TWIN FALLS — It’s easy to love at first glance the dramatic, spring-fed Box Canyon, with its amphitheater of high, sheer walls at its head. But you’ll get something deeper out of the experience with Shawn Willsey’s exploration of possible causes for the stunning canyon’s formation near Wendell.

Read that in Willsey’s newly released book, “Geology Underfoot in Southern Idaho” (Mountain Press Publishing Co., $24).

It’s a travel-friendly paperback well sprinkled with color photographs, maps, particularly helpful illustrations and facts with which to impress your Idaho traveling companions. The Twin Sisters pinnacles at City of Rocks National Reserve? Not twins at all. Not even from the same geologic eras.

Willsey, a College of Southern Idaho geology professor and climbing instructor, writes in the preface that he was dismayed by “the scarcity of information available to the public regarding the region’s geologic treasures.”

His first book attempts to bridge the gap between scientists and the rest of us.

“Though geologists have studied southern Idaho’s rocks and landscapes for well over 100 years, their findings and conclusions are stored in scientific journals, technical reports and detailed geologic maps that are difficult for the layperson to locate, access and decipher,” Willsey writes.

Following the “Geology Underfoot” series template from its Missoula, Mont., publisher, the book opens with a basic overview of geologic events in southern Idaho, then gets to the fun stuff: explorations of 23 locations across the southern half of the state, from Challis to the Nevada border.

Some are well-known, like Bruneau Dunes State Park or the site of the 1983 Borah Peak earthquake. But some, perhaps, you haven’t heard of, like Malm Gulch’s fossilized forests or a meteorite impact at Leaton Gulch.

For each one, the book gives a map, detailed driving instructions and photographs. The narrative for each explains the geology and leads you through your visit to the site, detailing what to look for at each stop on your exploration.

Willsey writes with the academic thoroughness of a geology professor (he is one) and provides both a glossary and a lengthy list of sources for more information on the 23 sites.

Yet his writing is lively and accessible, too. Even a casual weekend explorer might be drawn into an explanation of the Yahoo Clay deposits where a lava flow once dammed the Snake River near Bliss.

And the book doesn’t ignore practical concerns like stinging nettle and poison ivy. Willsey even breaks into red type when he cautions that you must call the Big Wood Canal Co. about water releases from Magic Reservoir before venturing into the dry bed of the Big Wood River. It’s an amazing wonderland of sculpted rock but could become a deadly trap if you’re there at the wrong time.

The book’s cover art, by Eric Knight, depicts “what a future volcanic eruption might look like,” the copyright page explains. Beside the Perrine Bridge, red streams of hot lava spill into the gas-filled Snake River Canyon from spewing volcanoes on the north rim. Strangely enough, the lights are still on in south-rim strip malls, and traffic continues — in both directions — across the bridge.

“Geology Underfoot in Southern Idaho” is available for $24, plus $3.12 shipping, at Willsey’s simple webpage: Locally, it’s also on the shelf at Magic Valley Gear Exchange, Costco Wholesale, Barnes and Noble, Herrett Center for Arts and Science, College of Southern Idaho’s bookstore and the Twin Falls visitor center.

Willsey will sign books from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Costco Wholesale in Twin Falls.

You can read a sample chapter for free on the book’s Facebook page:


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