Chalk it up to Geological Ignorance

Looking up from the Cretaceous Seafloor
Andrew Alden, our geology guide at, does some of the most consistent quality geology blogging I know of… and he’s been doing it for much longer than most of us.

John McPhee does the greatest geology writing hands down (and has the Pulitzer Prize to prove it). As I’ve suggested before, I wish he blogged – I just can’t get enough of his writing.

So when Alden pointed out McPhee’s latest piece in the March 12, 2007 New Yorker I was ecstatic. I rushed over to the library this afternoon to read the article – and indeed, McPhee is at the top of his form in “Season on the Chalk” [Thanks for the link, Andrew!]. I won’t spoil it for you – rush out and read it yourself.

My glee at learning of McPhee’s article however, was somewhat tempered by Alden’s surprising mention that “Chalk is largely unknown in the United States”. As a Kansan I live on a seabed of Cretaceous chalk. Indeed the very same sea (temporally) that deposited the Chalk Cliffs of Dover was busy laying down a similar blanket of the powdery stuff right here in the heartland of America. Having read both articles now I am (mildly) glad to report that the confusion is not on the part of the esteemed writer, but instead on the part of the geologist (ouch). Chalk it up to a west coast mindset – great geology out there (I’d know – it’s where I did my Ph.D. field work), but it’s hardly representative of the entirety of the United States.

Maybe Andrew needs to watch a little NCAA March Madness… Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Indeed. :-)

I know I’m giving Andrew Alden a hard time here, but I’d also invite him to come visit western Kansas after the GSA Meeting this fall in Denver to see some chalk in its natural habitat. (John McPhee’s invited, too!) Until then I’ll invite him (and all of my readers) to take a virtual field trip to the Castle Rock badlands in Gove CountyGoogle Earth Placemark where one can see good ‘ol American chalk in all of its glory.

[Update 3/22/07: This great blog post about the Niobrara chalk just showed up on my radar today.]

Castle Rock badlands, Gove County, Kansas