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Andrew Alden

The Best Place to Live for Geology

By August 22, 2013

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I'm going to repost this blog post from two years ago, because it's worth an update from those of you who missed it the first time—although anyone who commented the first time is welcome to speak up again. . .

I got a note Saturday asking, "Where is the best place to live if you are an amateur geologist?" This is a question with so many answers that I can't think of them all. So you're invited to add your answers, too. Anyway, my answers are these:

  • Anywhere is a good place to live, because geology is everywhere. Now a place might not be rich in rocks, but rocks aren't all there is. Water and soil are the opposite of rocks; landforms and fossils also add to a place's geological appeal. Mines and quarries matter, too. It's a wretched place that has none of these, and I can't think of such a place.
  • Naturally I must argue for California, where I happen to live. The Bay area alone has many rock types, landforms, fossils, mines and water bodies, plus highly active tectonics. But it has nothing older than Mesozoic; to see that takes a day trip. I'm not complaining, just saying that not even the best place has everything.

My correspondent complains that his locality, the Houston area, "has plenty of geologists and a very nice museum," but he doesn't care about all the fossils.

What do you say?


July 25, 2011 at 7:30 pm
(1) squawky says:

There’s always geology to be found – yes, the southwestern U.S. has better exposures… other places have their volcanoes, mountains, etc. But there isn’t a “best place” – there’s something interesting everywhere if you look (and are willing to drive – have been on a day trip from Houston to outcrops recording the aftermath of the Chicxulub impact, for example). Look for the rock hounds and the geologists, and you’ll find something interesting.

I used to think I grew up (and live now) in a “boring” place geologically (New England) – yes, the outcrops are small and limited, the mountains old… but then I find out the actual history of the area and I’m almost angry I didn’t find out when I was younger. A little research never hurts.

July 25, 2011 at 8:55 pm
(2) Howard says:

Geology is such a huge subject, with so much of interest, that the only good answer to that question is “Earth”. Your correspondent’s complaint about Houston is humorously ironic, as I would hazard to guess that there are more geologists in Houston than in any other place in the US–so how could it be a “bad place” for geology? The lament about “all the fossils” makes me envious: I love fossils, and couldn’t possibly be bored living in any place that has lots of them.

My own chauvinistic vote would be for Alberta: we have rocks of pretty much every geological age except for Silurian, and lots of exposure. Not much in the way of volcanic rocks (there are a few) but my sedimentary geology bias makes that not much of a problem.

July 25, 2011 at 9:58 pm
(3) Jason says:

Just like Andrew I’d have to pick my home state…Arizona!
I’m more of an amature Rockhound, than actually an Amature Geologist, but then again, I suppose they are really much the same, anyhow I love all of the locations to find Beautiful Rock and Mineral here in AZ. There’s Burro creek where the Agate and Pastellite are so abundant in some places that it is a bit overwhelming; There are more copper mines in AZ that probably an other State (we produce something like 80% of the County’s copper) along with Silver, Gold, Uranium, and also a lot if industrial minerals as well. Of course there is the Grand Canyon (enough said!), but also nearby are the San Farancisco Peaks, at about 12,600′ elevation, and the surrounding cinder cone volcanos like Sunset Crater, and Red Mountain (you can walk right into the heavily eroded core), and Lava Rive Cave, a little over a mile long lava tube. There’s Monument Valley and the Petrified Forest, the Mogillon Rim, Sedona, the Childs Hot Springs, where Teddy Roosevelt used to Vacation, we also have Kartchner Caverns & Colossal Cave. There’s a lot more I’m sure, but I think this has got to be in the top 10…if someone dared to make a list.
I haven’t been to a lot of other states, but every one that I’ve been to has been beautiful, and that’s what I love most about Geology, the BEAUTY of this earth!

July 25, 2011 at 10:10 pm
(4) Christine says:

Just yesterday I was thinking what an portable (and potentially inexpensive) interest amateur geology is…that you find it nearly everywhere you go.

I would second the vote for the Bay Area, but only because I started noticing the beauty of geology while I was here. I like this area because the geology here is a terrific puzzle. Of course, when I look at the Geologic Map of California I feel a bit like I started with the 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle rather than working my way up, but that just means I can enjoy puzzling it out for a long time.

July 25, 2011 at 10:45 pm
(5) Rusty says:

Ok, yes the geology IS everywhere around us. But I can revel in the black gumbo of our soil only so long. I have explored the streams for fossils and petrified wood and found Galena (my first ever mineral find) attached to a nautaloid near a river bed. I grew up near Pittsburgh and dug coal and chalk and leaf imprints literally out of my backyard, along with shale and other soft rocks. There may be no one best place for everything, so I will redefine it as best place for macro mineral specimens (those that can be picked up and seen with the naked eye). The original question makes me smile for the adventures I have yet to take.

July 25, 2011 at 11:18 pm
(6) chris says:

I agree with Howard and say Alberta is a great place to live for geology. Many fossils have been found there

July 26, 2011 at 3:06 pm
(7) David Beatty says:

I feel your pain. I live in SE Louisiana and have a BS from LSU. Even LSU Geology Department feels your pain, their summer camp is in Colorado.

July 27, 2011 at 9:41 am
(8) John Marshall says:

Most of the UK is covered with boulder clay so not easy to view, but Cornwall in the SW is great if you are into mining and granite with the Lizard Peninsular an old ophiolite. If you are into sedimentary geology you can’t beat Spain where the geology is open to view, rather like parts of the US, and driving with a geologist driver is dangerous because the road is the least interesting bit of the view.

The US, or the bits I have visited (Colorado, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Vermont), is very good especially if you invest in the Roadside Geology series which covers state by state and written by local geologists who know the areas concerned.

July 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm
(9) Karen says:

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I wasn’t physically capable of doing my university geology department’s Field Camp, because of asthma. But my department found an acceptable set of alternative exercises… including doing a cross-sectional map of the Diablo Range using roadcuts! THIS, more than any other reason, is why I love San Francisco Bay Area geology: despite the urbanization, despite the many signs banning trespassers (and I did not need to trespass), the local geology will tell you whole stories!

In fact, it will tell you stories worthy of a Master’s thesis; I’ve found one subject to do research on, a fellow grad student has found another subject to do research on, and my thesis advisor is muttering about a third possibility. Amazing, in such a built-up area!

July 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm
(10) Karl Loeper says:

Growing up in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania, I was lucky enough to hunt around the mine tailings for fossils from the carboniferous period…even toured a mine near Ashland where a Lepidodendron tree protruded from the mine wall. That area is truly “sedimentary city”. But I love volcanics and got to spend a year in Iceland (compliments of the USN) to satisfy that desire. Now I’m in Florida where you better like limestone…or else.

July 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm
(11) Red Shoes says:

I’m lucky to live in the western United States where I think we have some of the most amazing geology.

In Oregon you can drove along the coast and see sand dunes, haystack rocks (usually volcanic plugs), the currently uprising costal range, head inward and find the majestic row of volcanos called the Cascades, Mt. Hood, Crater Lake (Mt. Azama) the sisters with the little sister, currently a bulge, growing and inch or two a year. Head further east and explore the john Day fossil beds, or collect geodes. Minerals abound! Then there is the Columbia Gorge with its spectacular columnar basalt. And this is just the gateway to the wonders of the neighboring states. Washington with many of the same features of Oregon and the scoured out potholes on the south east not to mention Mt. St.Helen. Idaho with the majestic Snake river and Craters of the Moon. California is Amazing with the active Mammoth region, the spectacular Yosemite and Death valley, Salton Sea, and you’ve got to go to Gem-o-rama, just to name the headliners. Continue east and stop in Wyoming with Yellowstone’s magnificent caldera and its abundant fossils ( I love the fish!), and minerals. Utah too is filled with opportunities, with topaz mountain, digging trilobites in Delta, huge copper mines (standing and looking down into the large pit of Rio Tinto’s Kennicott Bingham Canyon Mine is awe inspiring) A must see is the “Red Rock tour” traveling south from Salt Lake and hitting Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Monument valley, the Grand Canyon etc. Of course you end up in Arizona which has its own wonders like the Karchner caverns, colossal cave and
the historic towns of Jerome and Bisbee (queen mine tour) with their copper mining history. And throughout the west there are abundant minerals to find I suggest hooking up with local rock hound groups whenever you can. I think the west is fun because it is all so “new” geologically speaking.

August 1, 2011 at 3:11 am
(12) Doug says:

As others have noted everyone thinks their home state is best. I live in Oregon and I agree. From the Devonian tectonic accretions of island arcs in the state’s NE, to the several thousand year old recent lava.obsidian flows in central oregon, to a magnificent coastline this state has it all.

I grew up in NJ with what, at the time and place, seemed to be an unnatural interest in rocks. But I made friends with the geology department at a local university and was pretty well equipped for a teenage lapadarist in 1960′s New Jersey.

Only now, that I’m in Oregon and N.J. a childhood memory I am learning that NJ has some cool rocks and minerals. Live and learn.

August 1, 2011 at 3:56 am
(13) Ian says:

I would think where I spend a lot of my time – Laverton on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert in Westrrn Australia would take some beating. Apart from a part of Greenland, the oldest exposed land on the planet, the Yigarn craton. Gold,nickel,iron,magnetite,manganese,copper,and so on. On either edge of the craton to the east and west are younger lands that host alumina and to the east the crunching forces of old continents colliding created environments for some very interesting younger geology that hosts the Olympic Dam gold uranium deposits. A land where laterites and calcrete abound and where I forbid the use of the term – saprolite!! Saprolitic what? I ask.!!

August 1, 2011 at 4:57 am
(14) Michael Dempster says:

It seems most people agreeing on one thing; their home patch is best! I couldn’t disagree, I’d go for the north of Ireland. Within a small area we have rocks spanning from the Proterozoic to to the Tertiary in a variety of exposure settings, with a superb range of features from structural to sedimentary. All within a max 2-3 hr driving radius (on a good day!).

And we also have some fantastic Quaternary geology; drumlins, ribbed and Rogen moraine, deltas, eskers, erratics, crag and tails…don’t forget geology isn’t just hard rock!

I’d love to visit a lot of the places mentioned by other folks though…


August 1, 2011 at 5:34 am
(15) Tony Martyr says:

The implication of your question is that the best place to study geology is somewhere in the USA when, of course, the answer is Britain. Britain is where the study of rocks was codified and developed and where, in very short distances (in American scales) one can study just about every major rock type, structure and see examples of rocks from every geological eon.
Last month I climbed Suliven which is a precambrian geological treat,(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suilven) and is 560 miles from home (an epic distance in UK terms) but half a mile away I have a Jurassic fault and triassic sandstones and the valley in which I live is bounded by oolitic limestone on one side and the complex Malvern volcanics on the other.
I suggest you take a geologic map of the British Isles and superimpose it on any part of the USA so as to compare the range of geology per square kilometer – I rest my case!

August 1, 2011 at 6:37 am
(16) Saranne says:

I live on the Cape Peninsula at the South-West Tip of Africa and you would be hard pressed to find a better place in terms of geology and climate! The only things we lack here are the really old stuff (Archean) as our oldest are Neo-Proterozoic. However, it is a few hours drive to get to some really high-grade metamorphic terranes, and we have granites galore. We have great fossil localities, and fantastic examples of angular unconformity, non-conformity and instrusive contacts, all well exposed, so a day trip around the peninsula with a good guide is a must for all geology enthusiasts.

August 1, 2011 at 7:59 am
(17) Bryan says:

Arizona! Besides having the largest Gem,Mineral and Fossil Show(feb.) You could spend Many Years hounding this area.Check out the area between Amado and Arrivaca.

August 1, 2011 at 8:06 am
(18) GregM says:

As a professional academic geologist I don’t know of anything more interesting than the Triassic basalts, rift basin structures, and Late Proterozoic rocks all nearby on my island of Grand Manan, in the Bay of Fundy. However as a student in the Lake Champlain Valley between Vermont and New York, we appreciated the great variety of metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary rocks ranging from Proterozoic to Eocene, with a special helping of fossil-rich Early Paleozoic carbonate and shale formations. Not to mention spectacular thrust faults. And it is a myth that exposures are poor in New England — they are abundant everywhere, plus the highway crews make convenient stops at many fine road cuts.

August 1, 2011 at 10:29 am
(19) Camilla glass says:

I am going to reno nv in sept where is a good site to hunt in that area and what…agates minerals etc

August 1, 2011 at 11:31 am
(20) Stewart says:

Moab, Utah

August 1, 2011 at 11:42 am
(21) Mike says:

There is a reason why many university field camps come to southwest Montana. It is the very best place. It has everything including the nearby Yellowstone Volcano, Laramide Fault Blocks, Sevier Thrust Sheets, Basin and Range basins and Mountains, batholiths, the Belt Super Group, the greatest mineral deposit in the US (Butte), the richest single gulch placer district (Alder Gulch), and almost all rocks from Archean to Recent in good out crop exposures. My $0.25 worth.

August 1, 2011 at 12:08 pm
(22) Gayla says:

The world has many great geological places of interest. I live in Kansas and I know many will say how boring. Not so, as we travel from the Mississippian Period deposits of lead and zinc to the Pleistocene glacial deposits to the High Plains Rocky Mountain out wash and the Ogallala Aquifer. In between are the great chalk beds with mosasaurs, shark teeth, and outstanding Cretaceous fossil hunting mixed with minerals and rocks from the Rocky Mountains. Dakota plant fossils, Permian petrified wood, huge salt and gypsum deposits; and into the Pennsylvania fossils and rocks. I have helped dig out mastodons, giant turtles, and walked the chalk beds for shark teeth and squid pens.

For fossil hunters and rock hounds Kansas provides an abundance with many great surprises along the way.

August 1, 2011 at 3:48 pm
(23) Allen says:

CA has to be in the top 3, maybe behind Alaska. CA has the greatest diversity – seashores to volcanoes, etc… I did my field studies in the Northern Sierras (north of Truckee) and it was mind boggling. Plus, can’t beat the weather…

August 1, 2011 at 4:41 pm
(24) WSp says:

Sacramento, California. Right in the middle of just about everything geological.

August 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm
(25) Jim says:

The Colorado Springs area is spectacular for geology. For example: the Garden of the Gods, the Fossil Beds, Cave of the Winds, Pikes Peak, flourite veins, and the Cripple Creek gold mines.

August 2, 2011 at 5:17 pm
(26) mario says:

I agree with everybody that geology is everywhere, but may I post my modest proposal? I would like to point out the Italian region from where I am from: Friuli Venezia Giulia, at the extreme north-east end of Italy. The Italian writer Ippolito Nievo refers to this region as a “small compendium of the Universe”: in less than 50 miles you can move from Mediterranean lagoons to Dolomites and remains of Hercynian orogeny, passing through quaternary plains and moraine hills. Rocks are spreading from upper Ordovician to Holocene. you can easily find fossils like Devonian trilobites. relevant undergoing tectonic activity, with frequent earthquakes, karst phenomena with huge caves. We only miss an active volcano and some intrusive rock.

August 6, 2011 at 11:33 am
(27) Scott says:

As a professional geologist–who lives in a pretty great state for geology, West Virginia–I would agree with Andrew, it’s hard to beat California for diversity and exposure of geology. Montana is pretty great too, as are most of the Rocky Mountain states. Out of this country, I’d pick New Zealand.

August 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm
(28) Mike Scott says:

I live in the east of England (East Anglia) …. very boring geologically ! ….. however, my son now lives in Salt Lake City, and my wife and I have been to visit twice in the last year.
I have travelled extensively throughout the world and I have to say that for geology you don’t really have to go anywhere else than Utah.
We have been on two extended trips south from SLC …. Arches, Canyonlands, Monument Valley, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef ….. also The Great Salt Lake and Kennecott.

I know The Grand Canyon is awesome, having visited several times, and it’s in Arizona, but for sheer beauty Zion is unbeatable and Bryce is spectacular.

February 7, 2014 at 6:30 am
(29) Martleypfo says:

I would say the best place to live for geology is in the village of Martley, Worcestershire, England. Within a few yards at our show site, Martley Rock, we have 6 geological periods from Pre-Cambrian, Cambrian, Silurian, Carboniferous, Triassic and Quaternary. We are at the junction of ancient and modern Britain, with folds from the Variscan orogeny, there are Permian caps to the local hills and around 8 Silurian Fmns with many fossils. All easily accessible, with trails, guides, maps. Come check us out!

April 18, 2014 at 2:31 pm
(30) Daniel Tibbals says:

Houston, Texas
The biggest geological society in America is located there. Plus it is easy to find a job. Since it is the 3rd largest port in America. Also possibly the oil State.

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