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Bellingham geologist writes Western Washington guidebook

You might call him the late-blooming old man of Northwest geology.

Or call him Whatcom County’s unofficial “geology laureate.”

Either way, Dave Tucker’s lifelong interest in the rocks of the region has found a new outlet with his first book, “Geology Underfoot in Western Washington.”

Now 64, Tucker earned his master’s degree in geology from Western Washington University a decade ago. That’s late in life for anyone who wants to earn a doctorate and teach geology. Plus, Tucker likely would have had to leave his beloved Northwest to find a teaching gig.

So he decided to stay put and keep doing what he loves most — researching the volcanic history of Mount Baker, and educating people about the region’s geology through public talks, field trips, community classes, and now his book.

The 374-page guidebook details in accessible fashion the interesting rocks and geological formations to be found at 22 starting points in Western Washington. Like other titles in the “Underfoot” series, the book targets general readers willing to get out of their car and walk a short distance — from a few hundred yards to a few miles — to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of geology.

“It was really a joy for a field geologist to write,” Tucker said. “I did a lot of field work; thousands of miles on my car.”

Destinations in the book include Artist Point and Heather Meadows; the fossil display of Diatryma, a giant prehistoric bird, at Western Washington University; and honeycombed sandstone along the shoreline at Larrabee State Park.

“This is such an easy place to get to,” Tucker said during a visit to the park last week. “It was a natural to put in the book.”

Rocks in his blood

Tucker grew up near Puget Sound beaches in Steilacoom, near Tacoma, with Mount Rainier looming on the horizon. He developed an early interest in rocks while climbing mountains in high school, an interest that continued when he moved to Bellingham, with Mount Baker close by, in the early ’70s.

Tucker earned a bachelor’s degree from Huxley College of the Environment in 1973, then held an array of jobs. He picked apples, washed dishes, milled flour, repaired bikes, taught sailing, and guided people in the North Cascades. Through those years his interest in geology remained steady.

“In my spare time I was always looking at rocks,” Tucker said. “Studying geology was always in the back of my mind.”

Then, while working as a guide for a geologist researching Baker, Tucker took in the earthly record of volcanic activity all around him and knew what he wanted to do.

“My ‘aha moment’ was, ‘There is fantastic geology here that nobody knows about,” he recalled.

So he returned to WWU to earn a master’s of science degree in geology.

“When I went back to school, I was older than half of my thesis committee,” he said.

Tucker focused his research on volcanic rocks in the North Cascades, and started Mount Baker Volcano Research Center, the website home to geologists researching the volcanic legacy of Baker and the surrounding area. He’s also the author of a popular blog, Northwest Geology Field Trips.

A research associate at Western, Tucker occasionally teaches at the university, and his research reports help spread the name of Western throughout the academic world of geology.

Tucker has hosted numerous field trips and public talks about Mount Baker. A community class he led several years about the geological origins of building materials in downtown Bellingham is mirrored in a chapter in his new book, with a comparable tour of downtown buildings in Seattle.

Tucker is already working on his next book, a guide to Mount Baker geology accessible by roads and trails. Possible future projects include an ice age history of the Salish Sea region, and starting a geology guide business.

“I love doing ‘people’s geology,’” he said.