for the love of rock

Serious mountain climbers attend very closely to the nature of rock. Is it crumbly? Does it take a piton? In addition to the historic routes to the summits of mountains, guidebooks often mention the condition of the rock.

One thing I care about is the kind of rock I’m climbing on. Climbers’ guidebooks seldom mention this because, I suppose, the authors don’t care and/or they don’t know. When it comes to mountains, I see guidebooks as a teaching opportunity. Without becoming a geology textbook, guidebooks could easily note the name of a mountain’s rock formation or the principal rock along a climbing route.

NPS Glacier Park

I’m surprised that mountainous national parks, some of which have climbers’ guides, don’t mention the kinds of rocks or the specific rock formations (in passing) along with the recipes for getting to the summits.  Or, if that’s too much trouble, the park service could even create a guidebook that addresses geology for a park’s major peaks–as a self-guided tour, perhaps, that would be suitable for those who view the mountains from a road or trail as opposed to climbing them.

The rock within a mountain or a mountain chain has an interesting history, often beginning as sediment deposited in an ancient sea during the Proterozoic eon and–as one might say for Glacier National Park–carved by water and ice for 60 million years to create the spectacular sights we see today.

Or, perhaps only a mountain climber who loves geology would care.


My novels set in Glacier National Park include: “Mountain Song” and “The Sun Singer.”

Glacier Park Montana Books

Geology Along the Going-to-the-Sun-Road

I worked as an editorial assistant on the first edition (1983) of this book that uses photographs and a fold-out map to show ripple marks and fossil evidence of ancient times in the rock formations along Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. I’m happy to see that the book’s new edition (2018) by Teagan Tomlin maintains the best features of the original while adding new photographs and updates.

From the Publisher

With this newly updated colorful and lively guide, Glacier National Park visitors can take a self-guided tour of the fascinating geological events that created the park’s majestic scenery.  Complete with an easy-to-read map that offers a three-dimensional perspective on the area’s geology.  Geology Along Going-to-the-Sun Road gives lay readers and geologists alike a unique opportunity to get behind-the-scenery at 21 stops along this famous highway. 

The Park’s red bus tours mention the large scale geology of the park from its cirque lakes to its glacier-carved arêtes. But they don’t usually mention the smaller evidence of the past within the rock itself. This is a wonderful guide for those traveling Sun Road in their cars or on their bicycles. Or, on foot.

The book includes information about the park’s rock formations, the Lewis thrust fault, and the actions of weathering and glaciation over time.


Going-to-the-Sun Road Geology

Every year thousands of people enjoy the views from Glacier National Park’s engineering marvel known as the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Whether you’re looking at the scenery from the seat of your bicycle, a red tour bus or your car, the trip from St. Mary’s to Lake McDonald provides some of the best high country ambiance in the Rocky Mountains.

Up close and personal, you will notice the rock formations. They are stunning and colorful but, unless you have a good tour guide or a handy reference book, the geology on display may remain incomprehensible.

Geology Along Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana will meet your needs perfectly. First published by the Glacier Association in 1983, this practical, well-illustrated guidebook has met the test of time. The book is organized into twenty-one stops from east to west along Sun Road that illustrate many of the park’s geological features.

Sun Road Tour Stops

Sun Road's Logan Pass - NPS Photo
The book includes color photographs of both the far-away and the close-up features. For example, you can compare what you see when you look at Curly Bear Mountain 3.9 miles from the entrance station with a diagrammed photograph that illustrates the mountain’s visible rock formations.

Or, at Stop 5, “Grinnell Formation,” text and close-up photographs in the book help you better understand this colorful red rock. Logan Pass, Stop 10, at 6,680 offers excellent views of the horn-shaped mountains created by glaciation, including Clements Mountain (shown in the book).

In addition to the stops, the book includes a glossary, information about rock colors, a list of the park’s rock formations and a handy shaded relief map of the road. Written by geologists in a language intended for non-scientists, the guide adds to a visitor’s understanding and enjoyment of a highway that has thrilled millions of tourists since its completion in 1932.

Malcolm R. Campbell, who worked as an editorial assistant for this Glacier Association book project, is the author of two novels partially set in the park, The Sun Singer and Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey.