SALEM, Ore. - It's a story of fire and ice, catastrophic floods and epic explosions, glowing lava flows and subtropical jungles. And best of all, most Oregonians don't have to go far to enjoy it - just look up on any clear day, and with the right kind of eyes see the wonder of the state's geology all around you.

The evidence is everywhere, from snow-capped Mt. Hood or the Three Sisters to glacier-carved lakes or the unique soils that nurture Oregon's blossoming wine industry. But if you need a little assistance, a special exhibit opening Jan. 12 at the State Capitol will help you see the state's past as never before.

Titled "Oregon: 150 Years of Statehood; 150 Million Years in the Making," 16 exhibit windows in the Capitol's rotunda will help honor the state's sesquicentennial while giving Oregonians an understanding of the geologic masterpieces that helped form their state.

"Oregon is a land of crashing tectonic plates, great earthquakes, huge volcanoes, and parts that were manufactured elsewhere and then assembled here," said Bob Lillie, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. "This is an opportunity for Oregonians and visitors to our beautiful state to really appreciate the landscape they see every day, and learn how it affects our economy, culture and history."

The exhibit will open Jan. 12, about a month before the 150th anniversary of Oregon statehood - Feb. 14, 1859. But the real history of the state began a long time before that, when the modern coastal and Cascade Range didn't exist, enormous mountains were being formed by volcanic and tectonic forces where central and eastern Oregon are today, and the ocean coastline was near the Oregon-Idaho border.

The maps, photos and illustrations in the exhibit track the early "assembly" of the state; the volcanoes that provide grandeur; the rocks, minerals, and fossils that track the history of its geology; and the earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and climate change that are of special interest to the state's most recent occupants - humans.

The exhibits will be at the Capitol for two years, and scaled-down versions will travel the state for educational purposes. They were developed in response to a request from the Oregon Historical Society, with the 150-million-year timeline agreed to as something that captured much of what was most interesting and recognizable about Oregon geology - and helped form connections with Oregon's 150 years as a state.

Among some of the tidbits found in the displays:

• Tectonic plates move land around somewhat like the conveyor belt at the checkout counter of a grocery store.

• These forces are a natural production of "Beauty and the Beast" - the same mechanisms that form picturesque mountains also give us devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.

• Smith Rock isn't just a great place to climb - it was recently discovered that 29 million years ago it was part of a "supervolcano" that had a caldera 12 miles wide and 20 miles long.

• The Columbia Gorge traces the path of two monumental floods - one of flowing rock and the other of flowing water.

• American Indians used volcanic resources in their everyday lives thousands of years ago and witnessed the massive explosion of Mount Mazama to form today's Crater Lake.

• Discovery never stops - in 2007, young Charlie Gilpin and a friend found the tooth of a woolly mammoth behind his home in McMinnville.

• Tsunamis travel about the same speed as a jet airplane, about 500 miles per hour.

The project was funded by the OSU Department of Geosciences, OSU College of Science, Oregon Historical Society, OSU Office of University Advancement, Samuel S. Johnson Foundation, Ford Family Foundation and the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. Collaborators on the various exhibits included OSU, the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, the Oregon Paleolands Institute, Portland State University, Oregon Department of Energy and the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center.

"One thing that's compelling about the study of geology is that it's never static, it never stops," said Jason Kenworthy, a National Park Service geologist and OSU masters student in geosciences, who was one of the leaders on the project. "Geologic forces continue to build up and tear down Oregon's landscape, and make the state a beautiful and exciting place to live."

The web site for the exhibit should be up soon, accessible through links from the Oregon Historical Society at

Two brochures and a K-12 teachers guide to the exhibits will also be made available.

Following are URLs to access digital images of some of the displays: Assembling the state:

Basin and Range Province:

Columbia Plateau and Gorge:

Cascadia Subduction Zone:

Click photos to see a full-size version. Right click and save image to download.


Bob Lillie,