How to Determine if You’ve Been Bitten by the Geology Bug

Several years ago, during a movie-watching phase, I put up a pair of posts at the old ETEV describing the symptoms of someone bitten by the geology bug. They never made it over here, so I’ve decided to repost them, with some added visuals. If you recognize yourself in these vignettes, you may be assured you’ve been bitten, too.

Fortunately, it’s not (usually) fatal, and leads to a lifetime of healthy fascination with a gorgeous science. It can also lead to vigorous outdoor exercise, which I’m told is often good for you. Huzzah!

How You Know You’re a Geologist at Heart

When you’re watching a movie, and during one of those beautiful scene-setting shots with the house perched on the sea cliffs, you catch your breath and whisper, “Ye gods, look at that tilted strata! I could live there just for that!” And then you drool over the way erosion has exposed the bedding planes.

Any geologist who’s seen The Shipping News probably knows precisely which shot I’m talking about.


Image shows Julianne Moore and Kevin Spacey flying kites. There are some lovely old rocks around them and a seastack.

Screenshot from The Shipping News showing some moar geology.

Geology Strikes Again

Okay, so you know how in Sleepless in Seattle, they roll the opening credits over a relief map of the USA? Yeah. And no shit, there I was, thinking of the vagaries of plate tectonics. ‘Twas the angle on the map, y’see. It showed with amazing clarity just how flat the Midwest is (where it’s tectonically relatively quiet), how low the mountains in the East are (passive margin), and how mountainous the West is (active boundary, whole lotta squishing going on).

I’m sure I’ll start thinking of the actual movie here soon…

Relief map of the USA from The National Atlas, via Wikimedia Commons.

Relief map of the USA from The National Atlas, via Wikimedia Commons.


New at Rosetta Stones: Why You Need a Geologist with Your Holiday Road Trip

Plus outtakes!

Geologists are a great addition to any road trip, especially long boring ones during the holiday season. But they’re great to have along any time! Go see why!

And do please enjoy these roadcut photos that didn’t quite make the cut, but are awesome cuts nonetheless.

Image shows me walking along the road in front of a pile of pink and yellow rock.

Moi in front of the Toroweap Formation, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona. Photo by Cujo359.

Image shows a wall of granite, with granite weathered into rounded shapes on top.

Prescott, Arizona’s Granite Dells. Bloody awesome place to hike, lemme tell ya. Photo by Cujo359.

Image shows a gray cliff with white streaks through it.

Roadcut through orthogneiss with pegmatite dikes near Diablo Lake.

Image shows a shoulder of pale gray volcanic rock and a rainbow.

A rainbow and roadcut at Mount Rainier.

How Holy Schist is Created

Something so divine as Holy Schist isn’t created in a single day. It’s a lengthy process that can take months, and is filled with a lot of mystical wotsit and sacred somethingorother. I shall now initiate you into the mysteries!

First, over two hundred million years in the past, volcanic islands must erupt, and their rocks erode into submarine sediment fans. Over the next several million years, the sediments become sandstones and shales. Give them about 100 million years to run into the nearest major continent, another several dozen million years for some pretty intense contact and regional metamorphism to take place, and then another few million years for the mountains above them to erode away and new mountains rise, lifting them up from deep in the earth and exposing them to the elements.

Now that’s all done, you must take a heroic journey across tall and dangerous mountains, alongside a raging river, and then up a creek into the icy gorge, where you will find unhallowed garnet mica schist.

Image shows a whitewater creek carving a narrow gorge in schist.

Icicle Gorge

Collect some of the loose bits the creek has so thoughtfully eroded out for you. Return to your temple. Eventually get ordained into the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Image shows me standing in front of bookshelves, wearing a pirate hat and outfit, holding a framed ordination certificate.

Moi holding my ordination certificate.

Before you perform the blessing, there must be the ceremonial pissing off of the homicidal felid. Your first mate can perform this task.

Image shows B in a black pirate shirt and hat, kneeling on the floor and patting Misha carefully on the head as they rest from doing battle.

B risking life and limb so the kitty can get her desired fight.

After the cat goddess is sated, gather your schist in the Consecrated Colander.

Image shows a green colander on a white countertop, filled with schist.

The gathered schist in the sacred container.

Now, you must start the pastaral pot boiling, and prepared to add the numinous noodles. We are, of course, using angel hair.

Image shows a steaming pot on the stove, and I'm holding a sheaf of pasta, about to drop it in.

Moi adding pasta to the pot.

And, of course, a dash of the sacred sea salt.

Image shows me grinding a bit of sea salt into the pot.

You must have the sacred sea salt.

Wave the schist gently through the sanctifying steam.

Image shows me waving the colander over the pot.

Be very careful not to get scalded.

The drip a bit of the unworldly water on it.

Image shows me letting water drip from the slotted spoon onto the schist.

Only a drop or two, mind. You don’t need much.

Et voila, the schist is blessed. It is now Holy Schist! R’amen.

Image shows a piece of garnet schist in a small jewel box, with a Holy Schist label on the lid.

The holiest of holy schist.

There are still some beautiful specimens available. Grab yours before they’re gone! Crossing the mountains in winter time is right out, I’m afraid, so if you miss out on this batch, you’ll have to wait til summer. Bummer!

Adventures in Christianist Earth Science Education IV-E: Wherein there is a Climate of Jeer

The Christianist authors of ES4, after achieving a crescendo of kookiness, manage to dial it back down to nearly normal as they explain Short-Term Climate Change. They explain things like ENSO and La Niña in terms befitting a science text. But you can see them slipping when they devote a section to volcanism. All that ash! It cools the world!

Um. Actually. Ash is just a part of what causes cooling due to volcanic eruptions. But BJU writers can’t be bothered with little things like sulfur dioxide. They also claim forest fires and “large regional dust storms” can cool the climate like volcanoes. Forest fires in Northern latitudes may cool it a bit, but not because of ash – it’s because all those lovely dark green conifers are gone, which means snow’s free to reflect the sun’s heat, and it’s not like that’s going to reverse the upward trend in warming. If an area hasn’t got snow, even that bit of cooling is unlikely. And, of course, burning trees releases bunches o’ carbon, which ultimately leads to more warming. As for dust storms, sure, those dust clouds can reduce temps – but that’s neglecting the winds that, in some regions, bring warm air right back in. And if increased dust starts landing on snow, you get an increase in solar radiation absorption, and you’ve warmed stuff right up again.

In other words, they’ve neglected to mention a few things. All that, and we hadn’t even got to the rat-fucking part of their program. But now we’re on to Long-Term Climate Change. Place your bets now on how much they’ll distort the science.

Image is a demotivational poster showing Giles from Buffy, dressed in a sombrero and serape. Caption says, "BETTING. Make sure the bet is worth losing, otherwise you may have to dress like this for the next 30 days."

They begin by calling the abrupt warming we’ve experienced thus far as “a quick but slight increase in worldwide temperature.” A mere smidge over half a degree, Kids, in 50 whole years. And no, we’re not going to say what degree (it’s Celsius. That’s .9°F.) And we’re going to make it sound like NBD while the Earth broils. Whee!

They show the hockey stick graph, because the can’t avoid it, but the caption assures us that “its accuracy is questioned by many scientists.” Because in Creationist math, 3% vs. 97% is “many.” Also, too, didja notice temps have only “increased by about half a degree in the past 50 years”? Pay no mind to that screaming rise since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution!

They go on to explore natural causes of climate change, which gives them problems, because long-term changes caused by things like orbital variations and axial tilt fluctuations are measured in times longer than they think Earth has existed. They handwave the 10s to 100s of thousands of years away with the “secular scientists believe” incantation. Yep, it’s all according to old-earth geologists, and secular scientists, and anyway it’s nothing to do w/ global warming cuz that’s too short, and anyway, we’ve only been collecting data for two centuries, and SQUIRREL!

And then it’s right off the rails again:

A Recovering Earth

The earth has experienced drastic changes that have affected its climate. Young-earth scientists agree that when God flooded the earth to complete judgement on man’s sin, the upheaval triggered a series of climate changes. The warm oceans and cloudy skies that were likely remaining after the Flood plunged Earth into the Ice Age. The Bible is silent about this geologic period of time. But the ice sheets, glaciers, and icebergs remaining today, as well as the geologic evidence of glacial erosion, give testimony to this stage of Earth’s history. And the warming trend we see may be a sign of a world still recovering from the Flood’s effects.

How this belongs in a science text book I don’t even… I mean, this is like reading one of those science-of-some-fictional-world pieces, only without a decent plot or, actually, any science. None of that shit about warm oceans and clouds appears in actual causes suspected by genuine scientists. You’ll hear them talk about declining levels of greenhouse gasses (and, hellooo – water vapor is a greenhouse gas!), the positions of continents, changes in ocean currents, uplift of large areas, Milankovitch cycles, sun cycles… I don’t think there’s one mainstream scientist who puts it down to clouds and hot water. Criminy, can these people not hear themselves?

Next, we’re in to “possible human causes,” where we’re assured for the third time that warming’s only been half a degree in the last 50 years of the 20th century, and there are even some scientists who “question the actual amount of warming, if any.” They do have to admit that even that half-degree (if any), “is a significant jump compared to the previous 1000 years.” I think they may want to have a look at Proverbs 4:24.

The twisting and turning to avoid looking like supreme dipshits while still being in denial over the reality of AGW continues. Scientists think we can increase atmospheric CO2 by doing things that release CO2 and prevent it being taken up by those forests we keep burning down. B-b-but just cuz CO2 seems (their word) to be increasing, and just because we release a crap-ton of CO2, don’t mean those things are in any way related to global warming, no siree! It might be natural (pro-tip: we considered that. It’s not), and anyway, it might not be bad (pro-tip: it’s bad), and this cartoon says that we’ll get eaten by a leopard if we stop making campfires!

Image shows the two ES4 scientists standing in a night-time forest. There are campfires in the background, and a leopard lurking in the tree beside the secular scientist. The secular scientist is saying, "Humans need to stop burning wood to keep this environment pristine." The creation scientist is saying, "Look... they need to cook... it's gonna get cold, and, uh, we may want to get a little closer to those fires!"

Cartoon on page 518. Look, kids! You’ll get eaten by a leopard if you aren’t a creationist!

My fuck, these people are pathetic.

And they are dishonest shits when it comes to graphs.

Image shows a pie chart saying Sources of Greenhouse Gasses. Natural Sources is marked as 4.72%, Human Activities as 0.28%, and Water Vapor as 95%. Caption says, "This pie chart shows the actual contribution humans make to greenhouse gasses. By itself, this graph doesn't tell the whole story about global warming, but it is one factor to keep in mind."

Yeah, that chart doesn’t quite tell the whole story…

Then they whine about it being so haaard to model climate. Yes. Yes, it is. That’s why the things predicted by our models, like the melting of the polar ice and the collapse of ice shelves, are happening much sooner than expected. So when they say

Concerns about catastrophic global warming, melting glaciers, devastating sea-level rise, loss of wildlife, and increased heat deaths are fanned by the worst-case environmentalist views with little scientific evidence to support them.

They’re completely ignoring the fact that reality has already gotten worse than our worst-case. The scientific evidence, the actual empirical bloody facts, the people starving and dying and drowning, the catastrophic loss of polar ice beyond what our best models predicted, mean nothing. Because we can’t build a super computer that can model the burning down to the last molecule of wood, they think we shouldn’t douse the flames. “Think of the water bill!” they cry as the fire races from the kitchen to the living room. “If we call the fire department right now, we’ll go over our cell phone minutes! We can’t possibly until we’re sure the house is burning down.”

They have a fucking text box about how great global warming may be, without sparing a single thought for the massive suffering that will occur as the rest of the previously arable land becomes useless for agriculture. “Melting glaciers and ice caps can bring water to areas that need it.” they say. No. The melting ice caps will not water the Southwest, or the Sahara, or any other region drying out to the point where people will start killing each other for a drop of water. My own fair city depends on meltwater for its needs – when those glaciers finish melting, we’re going to be rather fucked. And we’re getting off easy. What next, do the chickenhawks expect us to annex Canada?

They try to use DDT as a cautionary tale (many people thought protecting bird eggs was more important than saving human lives, is their interpretation). And they scaremonger shamelessly while stuffing straw at a furious rate:

With global warming, scientists and governments are considering a number of really drastic actions… For starters, radical environmentalists believe that there are too many people, and that fact is a major part of the climate change problem. They would like to see the world’s human population reduced to much less than a third of its present size. How would they go about doing that? At the same time, they want modern societies to return to the level of technology that existed before the Industrial Revolution to reduce greenhouse gas production.

Who the fuck are these “radical environmentalists”? Point to a single damned one that has any appreciable influence on public policy. These ass clowns are worse than MRAs. And after that remarkable bit of They’re gonna kill you all and bring you back to the Dark Ages alarmism, they call people who think a modest carbon tax is a fine idea “greedy” and “fallen.” And yes, Virginia, they do roll with the “global warming as a tool to… increase government control over our lives” conspiracy theory.

And after all that well-poisoning, they have the gall to say they’re not denying global warming. Nope, not them. They’re reesonable.

But at this point in time, we really don’t have enough evidence to decide if global warming is really happening, whether humans cause it or not, and whether the earth’s systems can control the change.

But hey, while they’re busy counseling us to sit on our hands, they say it’s totes okay with God to maybe pick up some trash or “explore alternative energies.” Like, no doubt, “clean” coal.

The dingleberry atop this shit sundae is the “Life Connection” that says we can’t possibly draw any conclusions about the status of polar bears because it’s soo haard to track them, and anyway, while the population of eight subspecies of polar bears are declining, “one actually has a growing population!” Then they titter at those silly evolutionists:

They say the history of the polar bear is one of adaptation to cold climates. But if they adapted to the cold, shouldn’t they be able to adapt to warmer climates? Shouldn’t they be able to adjust their behavior to function more like a grizzly bear?

Gosh, aren’t we silly? Those bears just have to decide to evolve to keep up is all!

Image is a demotivational poster showing a polar bear on a knob of ice, surrounded by sea. Caption says, "GLOBAL WARMING. Seriously, I hate you guys. Seriously."

These assholes disgust me. Their smug pride in their own ignorance and their enormous ego in thinking they know better than literally everyone else in the world is beyond belief. And they’re willing to let that population of humans they’re so proud of suffer and die because they can’t be asked to stop bloody pumping carbon everywhere. They shadowbox with caricatures and declare themselves Floyd Mayweather.

And they think they should have dominion over the earth.

If that doesn’t scare the shit out of you, nothing ever will.

Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide VI: Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House

That’s it, you think as you pile your weary bones into the car and leave Johnston Ridge. The End. Fini. As you reverse your course through the blast zone, watching that remarkable She-Hulk of a volcano with its gaping wound recede in your rearview mirror, as the volcanic desert is once again hidden by thick stands of trees, you feel a species of sorrow. That was a remarkable day. There will never be another quite like it.

Hold your nostalgia. It ain’t over yet.

There’s an encore. An extremely delicious one.

Patty's Place at 19 Mile House. Image courtesy Patty's Place.

Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House. Image courtesy Patty’s Place.

About one short year after Mount St. Helens’s paroxysmal eruption in 1980, two couples opened a restaurant. Jan and Roy Finkas and Milt and Susan Wheeler’s 19 Mile House remained a popular food stop on Spirit Lake Highway for over two decades. It closed in 2008, but not for long. Patty and Sam Gardener, with the urging and help of the Finkas, Wheelers, plus some former employees, reopened it as Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House on May 1st, 2010 – just in time for St. Helens’s 30th anniversary. And business has been booming [further gratuitous volcanic pun redacted] ever since.

Oh, people. This place…

All right. Imagine yourself now, tired, dusty, thirsty and hungry after a super-long day of geoadventuring. And here, in the lazy last light of a Pacific Northwest summer evening, in the heart of a lush river valley, is this long country house with a big sign proclaiming rest and refreshment within. There’s a crumpled truck with a story in front, too, but it can be safely ignored in favor of foodstuffs for now. Just wend your way through the lovely arbors full of roses, perhaps pausing a moment to inhale deeply of their rich fragrance (barring allergies).

Arbor of roses at Patty's Place.

Arbor of roses at Patty’s Place.

Now, if you’ve timed matters just so, you’ll have arrived after the dinner rush, but comfortably before closing. However. Don’t expect the place to be empty. It won’t be, and you’re about to find out why.

If you can, and if the weather is amenable, get a table on the back patio, overlooking the North Fork Toutle River. Geology isn’t over! You can do this bit sitting comfortably. Before diving into dinner, have a glance at the river.

View of the North Fork Toutle River from the back patio at Patty's Place.

View of the North Fork Toutle River from the back patio at Patty’s Place.

Lovely, isn’t that? We’ll imagine it as a mud-filled torrent of destruction in a mo. You’ve got dinner to deal with. I’d recommend getting a jump on things and loosening your belt in advance. Now, dive into the menu. As you peruse the offerings, the following must be taken into consideration:

1. Every damn thing on the menu is delicious, so don’t expect me to guide you here.

2. If you’re on a diet, fuggedaboutit. Unless your dietary restrictions are due to health or moral reasons, they are null for this evening. Besides, you just burned about nine trillion calories. So, unless you’re vegan, revel in the fact that everything here is real and fresh: real cream, real butter, real roast meat, real hand-crafted patties, real fresh veggies and fruit – much of it locally sourced.

3. Do you love comfort food? Prepare to be comforted.

4. But above all else, remember: you MUST save room for the cobbler. Or at least order some to go.

Cobbler. Cobbler. Oh, my heck, the cobbler. Listen: you’ll know when I’ve just tucked in to my first spoonful. I order it to go, warm it a bit, and add just a scoop of panna gelato. You’ll hear a kind of hybrid scream-groan of sheer ecstasy. Just the rich, sweet-but-not-overly-so, succulent fruit paying compliments to that beautiful variation upon the theme of cobbler that is the sugar-crusted sweet biscuit square floating atop that berry bliss… as my teeth crunch softly on that sugar and sink into the fruit-and-gelato heaven below, I understand what gastronomic bliss is and why our species pays homage to cooks like Patty.

Oh, honey.

All right. Now you can turn your attention to the river below.

Detail of bank, North Fork Toutle River

Detail of bank, North Fork Toutle River

See the volcanic ash in its bars? The boulders in its banks? You can see it’s cut its way through layer upon layer of lahar, the most recent being from Mount St. Helens’s recent spasms. This river valley has been inundated by more than one mudflow. Speaking of which, now you can (possibly) move again, let’s go out front to have a close gander at one passenger upon such a flow.

(Feel free to pause at the remarkably reasonably-priced giftshop on the way out. Pick up some lovely emerald obsidianite – what geologist wouldn’t love a gemstone made from the ash of the 1980 eruption?)

Don’t bother looking for boulders. We’re after a truck.

Damaged Weyerhauser truck in front of Patty's.

Damaged Weyerhauser truck in front of Patty’s.

Patty kindly answered my queries, and informed me it’s “an old fire truck from Weyerhauser’s Camp Baker that was washed down the river in the mudflow during the 1980 eruption.” Pause and consider that: this not-at-all-small piece of logging equipment found itself picked up by a churning river of mud, hot rock, and steaming water, and churned down the valley in a mass of boulders, logs, other equipment, and who knows what else, bashed against bridges, and finally landed here, miles away, when the flow lost its force. That’s hella amazing power.

Feel free to inspect it, and report back on your findings as to the effects of the eruption upon this vehicle.

Patty’s Place is seasonal, so be sure to time your visit between the first weekend in May and late fall, when the snows close the mountain again.


Special thanks to Patty Gardener for her help with this post.

Previous: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide V: Johnston Ridge


For further information on the May 18th, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, do feel free to peruse the Prelude to a Catastrophe series should you have missed it.

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.


Burns, Scott (2011): Field Guide to Mt. St. Helens north. Portland State University.

Decker, Barbara and Robert (2002): Road Guide to Mount St. Helens (Updated Edition). Double Decker Press.

Doukas, Michael P. (1990): Road Guide to Volcanic Deposits of Mount St. Helens and Vicinity, Washington. USGS Bulletin 1859.

Pringle, Patrick T. (2002): Roadside Geology of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Vicinity. Washington DNR Information Circular 88.

New at Dana Hunter’s Gneiss Schist! Guaranteed Garnets! Cards On Sale!

B and I found some beautiful garnets when we were breaking up some chunks of garnet mica schist. I’ve chosen out the best of the best, and they’re up on Etsy for ye. These are perfect little gifts for anyone who loves rocks, puns, garnets, shiny glittery things, or is a Capricorn or Aquarius. No, I’m serious about that last one. Garnet is the January birthstone.

Image is a macro of a small piece of garnet mica schist with tiny, red-orange garnets speckling it.

Lovely little garnets! In Holy Schist!

Look! They’ll make the perfect stocking stuffers.

Image shows a white velvet stocking with a red top hanging against a green background. An open box with a piece of garnet schist is on its toe.

Here’s a little tableau for Christmas.

Yes, I made a mini-stocking for display purposes. This is why I keep scraps around the house. I still haven’t got a sewing machine, but once I do, I’ll be happy to make ya’ll some lovely custom stockings of your own for next year. Or other things.

Returning our focus to this year: there’s plenty of lovely garnet schist for ye, and of course there’s our Gnaughty and Gneiss rock sample cards.

Image shows one of the Gnaughty and Gneiss cards with the stocking.

Okay, so the stocking’s too small to fit the cards, but you get the point – great stocking stuffer!

If you need to mail them to other folk, now’s the time to order. Act now and all that!

Speaking of acting now, Zazzle’s having a second Cyber Monday sale, which means you can get Gnaughty or Gneiss greeting cards at 50% off. Use the code CYBERTAKETWO when you check out.

Image is a photo of a lump of coal and a piece of gneiss. They've been filtered as a watercolor. Caption says, "Gnaughty or gneiss."

Card Interior.

Even if you’re not planning on getting any of these incredibly awesome products yourselves, you can enjoy these lovely pictures. And please do share this post around! The more folks get to see the punny possibilities for gifting, the merrier this holiday season could be.

The Most Unexpected Beauty

Do you love dendritic patterns? Of course you do – who doesn’t? Do you love thin film interference? You probably do, unless you’ve had to deal with a large oil slick or similar. Everybody loves a good rainbow. Let’s combine the two, shall we?

Image shows an oil spot in a parking lot. It looks a bit like a rainbow rising sun with dendrites instead of rays.

The most lovely leak.

B and I saw that lovely little rainbow burst when we were getting gyros. It looks like the parking lot is trying to dress up in psychedelic patterns.

A closeup of our lovely little burst.

A closeup of our lovely little burst.

I wish I had something deep and insightful to say, but it’s been a Week, and I’m only able to mumble things like pretty and wow. I’m off to rejuvenate my cranium with lotsa food, mindless busywork, and probably Christianist textbooks. Can you believe I miss those things? I do. It’s pretty sad.

Talk to me, people. The world’s been full of ugly lately, and I believe we could use some beauty. Share some beautiful things. Pictures, stories, music, random acts of extraordinary humanity, anything you like. Let’s refresh ourselves, drink deep and renew our strength, so that we can keep fighting to make the world better.

Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to Science Books Suitable for Gift-Giving II: Science for Kids!

Welcome to Part II of our Super-Gargantuan Guide! In this edition, we’ll be exploring the world of science books for kids. I attempted to cast my mind back to when I was a child, and also solicited the advice of child-possessing readers. Feel free to toss more titles my way – this list has plenty of room for growth. And it’s all about feeding kids full of science early and often, so as to ensure that their sense of wonder grows to magnificent proportions.

In each category, I’ve listed the books in order from youngest readers up to older, so it should be easy for you to find the right book for every kiddo on your list. You’ll notice that my assessments as to age appropriateness differ from those suggested by the publishers. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Help ‘em out with the big words, and don’t insult their intelligence by giving them books that are way below their mad comprehension skillz.

Image shows a cat lying in front of an open lolcat picture book. Caption says, "Lolcat Accadamee Study Hall"

Let’s go!

Table of Contents

Earth Sciences

General Science


Earth Sciences

Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor [Ages 3 to infinity]

I’m in love with this book. It’s an absolutely charming story that shows the value of having a rock of your very own. It includes whimsical advice on choosing the right rock. I have a suspicion it might instantly addict kids to geology. It’ll certainly get them looking more closely at the rocks around them. It features simple, lovely illustrations and an awesome female protagonist. While you’re buying one for the kiddos, buy one for the adults, too.

Rocks And Minerals For Kids! BIG Photos Fun Facts, Silly Jokes (60+ pages Fun Facts and Photos about Rocks, Minerals, Gemstones, Geology and SO MUCH MORE!) by Martin J. Waters [Ages 4-10]

Looking for a rock and mineral guide that has gorgeous photos, excellent jokes, and covers the basic facts? Look no further! It’s worth it for the silly jokes alone.

How the Earth Works: 60 Fun Activities for Exploring Volcanoes, Fossils, Earthquakes, and More by Michelle O’Brien-Palmer [Ages 5-10]

Fans of Harry Potter will love the cover of this one, which is reminiscent of the American editions of the books. They’ll continue to love it once they get inside. This book is all about active science that’ll help them understand Earth’s structure, plates, landforms, fossils, rocks and minerals, crystals and gems, and earthquakes and volcanoes. It’s full of classroom-tested activities that integrate mathematics and music, language and art, geography and history, and more. The songs are adorable, set to familiar tunes. As far as the activities go: who can resist a cupcake core sample? ZOMG. Best earth science activity ever.

A Changing Earth (21st Century Skills Library: Real World Science) by Heather Miller [Ages 6-12]

This book provides clear, simple explanations regarding how Earth changes, how those changes take millions or billions of years, and how those changes happen, complete with excellent photographs illustrating the concepts. It covers changing landforms, including glaciers and erosion, volcanoes, and plate tectonics. There’s a nice blurb for geology careers, too – we’re detectives! And there are plenty of safe, fun, simple, try-this-at-home experiments.

Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth: A First Book About Geology by Herman and Nina Schneider [Ages 7-12]

This book is a bit out of date, but it has many other charms and makes a good introduction to the geosciences. It shows kids how things as small and ordinary as clouds and leaves tell dramatic earth science stories. It includes fun and easy little experiments to illustrate the concepts covered. Topics include rivers, soil and erosion, groundwater, minerals, mountains, coasts, oceans, uplift, volcanoes and earthquakes, and humanity’s relation to the earth.

Geology of the Desert Southwest: Investigate How the Earth Was Formed with 15 Projects by Cynthia Light Brown [Ages 8-12]

Being a former Arizonan, I love this book: it captured the essentials of my old home state in the first paragraph. But it’s about more than AZ: the whole desert southwest is covered. It traces the earth science story over billions of years, covering geology, geography, plate tectonics, mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes, hydrology, climate, ecosystems and natural resources. It breaks out the important words, and has excellent activities that help make the science easy to understand. And Cynthia Light Brown knows what’s really interesting about a rock – read on to find out! She’s also written about the Geology of the Pacific Northwest and the Geology of the Great Plains and Mountain West, so be sure to check out those regions, too!

Geoscientist (21st Century Skills Library: Cool STEM Careers) by Matt Mullins [Ages 8-12]

Speaking from personal experience, Mount St. Helens is a fantastic way to get kids interested in the geosciences, so it’s an excellent thing this book starts with a vivid story about the ashfall from the May 18th eruption. A wide variety of geoscience careers is covered, including hydrogeology. The beautiful photography and great layout make this a very attractive introduction to geoscience careers.

The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic: The Adventures of Geo, Vol. 1 by Kanani K. M. Lee and Adam Wallenta [Ages 8-14]

When I first got my hands on an advance copy of The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic, I squeed. I did. Because I am a nerd, people. I love geology, and I thoroughly enjoy superhero comics, and I adore media that put someone other than a generic white male in the spotlight for a change. And this comic book is written by Kanani K. M. Lee, an actual geophysicist whose specialty is the interior of the earth – and writing rocking great geologic comics. Illustrator Adam Wallenta brings her characters to vivid life, with blazing, bold color illustrations.

My review here.

Dawn of the Dinosaur Age: The Late Triassic & Early Jurassic Epochs by Thom Holmes [Ages 12-14]

This book, which is full of words like “marvelous” and uses quite a bit of gentle snark, is part of a larger series. If you’ve got a budding paleontologist in the family who already knows every dinosaur fact under the sun, chuck one of the other books in the series their way. For those just getting started, or who had a dino obsession when they were younger and then got distracted, this is a great way to get them hooked on science again. It makes clear that paleontology is a vitally important science. Then it goes on to explore Archosaurs, the origin of the dinosaurs, early Mesozoic dinos, theropods, sauropods, and the early Ornithischian dinos.


Back to Contents

General Science

Warning! Disasters by Katharine Kenah [Ages 3-6]

Wonderful photos illustrate this simple book about various natural disasters. The sentences are very simple, suitable for reading with very young kids. While it’s about disasters, it’s not scary, so fears won’t be fueled.

Horrible Science: Nasty Nature by Nick Arnold [Ages 9-14]

Even the author and illustrator bios are funny in these books. The cartoons are a scream. This book appeals completely to kids’ fascination with gross stuff. It also hooks ‘em by hinting at the forbidden: “99% of teachers wouldn’t dream of teaching…” Total catnip. In this volume, kids will not only learn about nature (nasty, of course); they’ll learn that scientists are human (and sometimes nasty), and American kids can pick up some Britishisms while they get their science on. There’s a whole series of these things, so if this book is a hit, you’ll be able to keep the kids happily wallowing in science for ages.

Science in Seconds for Kids: Over 100 Experiments You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less by Jean Potter [Ages 5-12]

You’ll need this book handy for those days when the weather’s got a lot of bored kids trapped indoors. There are 108 experiments covering a wide variety of scientific subjects. They’re designed to use cheap, simple materials you’ve probably already got around the house, and take only minutes to complete. The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow, and results are explained after the experiment is finished. The book stresses the importance of repeating experiments to ensure accuracy, and encourages kids to think of variations.

Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists by Jeannine Atkins [Ages 8-13]

Focusing mainly on entymologists, this book profiles six girls who became pioneering scientists and writers: Maria Sibylla Merian, Anna Comstock, Frances Hamerstrom, Miriam Rothschild, Rachel Carson, and Jane Goodall. It shows that women are excellent scientists, and also highlights how traditionally “feminine” traits can add a lot of value to the scientific enterprise.


Back to Contents

Originally published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.

Why Everyday Sexism Matters: A Personal Tale

Culture taught me to ignore women.

I wouldn’t have put it that way, back in the day. I’d have told you that the reason I didn’t read many female authors or didn’t know about many female scientists or like many female artists or musicians was because they just weren’t as good. I’d point defensively to the few women on my shelves or in my CD collection and say, look! I’m not prejudiced or anything, I’ve got women there, it’s just that there aren’t that many doing stuff I like.

Sound familiar? It’s the cry of every dudebro and unique-chick™ out there.

I didn’t realize I was blind to the thousands of women out there who were writing stuff I loved, creating art and music that kicked the shit out of the majority of bands I listened to, who were doing incredible science. I didn’t know society was conspiring to keep them hidden from me. I just didn’t think they existed. I didn’t think to look. And even when I saw them, I almost always had a knee-jerk response to the female name: this probably won’t be any good.

I’m remembering what it was like before the feminists came along and pried my eyes open. I’m going back through my blog archives right now, and I’m horrified by what I’m seeing. Five years ago, if I made a list of really influential scientists, chances are there wouldn’t be a woman among them. If I made a list of popular science books, it would probably include just male authors. Sci-fi and fantasy lists: overwhelmingly men, with a few women sprinkled sparingly in. By that time, I’d gotten over the women-can’t-do-metal attitude, and most of the bands I listened to included female vocalists, sometimes even women playing instruments, and I’d learned I was wrong to knee-jerk dismiss bands simply because they had females in them. Small consolation to the women in everything else I ignored because women automatically suck at x, so why bother?

Image shows a woman from the cartoon series Pokemon, with a building that has a sign saying "PMS" in the background. Caption says, "The one episode of Pokemon that has to do with women, Jessie and Misty shop a ton, fight like there's no tomorrow, and it clearly says "PMS" on that building."

Another fine example of unthinking sexism.

Yet I believed that women should be treated equally. I just didn’t think they measured up. The ones who did would of course succeed, because we’d done away with all the legal barriers and people all knew women could do stuff, right?

That’s what so insidious about this cultural messaging around us. On the one hand, we’re allowed to believe the problem is solved the instant there are laws against discrimination. Hey, look, we’ve got the vote, and people aren’t allowed to refuse to hire us cuz we might get preggers! Woo-hoo, equality! If you fail now, it’s your own fault!

On the other hand, we have a culture that tells us, from birth to death, what women are for. And it tells female people with ladybrainz that they’re not for science and math. They’re not for serious literature or groundbreaking SF. They’re not for leadership. Sure, there are women who can do all those things, no one denies it: they’re just unique-chicks™ who have dudely brains. They’re special.

That was a toxic, yet heady, brewski. Here I was, bathed in legal equality, and additionally, I was one of the unique-chicks™ who could, with effort, break into the dudebro spaces, because I wasn’t one of Those Girls. I wasn’t one of those terrible women who are womanly and boring, useful only for womanly things, which don’t get me wrong are totally important! Just not as awesome as the dudely things. I mean, how much effort does it really take to endure nine months of various medical problems plus someone’s feet in your bladder, then force an entire person out through a small opening, then raise that squalling, screaming, shitting bundle of supposed joy while also cleaning, cooking, running errands, and doing a cake job, like teaching dozens of selfish young fiends how to be good citizens and also read, write, and do maths? Totally easy compared to writing the Great American Novel or designing an MP3 player. Get back to me when you’re doing something important.

The casual contempt of women wasn’t intentional. It was just what we absorbed, along with the notion that women who didn’t like sex were prudes, women who did like sex were sluts, and rape victims should’ve been wearing longer skirts. And gawd, women sucked, right? They couldn’t throw a ball. They were so obsessed with hair-clothes-boys you couldn’t have a real conversation with them. When they wrote stuff, it was soft and domestic and full of icky feelings. When they did science, it was probably going to be squishy stuff, like sociology or something. She’s not pretty enough/she’s too ugly to listen to. On and on and on…

These things are held forth as truths: women are more emotional than men. They’re more into relationships. They’re softer, sweeter, less intellectual. They’re physically weaker. They’re more interested in babies. They’re all sorts of things, obviously, it’s biology, maaan. And those messages are a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re told to see women that way all our lives, so we do. I couldn’t see women any other way. And that meant I didn’t see a lot of women.

Not until I fell in by accident with a few feminists, both women and men, who told me to actually look. Look for the women who are already there, the ones you dismissed without honestly assessing their work, the ones you couldn’t even see because this culture ensured the men were given top billing. Look beyond the assumptions as to why there are fewer women. Look beyond that easy it’s-just-the-way-things-are narrative and find out if maybe, just possibly, there are other reasons why so many women are rare or absent in certain areas.

I found women doing extraordinary work, everywhere. Women who had been completely overlooked because people like me automatically dismissed them, didn’t even think to see if they were there and, if so, doing anything interesting.

I saw the things making them invisible.

I saw that the work they did, that I held in such contempt, was difficult and important and mattered.

I found out I’m not a unique-chick™. I was just being an oblivious asshole, like nearly everyone else.

This is why things like casual sexism matter. No one would give a rat’s ass about a shirt full of half-nekkid women or describing a piece of equipment as a woman you’re trying to bed if women were fully equal and represented. In another culture, that would just be quirky stuff. But not in this climate. In our culture, it’s another brick, more mortar, in the wall that keeps women out of certain fields. It’s part of the smokescreen that keeps women out of the public view as professionals worth taking seriously. It doesn’t matter that the people doing or defending it don’t realize that’s the impact they’re having, and don’t intend for it to be that way.

I didn’t intend to ignore women’s contributions to science, but I did. And part of the reason I did that was because ten thousand tiny messages told me that women were more objects than people, not worth considering unless they were really-really extraordinary. Messages often delivered by people who wouldn’t dream of telling women they were less-than people. But all of those messages, combined, say that women are, indeed, less-than. They have the result of turning women’s accomplishments invisible unless they fall within a narrow spectrum of “things women do.” They depreciate the worth of those “things women do” because, hey, if women can do them…

Image is a page from the Barbie book "I Can Be a Computer Engineer." Barbie is in a computer lab with two guys. She's holding up a disc. Text bubble says, "'It will go faster if Brian and I help,' offers Steven. 'Great!' says Barbie. 'Steven, can you hook Skipper's hard drive up to the library's computer?' 'Sure!' says Steven. 'The library computer has excellent security software to protect it.'"

Another unlovely example of subconscious sexism at work. The author says “it’s possible stuff slipped out.” Ya think?! Image from Pamela Ribon’s excellent smackdown. Click the image for her post.

We’ve got to be more careful of the messages we’re sending. We’ve got to be more aware of our bias, even when we believe we aren’t biased. We have to question those lazy assumptions handed down as unquestioned fact.

We have to do better.


The same image as the previous one. The text bubble has been reformatted to say, "This is the last time I'm giving you boys this anti-virus install. Next time you bork your machine by browsing porn sites with IE as an admin, you're on your own."

This is what could have been – and an idea of how it should be. Image from I Can Haz Cheeseburger.

Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide V: Johnston Ridge

After leaving Coldwater Lake and the Hummocks, you’ll wend your way out of the North Fork Toutle River valley. Vegetation is trying its best to return. In the spring and summer, groves of slender young trees shake green leaves at you, reminding you that life here in the Pacific Northwest can be temporarily routed, but never conquered.

Still, the flanks of the ridges are virtually naked. The volcanic history of this region lies stripped and exposed, In places, bits of Mount St. Helens’s modern cone are smeared and plastered on those ridges. A red waterfall cascades down stark, dissected slopes in the distance. Stumps of grand old trees form a gray stubble. In places, logs lay straight and still. They mark the direction of the cataclysmic lateral blast.

View of ridges and red waterfall from Johnston Ridge.

View of ridges and red waterfall from Johnston Ridge.

This is a silent, solemn road for me. As ecstatic as I get over the wonderful fresh geology, I can’t forget I’m on my way to the place where David Johnston died.

If you’re able to walk a reasonable distance, you’ll be parking in the main lot, behind the crest of the ridge. Look closely at the pavement. They’re fading now, since Mount St. Helens stopped spitting hot pyroclastics all over the place, but you can still find rusty little scorch marks here and there. The lot was heavily pocked with them when I first visited with my friend Victoria in 2007. They made us realize the volcano wasn’t so sleepy as we’d supposed, and question the wisdom of coming there in a cloth-top convertible.

Scorch mark in the pavement at Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Scorch mark in the pavement at Johnston Ridge Observatory.

At the far end of the lot, there’s a trail up the ridge. Take that long way round to the visitor’s center. You won’t see St. Helens just yet. It’s a good time to study the devastated area without her as a distraction. This is a remarkable place for the west side of the Cascades. I’m calling it volcanic desertification. Woods and streams and all of that lush, wet wildland became an instant desert when the mountain blew. Being from Arizona, this feels like home to me: the dry dirt and rock crunching underfoot, the stunted trees, the little plants clinging to the ground, determined to hang in there despite the odds. But this is a young desert, ephemeral: the pyroclastic sands will be turned into soils soon enough, as venerable old forests once again take over from the temperamental fire mountain that destroyed them.

If you look to the east, you’ll see the round white top of Mount Adams peering over the shoulder of a ridge. This is a brother to Mount St. Helens, born of the same subduction zone. Climbers on Adams watched her empty her interior to the north; someday, climbers here will watch Adams put on a similar show.

Our girl will soon reveal a shoulder as you ascend Dave Johnston’s ridge. She begins by looking like a fragment of a jagged mountain range. Then, gradually, the whole of her comes into view. She used to be lovely and round, sleek, snow-covered, like Adams. Her flanks are once again mantled in white, but this is veiled in gray. Listen: you may hear the rocks fall from those stark, steep crater walls. You may see a plume of dust rise. This is the place for these things.

You top the ridge, and stop, because she is titanic.

View of Mount St. Helens's gigantic crater and lava dome. If you look veryvery closely, you'll see a helicopter for scale.

View of Mount St. Helens’s gigantic crater and lava dome. If you look veryvery closely, you’ll see a helicopter for scale.

Nothing quite prepares you for that first instant, when you are staring directly into her enormous open crater. You’re practically eye-to-eye with it. Only 5.5 miles (8.85 km) across the valley, the mountain commands your attention. Can you imagine standing here, watching her symmetrical summit roar into the river valley, watching her heart blast out, straight at you?

On a clear day, in this place, you will see past, present, and future.

Past. First, let’s look at missing time. Have a glance at the plump round top of Adams, off to your left: you can get an idea of what his sister was before those catastrophic May morning minutes. You see that St. Helens is truncated, her top sliced off in a neat horizontal line, her insides hollowed. Quite a bit of her history, the effort of nearly three thousand years of summit-building, ended up spread all over the valley at your feet. Only a shell remains.

Look for Sugar Bowl Dome, which survived the May 1980 eruption.

Northeast crater wall above Sugar Bowl, Mount St. Helens with annotated deposits from some of the Spirit Lake Stage eruptive periods. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

Northeast crater wall above Sugar Bowl, Mount St. Helens with annotated deposits from some of the Spirit Lake Stage eruptive periods. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

You’ll see much of her eruptive history on display here. Fragments of andesite from the time when Europeans were just beginning to exploit Columbus’s “discovery” of America survived. So did various volcanic products of much earlier ages, going back nearly three thousand years.

But it’s the more recent past that grabs you by the lapels and demands you pay attention. There’s the obvious great bloody hole in the mountain, for starters. There are mounds left by the debris avalanche, bits that didn’t make it down-valley. And there’s that extraordinary, smooth ram extending like an excessively long cravat from the lowest point of the crater rim all the way to the river valley below. This is the Pumice Plain, formed by pyroclastic flows barreling down the breach and heading north. They stopped a mere half-mile (.8 km) from here. You can see, below you, that the lumpy-bumpy hummocks terrain of the debris avalanche has been somewhat smoothed by pyroclastic flow and ash-cloud deposits. Lahars contributed to smoothing things over. And if you look closely, you’ll see pits caused by phreatic eruptions in the deposit.

Present. Time marches on; heedless of volcanic eruptions, it continues, relentless. You can see its work here, in the gullies, carved by water, incising the volcanic deposits. The North Fork Toutle River has excavated terraces in the debris avalanche and Pumice Plain. Wind blows the fine volcanic materials, shifting and shaping. Plants are getting their own back, beginning to green barren slopes.

Mount St. Helens and the Toutle River Valley from Johnston Ridge.

Mount St. Helens and the Toutle River Valley from Johnston Ridge.

Look up: a plume of dust may be rising from a rock fall in the crater walls. Gravity is tugging mercilessly on those over-steepened bits, aided by cold frost action and frequent rainfall.

Look in: there’s the dome, building on and off since the early 1980s. This is the present: pulses of magma slowly, fitfully, building the cone once more. And here, you see:

Future. The mountain goes ever on. She’s not finished, not by half. That dome will continue to grow. I’ll bet my aged cat, whom I love with unwarranted fierceness, that she’ll erupt again within the lifetimes of some of those reading.* We probably won’t see a replay of that extraordinary May 18th paroxysm: she’ll need a long time to build before that. She won’t achieve that smoothly-rounded summit in our short span. But she will, once again, present a serenely-snowcapped summit to your descendants, putting them in mind of ice cream cones. They’ll spend many peaceful hours exploring her noble old-growth forests. They’ll scramble over the rocks left behind by this 20th century episode. And one day, there will be an earthquake.

The cycle will begin again.


Continue on the path west, toward the visitor’s center. Pause at the granite monument to the victims of the May 18th eruption. Take a moment to read their names. Geologists, monitors, reporters, loggers, visitors are united here. And we remember. They’re more than letters carved into stone.

Mount St. Helens and monument.

Mount St. Helens and monument.

You’ll pass downed trees and shattered stumps, chunks of rock, and spectacular views of mountain and valley. It’s not a long walk before you reach the beautiful Johnston Ridge Observatory. If you’ve made good time and arrived while it’s open, head on inside. You can play with a gigantic topographic model of St. Helens and her environs that tells the stories of the May 18th eruption with thousands of colorful lights. You can see the areas impacted by the lateral blast, the debris avalanche, lahars, and other aspects of the eruption. Excellent movies play in the theater, with a phenomenal reveal of the mountain when the curtain goes up. Interactive exhibits let you feel what the seismometers learn from the shaking ground. You’ll learn what distinguishes different volcanic rocks created by St. Helens, and in one particularly notable display, show you the eruption-blasted trunk of an enormous old tree. The bark on only one side is particularly striking. If you’re there for one of the rangers’ talks, be sure to have a listen. You never know what might happen: she erupted beautifully (and safely!) during one.

Ranger holding a photo of Mount St. Helens, erupting during another ranger's talk.

Ranger holding a photo of Mount St. Helens, erupting during another ranger’s talk.

The JRO is a working observatory, not just a visitor’s center. They’ll be there to warn us when St. Helens awakens again. They’ll watch, as David Johnston watched, from the same ridge. Because of them, we can live relatively safely beside “one of the most active and most explosive volcanoes in the Cascade Range.”

Give them some love.

Bid our dangerous beauty a final adieu.

Then prepare your tummy for our final stop…


*The volcano, not the cat. Although I’m positive my cat will also erupt again, and rather more frequently than St. Helens.

Previous: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide IV: Hummocks Trail

Next: Dana’s Super-Awesome Mount St. Helens Field Trip Guide VI: Patty’s Place at 19 Mile House


Burns, Scott (2011): Field Guide to Mt. St. Helens north. Portland State University.

Decker, Barbara and Robert (2002): Road Guide to Mount St. Helens (Updated Edition). Double Decker Press.

Doukas, Michael P. (1990): Road Guide to Volcanic Deposits of Mount St. Helens and Vicinity, Washington. USGS Bulletin 1859.

Pringle, Patrick T. (2002): Roadside Geology of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Vicinity. Washington DNR Information Circular 88.