‘Cascadia’ easily outlines local features

Book on local geology is a ‘delightful’ read

It was in 1972 that Bates McKee published his “Cascadia.” Not long after that, Bruce Wilson worked out of it in establishing the Okanogan County Historical Society Museum in Okanogan.

As a follow-up in that series of events, I read the book.

It was the first one I read in the field of geologic books on this subject for non-professionals.

It was delightful. McKee wrote clearly and without “talking down” to his non-professional geologic readers. Illustrated with excellent photographs from throughout the region, and also with some humorous cartoon-type sketches to illustrate certain points and principles, the text is easy to follow, even for an amateur.

I don’t know which was the first in this series for lay readers. When I had my course in geology in college, the text consisted of two volumes – one on principles and the other on geologic history.

The writers never mentioned the Pacific Northwest. I threw the books out. McKee’s book came as a revelation.

There is so much here. I threw out the incomplete texts and have been buying books ever since as writers discover this vast and fascinating field and write of certain sections of it. And I find, happily, that people are interested.

McKee makes up for some of the ignorance of those old text writers. In an opening chapter, he points out how many features here are the deepest or fastest or oldest of their kind. Much of this is superceded by features in Hawaii, but that’s another story.

Here are some of the nation’s deepest canyons, fastest rivers, most recent volcanic eruptions and many other things.

I am trying to remember how many references to our history are here. (So far, all I can bring up is Liberty Bell Mountain. There must be more.)

Another unique feature is the patchwork makeup of Washington, possibly part of Oregon, which resulted when bits of continent moving around on the back of the migrating plates of the earth’s crust one by one sutured themselves to the existing continent and increased its size and form of what we know.

No other place in the nation has had the floods of molten basalt that engulfed Washington’s southeast quarter, or the humongous water floods that later engulfed parts of the same area.

There have been other marvels. Peter Misch and his students at the University of Washington were still doing pioneer research during our lifetimes, and the DVD on Hawaii refers to “the hundreds of geologists” who have been working in our lifetimes. I’m glad they have named a mountain for him.

The research goes on, and there still is plenty to learn and appreciate. And this short references to certain of the geologic phenomena is only a tantalizing beginning.

Meanwhile, I am grateful to the writers who took the step of creating works on this fascinating subject which permit those of us who are not professionals and do not have the extensive training of the scientists to learn about and marvel at the wonderful things around us.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for The Chronicle. This is the 2,877th column in a series. She can be reached at 509-826-1110.


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