Can a working geologist with an advanced degree write a book about his career that is not only understandable but enjoyable for the layman reader? If the author is Albert L. Lamarre, author of “Mountains, Minerals, and Me,” yes he can, but you might not want him to continue on for a second book, or a series. With a glossary of 117 technical terms for rocks and mountains at the back of the book, it is easy to see that to Lamarre, a mountain contains materials inside of it that reveal billions of years of history and layers of different materials much more interesting than what the average traveler sees as a pile of dirt.
To Lamarre a rock is filled with minerals and materials such as “phenocrysts,” and as he says all geologists do, he spits on and licks rocks “to make the minerals in them more visible.” The book focuses on his 13-year career as a minerals exploration geologist mostly in the western United States, but also his travels up to Alaska and down to Mexico, looking for gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, molybdenum and tungsten. He worked for Norandex, the U.S. exploration arm of Noranda Mines Ltd., the second largest Canadian mining company producing copper, lead, zinc, nickel and gold in the Colorado Rockies and also searching Montana, Idaho and Washington for molybdenum deposits, which steel makers use to make high-strength alloy steel.
His travels for the company took him to some of the most beautiful areas of the U.S., and so the book reads in part as a sort of travelogue for nerds (“the Sawatch Range in Colorado is a large, faulted anticline intruded by Tertiary igneous rocks”) but his sense of humor and appreciation of the beauty of the countryside and understanding that the average tourist doesn’t see what he sees in a rock or a mountain range makes the book appealing. Single and alone when he first took the job (he subsequently met and married a secretary who worked for Noranda), Lamarre said “I found joy in being alone with the geology.” So alone, deep in the backwoods where on occasion, he met up with rattlesnakes, he nevertheless appreciated that his work assignments took him on such exciting travel adventures such as helicopter rides and glissade trips (skiing without skis) down a summit of fresh ash in Guatemala, as he searched for the minerals that are valuable to the civilized world.
In the La Sal mountains, near Moab, Utah, and its famous iconic Arches, Lamarre noted that this range often forms the backdrop for beautiful photographs by tourists. “The abundance of surrounding beauty easily distracted me while working,” he writes. “I often found myself gazing off into the distance, amazed at what geology had produced.”
In addition to their natural beauty, Lamarre writes, “the La Sal Mountains are of geologic interest because they are formed by an unusual type of geologic intrusion called a laccolith.” Maybe they are of geologic interest to a geologist, but Lamarre’s sense of humor comes forth when he notes how sorry he is that the laccolith of the La Sals is not a a “cactolith. Then I could give you this definition: ‘A quasi-horizontal chonolith composed of anastomosing ductoliths whose distal ends curl like a harpolith, then like a sphenolith, or bulge discordantly like an akmolith or ethmolith.’ “
Just enough of the technical stuff emerges, which to the reader can be daunting, if not boring, but Lamarre, who says “every rock has a story to tell,” thankfully keeps some stories secret, and silent, as he takes the reader on a deeper look into those top layers of rocky mountains and valleys of the earth.
Published by iUniverse for $18.95, the book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iUniverse.