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14 March 2004 | 13:49 Code : 3665 Geoscience events
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New book offers road guide to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Wisconsin geology
(Posted: 03/12/04) <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Emily Carlson

When the glaciers moved across Wisconsin as late as 15,000 years ago, they carved out one of the most notable features of the UW-Madison campus - Bascom Hill.

This geological landmark and many others throughout the state are described in a new book written with the traveling public in mind. Called "Roadside Geology of Wisconsin," this understandable guide includes everything from a primer on geology to driving routes that include geological points of interest, some of which are in state parks.

"There are a lot of people in Wisconsin with outdoor interests and who are environmentally conscious," says Robert Dott Jr., a UW-Madison emeritus professor of geology and one of the book's authors. "Geology forms the roots of it all."

Despite this popular interest in the history of the Earth, very few books about geology have been written for a general audience, says co-author John Attig, a professor in the UW-Extension Department of Environmental Sciences and a staff member at the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.

"Hundreds of scientific papers have been written, but this information is inaccessible to those of the general public who may take an interest in knowing more about how land forms developed," he says.

The authors, who both frequently give public talks about geology and lead fieldtrips for groups such as the Nature Conservancy, Audubon and Friends of the University Arboretum, teamed up to create a resource for the people who are curious about what they see as they cruise the roads of Wisconsin. The authors spent five intensive years traveling throughout the state, searching for geological formations and noting the mile markers so others could find them, too.

"We took our wives on week-long camping trips looping across the state," says Dott. "Even though John and I have worked and lived in this state for more than 20 years, we visited places we had never explored or had even heard of before."

After putting together these geological travel narratives, they had written a book neatly divided into the different regions of Wisconsin based primarily on differing landscapes. Each part mentions important events that changed the look of the state throughout time. For example, there's evidence of active volcanoes in the northern part of the state more than one billion years ago, ancient oceanic coral reefs in the eastern part 400 million years ago and a great flood of glacial meltwater that gouged out the Wisconsin Dells only 14,000 years ago.

But as the authors note in the book, Wisconsin geology has influenced more than the topography of the land - it has shaped the lives of the people who ultimately developed it. Geological differences over time, they write, have played a role in what areas were settled, farmed and mined; how groundwater has reached those who need it and where the roads we travel were constructed.

The 360-page book, complete with a glossary of terms and many maps, takes the reader across the state to observe some of the finest examples of geology, says Dott. "It is a resource people can take with them on a trip as they drive throughout Wisconsin."

Released this March, "Roadside Geology of Wisconsin" is available for $20 at most bookstores and can also be purchased from the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, located at

3817 Mineral Point Rd.
or reachable by phone at (608) 263-7389. The book is part of the "Roadside" series published by the Mountain Press Publishing Company in Montana.

The authors' share of proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the UW-Madison geology and geophysics department to help support the department's library, the Geology Museum, research and fieldtrips in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin university

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