books these days and I find this odd. For me and I’m sure many others, it is difficult to visualise when looking at a geological formation, just what the region looked like at the time of deposition. Throw plate tectonics into the mix and the job becomes even harder. ‘Ancient Landscapes’ is an absolute triumph in this respect.

The book is split into the essential periods starting with the early Proterozoic (1,750 million years ago) through to the Cenozoic (65 million years ago) and to the present, with each chapter readable on its own. Each period includes varying numbers of truly stunning maps that along with Wayne’s typically understandable text really bring it all to life. As Ron himself explains, the maps have to involve a degree of ‘artistic licence’. Obviously, no one can know for sure what the area really looked like at these points in time, but the maps are based on thorough and accepted research that Ron Blakey has seemingly spent his life drawing together. It is fascinating to read that he created the stunning images from numerous satellite images of modern comparable landforms that he ‘cut and pasted’ together on his computer!

The book finishes with a summary of the historical geology of Grand Canyon and the Grand Staircase followed by a chapter on ‘Where to see the rocks’, covering such locations as Sedona, Petrified Forest, Zuni Cliffs, Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, Arches National Park and many, many more. I've learnt so much already, such as the effect of repeated transgressions and regressions has on the pattern of strata. So far, I feel I've barely scratched the surface of what this publication contains so it's certainly a book that I will repeatedly return to over the months and years.
In short, a quite magnificent book and possibly the best £25 I have spent in a long while!

As well as buying the book, it is also worth taking a wander over to ‘You Tube’ and having a look at a series of films of Ron and Wayne’s joint lecture at the Grand Canyon Field Institute last year all about the book, the making of the maps and the Colorado Plateau story . Click Here.


Until next time!