At various times in a span of fifteen years, John McPhee made geological field surveys in the company of Eldridge Moores, a tectonicist at the University of California at Davis. The result of these trips is Assembling California, a cross-section in human and geologic time, from Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada through the golden foothills of the Mother Lode and across the Great Central Valley to the wine country of the Coast Ranges, the rock of San Francisco, and the San Andreas family of faults. The two disparate time scales occasionally intersect—in the gold disruptions of the nineteenth century no less than in the earthquakes of the twentieth—and always with relevance to a newly understood geologic history in which half a dozen large and separate pieces of country are seen to have drifted in from far and near to coalesce as California. McPhee and Moores also journeyed to remote mountains of Arizona and to Cyprus and northern Greece, where rock of the deep-ocean floor has been transported into continental settings, as it has in California. Global in scope and a delight to read, Assembling California is a sweeping narrative of maps in motion, of evolving and dissolving lands.
In his usual clean, graceful prose, McPhee takes readers on an intensive geological tour of California, from the Sierra Nevada through wine country to the San Andreas fault system, a 50-mile-wide swath of parallel fault lines. Through talks with his traveling companion, geologist Eldridge Moores, McPhee introduces the reader to current geological controversies, and surveys global plate tectonics--the collision and rearrangement of land masses ever since the breakup of the supercontinent of Pangaea eons ago. The duo also travel to Arizona, where Moores grew up pushing ore carts in his family's gold mine, and to Cyprus and Greece, where rock from the ocean floor has been tossed up to form continents. McPhee looks at the conjectural science of earthquake prediction and gives an account of a recent San Francisco quake. His leisurely excavation meanders from Mexican explorer Juan Bautista de Anza's settlement of San Francisco in 1776 to 1850s gold-mining camps to the summit of Mount Everest, made of marine limestone lifted from a shelf that once divided India and Tibet. With this volume McPhee concludes his Annals of the Former World series, which he began with Basin and Range (1980). Illustrated.