The Geologist Life List

The Geologist Life List is adapted* from lists compiled by Dr. Lisa A. Rossbacher (Geologist and President of Southern Polytechnic State University, Marietta, GA)

“The best geologist is the one who has seen the most geology.” Every geologist seems to have heard some version of this adage, and to some extent it is true. Visiting unique geologic sites in the field has no substitute…

…A list of essential locations for a geologist to visit must include both generic and specific cites. Any earthquake will do, but there is no substitute for the Grand Canyon (Rossbacher, 1990).

Sites, phenomena, features, and specific locations that every geologist should visit and experience:

  • An erupting volcano(whether Santorini or Mount Etna in Italy or Kilauea in Hawaii).
  • volcanic caldera (such as Crater Lake, Oregon, or Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania).
  • desert (both erg or “sand sea,” and reg or “desert pavement”).
  • glacier (both alpine and continental).
  • river in flood.
  • An actively drilling oil rig.
  • The Cretaceous/Tertiary Boundary (many locations around the world, including exposures in Denmark, Northeastern Mexico, North Dakota, Haiti, and Italy).
  • Features associated with Pleistocene sea-level change, such as sea cliffs 60 m below current sea-level along the Florida coast, elevated fossil reefs in the Florida Keys or Bahamas, and Bahamian “Blue Holes”.
  • An open pit mine, such as the copper mines in Butte, Montana, Bingham Canyon, Utah, Morenci, Arizona, or Chuquicamata, Chile.
  • subsurface mine (an opportunity unavailable to woman until recently).
  • An active geyser (either at the type locality in Iceland or at Yellowstone).
  • limestone cave, which can range from Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, to some of the small privately-owned caves in Pennsylvania or Virginia.
  • An ophiolite, such as the Franciscan in California or suites in Japan.
  • Travertine hot-spring terraces, such as those around Thermopolis, Wyoming.
  • An anorthosite complex, such as those in Labrador, the Adirondacks, and Niger.
  • Varves, whether you see the types section in Sweden or examples elsewhere.
  • An exfoliation dome (as in the Sierra Nevada).
  • layered igneous intrusion, such as the Stillwater Complex of Montana or the Skaergaard Complex in Greenland.
  • Paternoster lakes in a glacial trough, such as those in Glacier National Park, Montana.
  • Coastlines along the leading edge and the trailing edge of a tectonic plate.
  • ginko tree, which is the lone survivor of an ancient group of softwoods that covered much of the Northern Hemisphere in the Mesozoic – and which hasn’t changed significantly in 150 million years.
  • banded iron formation, such as those in Michigan, Minnesota or Australia – to appreciate better the air you breathe.
  • sea arch, such as at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
  • Feel an earthquake with a Richter magnitude greater than 5.0.
  • Find a dinosaur footprint in situ.
  • Find a trilobite.
  • Find gold, however small the flake.
  • The Grand Canyon, Arizona – all the way down and back.
  • Siccar Point, Berwickshire, Scotland – where James Hutton observed this classic unconformity and recognized the meaning of stratigraphy.
  • Iguazu Falls (Foz do Iguaçu/Cataratas del Iguazú), Brazil- Argentina border.
  • The Alps (Northern and Southern).
  • Mount St. Helens, Washington – to see the results of the most recent major explosive volcanism.
  • Meteor (Barringer) Crater, Arizona – to see an impact crater on a scale that is comprehensible.
  • Tierra del Fuego, Chile and Argentina – to see the Strait of Magellan and the southernmost tip of South America.
  • The San Andreas Fault Zone, California (particularly the Dragon’s Back pressure ridge in the Carrizo Plain) – to see the effects of plate movement along a transform boundary.
  • The South Pole.
  • The Great Barrier Reef, northeastern Australia – to see the largest coral reef in the world.
  • Ayers Rock, 200 miles WSW of Alice Springs, Australia.
  • The Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada – to see what tidal energy can really do.
  • The Li River, China – to see the fantastic tower karst that appears in much Chinese art.
  • The Dalmatian Coast of Croatia – to see the original Karst.
  • Devil’s Tower, Wyoming – to see classic columnar jointing.
  • Giant’s Causeway and the Antrim Plateau, Northern Ireland – also to see classic columnar jointing in basalts.
  • The Arctic Circle.
  • The Waterpocket Fold, Utah – to see well exposed folds on a massive scale.
  • The Gorge of Bhagirathi, Indian Himalayas, one of the sacred headwaters of the Ganges – where the river flows from an ice tunnel beneath the Gangotri Glacier into a deep gorge.
  • The Goosenecks of the San Juan River, Utah – to see the effects of epirogenic uplift.
  • The snows of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.
  • The Matterhorn, Swiss/Italian border, The Northern Alps – to see the classic “horn” (a mountain glacier-eroded peak).
  • Land’s End, Devonshire, Great Britain – to see fractured granites with feldspar crystals bigger than your fist.
  • Lake Baikal, Siberia – to see the deepest lake in the world (1.620 meters) holding 20% of Earth’s freshwater.
  • Ship Rock, New Mexico – to see a classic volcanic neck.
  • The Channeled Scablands, eastern Washington – for a classic example of neocatastrophism.
  • Death Valley, California (especially from Dante’s View – from where it is possible to see both the lowest and highest points in the conterminous United States).
  • Angel Falls, Venezuela – at 979 meters, the highest waterfall in the world.
  • Barranco del Cobre (Copper Canyon), northwestern Mexico – some say it’s more spectacular than the Grand Canyon.
  • The summit of Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii.
  • Milford Sound or Hollyford Sound, South Island, New Zealand – spectacular examples of the “fiord.”
  • Vatnajokull Ice Cap, Iceland.
  • Bryce Canyon, Utah – to see unique fine-textured erosional topography.
  • Loess deposits around the Yellow River, central China – to see how sediment type provides a river with its color.
  • Monument Valley, Utah and Arizona – iconic topography of the American West.
  • The Great Rift Valley, Kenya, Africa – for a comparative sense of the place of human history within geologic time.
  • Enchanted Rock,near Fredericksburg, Texas – a classic exfoliation dome (and good local BBQ).
  • Pozzuoli, Italy– to see the type locality of the “solfatara,” a sulphur-producing volcanic steam vent. The original Solfatara is also the place where the sulphur-loving extremophile bacterium Sulfolobus solfataricus was first isolated.
  • Lake Atitlan, Guatemala – a beautiful volcanic lake flanked to the South by three massive stratovolcanoes.


Rossbacher, L.A., 1990. The Geologic Column. Geotimes, v. 35 (April 1990), n. 4, American Geological Institute, Alexandria, VA, p.48. – the original list.

Rossbacher, L.A., 1991. The Geologic Column. Geotimes, v. 36 (April 1990), n. 4, American Geological Institute, Alexandria, VA, p.48. – a healthy addendum to the original list.

Rossbacher, L.A., 2005. Seventeen Places (The Geologic Column). Geotimes (online). September 2005, American Geological Institute, Alexandria, VA.

Geotimes – a retrospective look at the geologist life list phenomenon with an additional entry (Iguazu Falls) and a subtracted entry (Carolina Bays).

*I have taken the liberty to merge list entries from the three different articles written by Dr. Rossbacher for Geotimes magazine (complete references listed above). Life list entries are presented in no particular order. Every entry on the list, the structure of the list, and much of the commentary provided are directly from Dr. Rossbacher. However, I have updated some geopolitical names, added a few additional examples for some generic sites on the list, abbreviated longer commentary for some entries, and provided additional commentary for others. I also moved banded iron formation from the specific list to the generic list, because there are several places around the world to see these amazing sedimentary deposits. I take full responsibility for any modified entries.

Dr. David H. Griffing (2011), Hartwick College