One of the greatest mistakes a rockhound can make is ignoring the geology of the areas that you’re rock hunting in. Having an in-depth understanding of the geological history of an area will give you real insight on what you can actually find.
These books have helped me immensely, and without them my understanding of the geology of the places we go wouldn’t be what it is. Obviously, they lean towards being focused on the western US, since these are the places we go to on our trips.
Some of these books are difficult to find and out of print, so you will need to try finding them at the library, eBay, and other used sellers. For more modern titles, I have included links to the books on Amazon.
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Title: The Field Guide to Geology by David Lambert
Review: This book is a perfect starting point for someone who knows absolutely nothing about geology. It covers everything from the basic formation of the earth to geological mapping and everything between. Although it covers many topics, it’s important to point out that it merely scratches the surface of these topics. I think this book would make for an excellent gift for someone just starting out learning about geology and rocks.
Title: Introduction to the Rock Forming Minerals by Deer, Howie and Zussman
Review: Even though this was first published in the ’60s as a school textbook, this classic can still be beneficial to someone learning about geology. This book is rather technical in its explanations of different minerals, so I don’t know how useful it would be for someone just starting out, but for a reader that already has some background and understanding of minerals and geology, it’s a good one for the shelf. Currently, the book is in its 3rd edition and I have the 1st.
Ice Age Floods and Eastern Washington
The Ice Age Floods Institute summarized these events better than anyone else when they wrote “During the last Ice Age (18,000 to 12,000 years ago), and in multiple previous Ice Ages, cataclysmic floods inundated portions of the Pacific Northwest from Glacial Lake Missoula, pluvial Lake Bonneville, and perhaps from sub glacial outbursts. Glacial Lake Missoula was a body of water as large as some of the USA’s Great Lakes. This lake formed from glacial melt water that was dammed by a lobe of the Canadian ice sheet. Episodically, perhaps every 40 to 140 years, the waters of this huge lake forced its way past the ice dam, inundating parts of the Pacific Northwest. Eventually, the ice receded northward far enough that the dam did not reform, and the flooding episodes ceased. These floods are a remarkable part of North American natural heritage. They have profoundly affected the geography and ways of life in the region, but have until recently remained largely unknown to the general public.” – IAFI
Title: On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods: A Geological Field Guide to the Mid-Columbia Basin by Bruce Bjornstad
Review: I find it difficult to sum up nicely how amazing these titles are by Bruce Bjornstad. If you would like to explore the geology of the Mid-Columbia Basin area of Washington, there really is no better book to have. This book contains excellent write-ups on where to drive, and hike to see the effects of the Ice Age floods, along with descriptions of what it is that you’re looking at.
Title: On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods – Northern Reaches by Bruce Bjornstad and Eugene Kiver
Review: Much like the Mid-Columbia Basin title, this is a remarkable book that you must have if you want to understand the geology of the northern reaches of these floods. This book was my first real exposure to the complexity of the Ice Age flood story and the impact that was left on the landscapes that we often visit. This book contains many excellent hikes, drives and even flights to take to explore the geology of this area. The plates and aerial photography add so much to the story as well, and you can even follow Bruce’s YouTube channel if you want to see some of his drone videos of these areas.
Title: Cataclysms on the Columbia: The Great Missoula Floods by John Eliot Allen, Marjorie Burns and Scott Burns
Review: This whole idea of mega floods during the last Ice Age was quite controversial when it was being proposed by J Harlen Bretz in the 1920s, and this book does an impressive job of covering the story behind the theory and all the drama related to it. Many of the geological facts that we now just accept, such as these Ice Age floods or tectonic plate movement were very controversial at the time when the theories were new and this book offers a unique insight into that.
Title: Fire, Faults and Floods: A Road and Trail Guide Exploring the Origins of the Columbia River Basin by Marge Mueller and Ted Mueller
Review: From the lower Clark Fork drainage to the northern Oregon Coast, this book covers a huge area to explore. The focus seems to be on nice drives you can take to view the geology that way, but it also has trails to get out and walk on. I wouldn’t call this a very in-depth book, but rather it hits the high notes of the region.
Title: Washington’s Channeled Scablands Guide by John Soennichsen
Review: The Washington Scablands stretch from Spokane south to Oregon, then west Umatilla, north towards Wenatchee, and it consists of some of the most beautiful landscapes to hike around in. This guide covers many of the trails and has some interesting history notes to go along with it.
Map Metrics Geologic Atlas of Northeast Washington
These are very niche books but if you live in NE Washington and want to go rockhounding in Ferry, Pend Oreille, and Stevens County these are a must-have publications to help you in the locating of mines and minerals.
Title: Geologic Atlas of Ferry County by Joe Barreca
Review: This is such an excellent companion to anyone exploring Ferry County, Washington. The book gives a brief explanation of the area’s geology before getting into the maps. This book, along with his others, is laid out like a Thomas Guide if you remember those, except this one has GPS listings to 500 mines and associated minerals. These atlases might cost a fair amount, but in my opinion, they are well worth it since they contain information you cannot easily find anywhere else, and they are beautifully printed in color and on very high-quality paper.
Title: Geologic Atlas of Pend Oreille County by Joe Barreca
Review: My thoughts on this atlas by Joe are very similar to his others in that it’s outstanding and a must-have item when exploring Pend Oreille County, Washington. His explanation of the area’s geology is spot on and is a nice introduction for anyone not familiar with the area. This atlas contains the location of 400 mines and their associated minerals. These atlases might cost a fair amount, but in my opinion they are well worth it since they contain information you cannot easily find anywhere else, and they are beautifully printed in color and on very high-quality paper.
Title: Geologic Atlas of Stevens County by Joe Barreca
Review: Of the three atlases I have by Joe, this is the one that I have used the most, and it also contains the most listings. I have found to all listings be very accurate. The quality of the printing is excellent and the summary of the area’s geological past is very well written. This atlas contains the location of 960 mines and their associated minerals. These atlases might cost a fair amount, but in my opinion, they are well worth it since they contain information you cannot easily find anywhere else, and they are beautifully printed in color and on very high-quality paper.
The Roadside Geology series of books by Mountain Press are an incredible resource to have if you’re lucky enough that they’ve published a book for your state. I highly recommend them.
The way we use these books is to have the co-pilot on a road trip narrate the drive and follow along into the book. The routes are laid out along the major highways and freeways, with mile marker points noting interesting things to see.
Many of the books in the Roadside Geology series are in a second or third edition, and it is absolutely worth it to buy the newest editions as they are fully rewritten with the latest information, color photos, reworked maps, and some provide GPS information as well.
Title: Roadside Geology of Idaho by Paul Link, Shawn Willsey and Keegan Schmidt – 2nd Edition
Review: This might be my favorite Roadside Geology book to date. The maps produced for Idaho by Chelsea Feeney are some of the nicest 3D geological maps I have seen, the colors contrast nicely, and they have just the right amount of detail. Also, I think this might be the first Roadside Geology book to include GPS coordinates for most of the photos within it, which is a very welcome addition.
Title: Roadside Geology of Montana by Don Hyndman and Robert Thomas – 2nd Edition
Review: This is an excellent companion to have with you whenever you drive around the state of Montana, but it does lean a little more towards the western and central parts of the state. I also had the first edition of this which came out in 1986 and to say the least, this second edition which came out in 2020 is light years ahead of the first one, and it’s well worth replacing your old copy. So much has been updated that I couldn’t begin to list it all here.
Title: Roadside Geology of Nevada by Frank DeCourten and Norma Biggar – 2nd Edition
Review: If you live in Nevada, this is a must-have book for your personal library. Generally speaking, Nevada does not have anywhere near the number of resources and publications as some of the other western states, so scoop this one up. It does focus somewhat on southern Nevada.
Title: Roadside Geology of South Dakota by John Paul Gries
Review: This is one of the few Roadside Geology books by Mountain Press that has not been updated, but hopefully that will change at some point in the near future. Despite this being printed in 1996, it is still undoubtedly a very useful resource for anyone visiting or living in South Dakota. I do find the lack of color photos and maps to be a let-down, and even more so when compared to the more modern Roadside Geology books.
Title: Roadside Geology of Oregon by Marli B. Miller – 2nd Edition
Review: Oregon has a fascinating and complex geological past, and Marli Miller does such a great job of laying much of it out for the novice reader in this book. We have used this book on almost all of our Oregon adventures and it most definitely makes the road trips more enjoyable. Marli’s ability to convey complex geological systems to the reader is superb, and likely due to her time teaching at the University of Oregon.
Title: Roadside Geology of Utah by Felicie Williams, Lucy Chronic and Halka Chronic – 2nd Edition
Review: Our first and only real time using this book was on an 8-day rockhounding trip in Utah during the summer of 2021. It was a really nice addition to have on the trip, being that the area and geology is so different from what we’re used to. Roadside Geology of Utah also seems to have more cross-section images in it than some of the other titles, which is really nice to see when exploring a new area.
Title: Roadside Geology of Washington by Marli B. Miller and Darrel S. Cowan – 2nd Edition
Review: It’s not a contest, but out of all the western states it’s my opinion that Washington has some of the most complex and diverse geology to look at and having a guide such as this has been very useful for use over the years. Being from Washington, this is the title that we have used the most out of all the Roadside Geology titles, and it is excellent.
Geology Underfoot is another Mountain Press series that takes a more in-depth look at a smaller area of a state. If Roadside Geology is taking a 10000-foot view of a state’s geology, these are like a 2000-foot view.
Title: Geology Underfoot in Southern Idaho by Shawn Willsey
Review: If there was a Northern Idaho version of this, I would buy it in a second. We haven’t really spent that much time in southern Idaho, but it’s really difficult to beat an in-depth look into a geologically small area like this. Reading through this book has given me plenty of new places to go and visit, and I’m sure it will do the same for you.
Title: Geology Underfoot in Western Washington by David Tucker
Review: Although we haven’t spent a ton of time in western Washington exploring the geology and looking for rocks, I have the aspirations to do that and having a book like this really gives me some insight into what can be found in the area. I look forward to putting this book to use some in the summer of 2022!
The Rocks! series of books is another great series from Mountain Press. This series really reminds me of rockhounding guidebooks in that they direct you to exact locations where you can go and see spectacular geological features first hand.
Title: Idaho Rocks!: A Guide to Geologic Sites in the Gem State by Reed Lewis, Mark McFadden, John Burch and Chelsea McRaven Feeney
Review: This is a great book, and although we haven’t gone to all the locations listed in it, they all look good. It will even clue you in on some good places to go rockhounding and do some camping as well, but that’s really not the focus of the book.
Title: Oregon Rocks!: A Guide to 60 Amazing Geologic Sites by Marli Miller
Review: One problem I have noticed over the years of buying these kinds of books is that sometimes the distribution of locations leans heavily towards the area that the author lives. That isn’t the case with this book. It has a really nice distribution of spots to visit across the state. I tend to enjoy being in the desert more than anywhere else, and this title from Marli has almost 2/3rds of the locations in it being on the dry side of the state, which is rather nice to see.
Title: Washington Rocks!: A Guide to Geologic Sites in the Evergreen State by Eugene Kiver, Chad Pritchard and Richard Orndorff
Review: From the exotic terranes of the Washington coast to the limestone caves of Crawford State Park near Metaline, this book covers all the geological highlights of Washington. We have been to many of the locations in the book, except for the ones on the coast, but I hope to change that in the future and when I do this book will be coming with us.