Hard Road West: History and Geology along the Gold Rush Trail
by Keith Heyer Meldahl
University of Chicago Press, 2007
eISBN: 978-0-226-92329-1 | Cloth: 978-0-226-51960-9 | Paper: 978-0-226-51962-3
Library of Congress Classification F593.M479 2007
Dewey Decimal Classification 978.02
Reference metadata exposed for Zotero via unAPI.
“Fans of John McPhee will find many familiar pleasures in Hard Road West. Keith Meldahl is equally adept at explaining the science behind the western landscape as he is at evoking the personalities and emotions of the people who struggled to cross it. His love of the land and his admiration for the emigrants shine from every page.”— Alan Cutler, author of The Seashell on the Mountaintop
“For many, the Gold Rush required a transcontinental trek of epic proportions. Here now is documented the geographical and human struggle of that heroic journey, mile by mile, across barriers of land and endurance that stood between—and frequently vanquished—a generation and its dreams.”— Kevin Starr, author of California , A History
“Hard Road West is an amazing book. It opens up a whole new dimension of the California Gold Rush and travel on the overland trails. Historians should read this book—they will never look at overland migrations the same way.”— Malcolm J. Rohrbough, author of Days of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the American Nation
"Keith Meldahl has woven the threads of history and science together to create a fascinating story of discovery and adventure in the American West. His accounts of the westward migrations along the California and Oregon trails capture both the thrill of geological discovery and the captivating human history of this unique and magnificent landscape. Historians and geologists have long shared an equal passion for the bold and stark lands of western North America, but until now no one has managed to unite those perspectives so thoroughly and effectively as Meldahl."
"In Hard Road West, Keith Meldahl has skillfully woven together the geology of the 2,000 mile-long overland trail and the emigrant experience recounted through their own words. You get two histories packaged together, one evolving over eons of time and the other compressed into a few decades, all told in a most engaging way. The author has an unusually effective way of explaining complicated geological forces at work with the use of apt analogies and metaphors. The general-interest reader will surely enjoy these intertwined histories."
“Western historians and trail rut nuts alike have good reason to rejoice that Keith Meldahl stopped to ponder a California Trail marker on the Forty-Mile Desert and asked, ‘What’s this all about?’ Hard Road West creates an entirely new look at one of America’s greatest stories, combining perceptive scientific observations with brilliant, engaging, captivating prose to tell the tale of America’s road to gold. From now on, I will happily recommend Meldahl’s unique work as the best introduction to the epic story of the Oregon and California trails.”
“[Meldahl] draws on his professional knowledge to explain the geology of the West, showing how centuries of geological activity had a direct effect on the routes taken by the travelers. . . . Meldhal provides a novel account of the largest overland migration since the Crusades.”
“Geologist Keith Heyer Meldahl’s innovative new study, Hard Road West, challenges historians to broaden their temporal perspective and consider the impact of long-term geological processes on the course of the California gold rush. In eminently readable prose, the book interweaves two very different stories of westward movement. The first is the epic journey of the North American continent, which has been inching west since its break from Eurasia and Africa roughly 220 million years ago. . . . This landscape constitutes the setting for the book’s second story: the unprecedented overland migration precipitated by the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. Meldahl uses emigrant writings as well as his personal experiences hiking the trail to illuminate how wayfarers understood and responded to the many topographical challenges of the 2,000-mile journey. . . . Meldahl’s work serves as a vivid reminder of the extraordinary nature of this episode in America’s westward expansion.”