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Rough-Hewn Land

A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains

Keith Heyer Meldahl (Author)

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“Unfold a map of North America,” Keith Heyer Meldahl writes, “and the first thing to grab your eye is the bold shift between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains.” In this absorbing book, Meldahl takes readers on a 1000-mile-long field trip back through more than 100 million years of deep time to explore America’s most spectacular and scientifically intriguing landscapes. He places us on the outcrops, rock hammer in hand, to examine the evidence for how these rough-hewn lands came to be. We see California and its gold assembled from pieces of old ocean floor and the relentless movements of the Earth’s tectonic plates. We witness the birth of the Rockies. And we investigate the violent earthquakes that continue to shape the region today. Into the West’s geologic story, Meldahl also weaves its human history. As we follow the adventures of John C. Frémont, Mark Twain, the Donner party, and other historic characters, we learn how geologic forces have shaped human experience in the past and how they direct the fate of the West today.

1. Golden Gate
2. Mother Lode
3. Rivers of Gold
4. A Traverse across the Range of Light
5. Where Is the Edge of the North American Plate?

6. Where Rivers Die
7. The Growing Pains of Mountains
8. Wealth and Magma
9. Water and Salt
10. Evolution’s Big Bang

11. Range- Roving Rivers
12. Up from the Basement
13. At the Frontier

Appendix I: Deep Time: Fathoming the Rock Record
Appendix II: Seeing for Yourself

Figure Sources and Credits
Keith Heyer Meldahl is Professor of Geology at Mira Costa College in southern California. He is the author of Hard Road West: History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail.
“The writing is so conversational that it’s hard to believe this is science. . . . Meldahl has captured the wonder, as well as the facts that produced it [the geologic world of the American West] in this vaguely unsettling (so much activity in what we depend on to be still and solid) and enlightening book.”—The Atlantic
“A fascinating guide to the formation of the West. . . . Informative and highly readable, "Rough-Hewn Land" belongs on the shelf of any Westerner curious about how that stunning view through the windshield came to be.”—Bettina Boxall Los Angeles Times Book Review
“In this absorbing book, Meldahl takes readers on a 1000-mile-long field trip back through more than 100 million years of deep time to explore America's most spectacular and scientifically intriguing landscapes. . . . A good introduction to the geology of the region.”—Ian Paulsen The Guardian
“A unique and intriguing book that perfectly brings together an infectious passion for earth science, a down-to-earth writing style, and deep thinking about how geology affects the human experience. . . . Rough-Hewn Land is truly a pleasant surprise. Next time I head out west, this book is coming with me. Professor Meldahl makes a fine traveling companion, and if he is as good a teacher as he is a writer, his students are lucky indeed.”—Josh Trapani Washington Ind Rev Of Bks
“This small but magnificent volume should be read by every geologist for the clarity and simplicity of writing a technical book or article for the general public. The broad coverage has something for every geologist, as well as anyone with an interest in the geography, geology, history, and development of the western United States. They will find R-HL a thoughtful and entertaining volume adding something new to their knowledge of the region.”—Gary D. Webster Geological Journal
"A lively discussion, incorporating recent ideas, on the creation of one of the most dramatic landscapes on Earth . . . a great introduction."—Craig H. Jones Nature Geoscience
“In taking us as armchair guests along his road trip from San Francisco, over the gold-laden Sierra Nevada, across the rolling topography of the Basin and Range to the summit of the Rocky Mountains, Meldahl has written a paean not only to the landscape, but to those who put its story together. And what an incredible story it is.”—David B. Williams Earth Magazine
“Landscapes tell stories, and Western North America has no shortage of geological sagas in the making. Keith Heyer Meldahl offers a fresh account of this gripping Earth epic in Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains. Blending new insights from recent science, an intimate knowledge of place, and enough narrative force to match its subject matter, this is much more than just a geology guide to the region.”—Claire Peaslee High Country News
“A virtual road trip through geologic time that opens ancient windows on how the West was made. Meldahl is the ideal tour guide, blending history and geology to explain the rocks and topography of the American West and how geology shaped its settlement"--David Montgomery, author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

"The geology of the western United States is as fascinating, yet as enigmatic, as that of any region in the world. Keith Meldahl not only makes it comprehensible, he makes us want to hit the road to see it for ourselves. If you are curious about how our unique American West got to be the way it is, read this engaging book."--James Lawrence Powell, author of Dead Pool and Grand Canyon

"This book is far and away the most readable and geologically informative about the West. A real tour-de-force."--William R. Dickinson, University of Arizona

"Meldahl effectively integrates human history with the much longer, and still active, geologic history."--Eldridge M. Moores, coeditor of Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology

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