World of Geology: Travels to Rocky Places

A selection of over 100 images from retired geology professor Tony Waltham have been compiled in an excellent new book, called World of Geology: Travels to Rocky Places.
This article appeared in Vol. 17, No. 2 - 2020


World of Geology: Travels to Rocky Places

World of Geology: Travels to Rocky Places by Tony Waltham. Like many other geologists, retired university professor Tony Waltham has spent much of his life traveling the world, recording his journeys with some stunning photographs. 

A selection of over 100 of his images have been compiled in an excellent new book, called World of Geology: Travels to Rocky Places. It has a simple but effective format: following a brief introduction, which includes an introduction to geology for the uninitiated, each photo is displayed on a single page, while the opposite page has a description of the image and the stories behind it. Geology features strongly, of course, written in a straightforward style, easily understood by the nonspecialist but with plenty of interesting information for the geoscientist – but there are also many personal anecdotes, little bits of history and other items of general interest.

Interesting Range of Geology Photos

The photos in the book encircle the globe, from Patagonia at the tip of South America to Spitzbergen inside the Arctic Circle, and from New Zealand through Africa to Alaska. Some of the places visited are probably on every geologist’s bucket list. We admire the spectacular Niagara Falls; Myvatn in Iceland, where you can stand with a foot on either side of a diverging plate boundary; the magnificent Tongariro volcano in New Zealand; Petra’s wonderful banded red sandstone; and many, many more.

There are also photos of beautiful places that I will add to my bucket list, including many in some little-visited parts of Asia. Places like the Gangapurna Glacier, “tucked away in the remote northern side of the Annapurna Range,” which is about 6 km long and descends nearly 4,000m before it melts away, edged by textbook moraines. Or the beehive-shaped sandstone hills of the Bungle Bungles in northern Western Australia; or the vertical limestone cliffs of the El Chorro Gorge in southern Spain with its vertigo-inducing walkway; or the granite laccolith at the Chilean Torres del Paine, to name just a few. Tony avoids the obvious photogenic scene, preferring, for instance, a close-up view of exfoliation on the famous Half Dome in Yosemite rather than the more classic image of the mountain’s steep face. A keen caver, many of his best photos are taken inside caverns.

  • The Morning Glory Hot Spring in Yellowstone Park. © Tony Waltham.

  • Pulpit Rock, Preikestolen, Norway. © Tony Waltham.

  • El Chorro Gorge in Southern Spain. © Tony Waltham.

  • Gangapurna Glacier, Annapurna Range - Himalayas, Nepal. © Tony Waltham.

  • Deer Cave in Malaysia. © Tony Waltham.

  • Bungle Bungles in northern Western Australia. © Tony Waltham.

Man and Nature

Among the most interesting images in this book are those that remind us of how important geology is in everyday life – and also how we must remember that fact, and the problems that ensue if we don’t. These were the images and stories that I found most fascinating.

A stunning photo of the Morning Glory hot spring in Yellowstone Park, for example, showed a deep blue pool, but the accompanying text tells us that the photo dates from 1970, and the whole pool is now a dirty mustard color, probably because the delicate balance of water flow, temperature and bacteria has been upset by the coins thrown into the pool. The ship’s graveyard in the Aral Sea provides another visual reminder of how easily we can create an environmental disaster; the diversion of its feeder rivers to irrigation schemes turned this vast inland lake into an arid desert.

Some photos, by contrast, remind us of man’s ingenuity at attempting to bend geology and nature to our advantage. For about 1,000 years the rice terraces in Batad in the Philippines have climbed up the steep mountain sides, but the accompanying text tells us that this has only been possible because they are faced with local clay dominated by kaolinite, the most stable of the clay minerals. From Cheddar Gorge, a popular picturesque tourist attraction, we have a photo of rock blasting at the top of the ravine, undertaken to prevent landslides into the Gorge along bedding-plane weaknesses.

A Glorious Journey of Geological Discovery

This is a book any person interested in their natural surroundings would like to have – and since it has soft covers and is only about 15 cm across, it is light enough to fit into a traveler’s backpack. A number of the photos were taken several decades ago, so the printed picture quality was sometimes not as good as might be expected, but the interesting range and descriptions more than make up for this.

Tony sums it up in his preface: “Perhaps the whole book is best viewed as a glorious journey of discovery.” A journey that I was very happy to join him on.

Further Reading on Spectacular Geology

Seven Geological Wonders of the World
Jane Whaley
Join us as GEO ExPro Editor in Chief, Jane Whaley, takes us on a world tour of geological splendour and highlights seven geological wonders of the world that she has visited on her travels.
This article appeared in August, 2018


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