My favorite books on geology and landscapes of the American Southwest and Colorado Plateau

Why am I passionate about this?

Since my earliest memories, I have been fascinated with rocks, landscapes, and the movement of time. It was perhaps only fitting then, that I should have landed in the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the 1970s working as a backcountry ranger where I discovered GEOLOGY! Since then, my world view has been shaped by the record of earth history that is held in sedimentary rocks, mountain belts, and the colorful and varied landscapes of the Desert Southwest and Colorado Plateau. I am in love with these landscapes and know them well. This love affair causes me to visit other landscapes around the world and ponder their development. 



I wrote...

Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery

By Wayne Ranney,

Book cover of Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery

What is my book about?

Geology may be the easiest topic to make boring. But I have devoted my 46-year career as a Grand Canyon geologist to make its illustrative geologic story accessible to everyone. In this book, I take readers on a journey through time in Grand Canyon. But the larger prize is won in learning how geologists have sequentially approached the mysteries for how the canyon formed.

With its immense size and the erosive force of the Colorado River and its tributaries, the Grand Canyon has an incomplete record of how it formed. This has confounded geologists for over 160 years and a complete picture is still elusive. But in this book, you will learn about the varied theories that have attempted to describe how the canyon formed.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Hiking the Grand Canyon's Geology

Wayne Ranney Why did I love this book?

Okay, not everyone can hike the steep trails in Grand Canyon. However, you can do the next best thing and learn geology too by reading this wonderfully crafted book. Crisp and engaging writing makes the blisters fade away. The geologic descriptions reflect the most current theories. Nearly all Grand Canyon trails are covered allowing the authors to cover all aspects of the canyon’s geology.

By Lon Abbott, Terri Cook,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hiking the Grand Canyon's Geology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


* Part of the popular Hiking Geology series
* Appendices cover additional geologic information for the non-geologist
* Everything needed to plan the trip, including information about permits, lodging and camping, mule rides, and recommended day trips

Etched on the Grand Canyon's steep walls are stories of how this majestic landscape came to be: volcanic islands, stark deserts, and tranquil seas come and gone, and histories of plants and animals that have made this place their home. You'll see this story up close on the trail with the help of Hiking the Grand Canyon's Geology. In eighteen excursions, there's something…


Book cover of Volcanoes of Northern Arizona

Wayne Ranney Why did I love this book?

Who knew there were volcanoes in northern Arizona? Wendell Duffield takes readers on a visual and literary tour de force of this amazing region. The San Francisco Volcanic Field contains over 600 vents and cones with one large stratovolcano, a half a dozen or more silicic dome volcanoes, and hundreds of basalt cinder cones. All are explained in clear, concise prose. And who knew the Grand Canyon had volcanoes too, some of which spilled cascading lava flows into the canyon, damming the river at least 17 times. It’s all here in this little book that has a big impact.

By Wendell A. Duffield, Michael Collier (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Volcanoes of Northern Arizona as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book provides a popular look at the fiery origin of Northern Arizona’s landscape. With magnificent aerial photographs, original geologic illustrations, and detailed road logs to many of the key features, this book is an indispensable tool for the traveler, the educator, and all who are interested in the remarkable landscape of northern Arizona.


Book cover of Desert Heat, Volcanic Fire: The Geologic History of the Tucson Mountains and Southern Arizona

Wayne Ranney Why did I love this book?

I used to teach Topics in Regional Geology at Yavapai College (Prescott) and when preparing for field trips in the Santa Catalina and Tucson Mountains, I leaned heavily on this clearly written and engaging book with a fascinating storyline. Dr. Kring brings readers of all levels on a wondrous journey through time in the desert southwest. I think one of the most amazing aspects of the book is that none of the main parts of the story are readily obvious to anyone. Only geologic sleuthing has unearthed them.

Book cover of Geology of the Canyons of the San Juan River

Wayne Ranney Why did I love this book?

I’ve been fortunate to have “stumbled” into a geologic writing career and if I had to put my finger on a single book that has the greatest effect on me choosing this path, it would be this little river guidebook. Maybe you will not run the San Juan River (but you should!). Nevertheless, the introductory chapters to the rocks and landscape of Monument Valley and the San Juan River will have you planning a trip there in no time. The chapter called “Permianland” was especially enlightening to me - I have read the first two paragraphs in it innumerable times. Great book!

By Four Corners Geological Society,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Geology of the Canyons of the San Juan River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Four Corners Geological Society Staple-bound Pamphlet 1973. 94 pp. Size 8" by 5" by about 0.25". Binding intact; no loose pages. Covers and pages clean and unmarked EXCEPT a red upside-down "PAID" stamp on front cover and an occasional dirt spot. All text pages are unmarked. Numerous B&W photos, charts, maps, and drawings. Articles by D.L. Baars and Jack A. Ellingsen (both of Ft. Lewis College, Durango) and Gary C. Huber (of Colorado School of Mines, Golden) discuss the geology and canyon structures of the river from around Aneth westward to about Big Bend. The last chapter is the "River…


Book cover of Geology of the American Southwest: A Journey Through Two Billion Years of Plate-Tectonic History

Wayne Ranney Why did I love this book?

Of all the books I am recommending, this might the one that may be a bit more technical for the average reader. But after reading the other four, I think you will be ready for this comprehensive look at the evolution and development of the Southwestern landscape. Baldridge has written the complete reference to how the very ancient rocks play a role in how the modern landscape looks. Most folks I talk to who have read this were very happy they did so.

By W. Scott Baldridge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Geology of the American Southwest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two billion years of Earth history are represented in the rocks and landscape of the Southwest USA, creating natural wonders such as the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Death Valley. This region is considered a geologist's 'dream', since its rocks provide a slice through a huge range of Earth history, and provide examples of many of the geologic processes shaping the Earth. For this reason, the region attracts a large number of undergraduate field classes, and amateur geologists. Geology of the American Southwest, first published in 2004, provides a concise and accessible account of the geology of the region, and…


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I Am Taurus

By Stephen Palmer,

Book cover of I Am Taurus

Stephen Palmer

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Philosopher Scholar Liberal Reader Musician

Stephen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The constellation we know as Taurus goes all the way back to cave paintings of aurochs at Lascaux. This book traces the story of the bull in the sky, a journey through the history of what has become known as the sacred bull.

Each of the sections is written from the perspective of the mythical Taurus, from the beginning at Lascaux to Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, and elsewhere. This is not just a history of the bull but also a view of ourselves through the eyes of the bull, illustrating our pre-literate use of myth, how the advent of writing and the urban revolution changed our view of ourselves, and how even bullfighting in Spain is a variation on the ancient sacrifice of the sacred bull.

I Am Taurus

By Stephen Palmer,

What is this book about?

The constellation we know as Taurus goes all the way back to cave paintings of aurochs at Lascaux. In I Am Taurus, author Stephen Palmer traces the story of the bull in the sky, starting from that point 19,000 years ago - a journey through the history of what has become known as the sacred bull. Each of the eleven sections is written from the perspective of the mythical Taurus, from the beginning at Lascaux to Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Greece, Spain and elsewhere. This is not just a history of the bull but also an attempt to see ourselves through…


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