To the south and east of Walla Walla are the Blue Mountains, a long anticlinal ridge composed of basalt flows. Unlike the Wallowa Mountains in Oregon, the Blue Mountains are not tall enough to have been glaciated. They consist of upland plateaus cut by deep V-shaped canyons.
The basalt bedrock acts as a massive sponge, soaking up snowmelt and releasing it as groundwater to feed the many creeks and rivers, allowing them to flow in the dry summer months. Many of the plants and animals that the basalt sponge and perennial streams support are endemic to the region.
Bob Carson, Whitman College Grace Farnsworth Phillips Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies Emeritus, has been inspired and intrigued by the Blues for decades. Their scenery, forests, geology and "lots of basalt" keep Carson captivated and enthralled in their unique natural history.
"Once I watched a black bear up in the Blues in the middle of a meadow and all it was doing was turning over rocks looking for grubs," Carson said, recalling fond memories of his explorations in the mountain range rich with wildlife.
Carson channeled his passion for natural history, geography and the Blues into a new book, "The Blues: Natural History of the Blue Mountains of Northeastern Oregon and Southeastern Washington," which was released in fall 2018. The work is co-published by the Blue Mountain Land Trust and Keokee Books. Some of the book's profits support the land trust, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation in the region. The book is Carson's fourth in his series that explores the natural history of Eastern Washington, Oregon and beyond. Other books in the series include "Where the Great River Bends" (2008), "East of Yellowstone" (2010), and "Many Waters" (2015).
"The Blues" is a collaborative effort and includes work provided by other Whitman College faculty and alumni. It describes the unique landscapes, wildlife and geology in nine sections that include maps, poems, paintings and photographs.
"This book was a community effort. It brings science and art together. It's a great collaboration of art, poetry, photography and natural history," Carson said.
Duane Scroggins of Walla Walla and Bill Rogers '70, of Waitsburg, Washington, were the principle photographers for the book, contributing (along with others) hundreds of magnificent photographs.
"Duane and Bill drove all over the blues, over and over again at every season to get this collection of photos," Carson said.
"The Blues" is a collaborative effort across the Whitman and Walla Walla community. The book forward was written by Don Snow, senior lecturer of environmental humanities and general studies, and the afterword was written by by Professor Scott Elliot of the English Department. Katrina Roberts, the Mina Schwabacher Professor of English/Creative Writing and Humanities wrote various poems for the book.
"I so appreciate Bob's desire to create a holistic work, one that embodies the sort of range of interlinking perspectives you might imagine experiencing at a liberal arts college," she said. "I'm grateful to Bob Carson for honoring not only the validity but the necessity of poetry and art in such a collection."
Carson said the book was written to reach a diverse audience of geologic knowledges,
"I'm a strong believer in teaching natural history to people, not just geology," he said. "Ideally, it's written so that professional geologists can get something out of it, and a person who knows no geology can also get something out of it. I try to explain technical terms the first time I use them."
"The Blues" can be purchased at the Whitman Bookstore, from The Blue Mountain Land Trust or online from Keokee Books.