BOOK REVIEW: Beauty from the Beast: Plate Tectonics and the Landscapes of the Pacific Northwest

Robert J. Lillie, Beauty from the Beast: Plate Tectonics and the Landscapes of the Pacific Northwest (Philomath, OR: Wells Creek Publishers, 2015), 92 pp.

This slim but full-of-information guide to how much of the geology of the Pacific Northwest, and other western regions, was shaped, and continues to be shaped, by plate tectonics is a great resource for the regional explorer, teacher, or homeschooling parent. Its author is geologist Robert Lillie, a previous Professor of Geosciences at OSU in Corvallis, a certified interpreter through the NAI, and seasonal ranger at numerous national parks, including Crater Lake and Yellowstone National Parks. These credentials make him well-suited to write such a book, and his skills as an interpreter show in the easily understood language with which he explains geologic phenomena and processes. He complements the text with many of his own photographs and color graphics.

Beauty from the Beast consists of an introduction and four chapters. The introduction provides an overview of plate tectonics and the geologic hazards associated with it. Chapter 1 discusses the geology of the Basin and Range Province (SE Oregon, much of eastern California, Nevada, and parts of Idaho, Utah, and Arizona) as the result of divergent plate boundaries. Convergent plate boundaries explain the Cascadia subduction zone (chapter 2), where an oceanic plate being pushed under the continental plate created the Coast and Cascade Ranges with a long series of volcanoes from Northern California, through Oregon and Washington, and into British Columbia (Canada). Chapter 3 covers transform plate boundaries, as exemplified by the San Andreas Fault, which though mostly associated with California has its effects shown in Oregon and Washington landscapes. The final chapter focuses on the lava flows of the Columbia plateau (creating the basalt structures typical of Columbia Gorge views and waterfall spots) and the hot-spot volcano of Yellowstone. Although many hundreds of miles away, the present Yellowstone caldera is only a result of continued volcanic activity in an arc from SE Oregon through southern Idaho as the tectonic plate rides westerly over a hot-spot. Lillie ends his book with a useful glossary of terms.

If you wish to brush up your knowledge of Pacific Northwest geology as it relates to plate tectonics, whether for simple armchair reading or to better your understanding of landscapes when out exploring, I highly recommend Beauty from the Beast.

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