A stone’s throw away: Helena hosts talk on state’s roadside rocks

Published 12:02 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

HELENA –The Helena public library, in joint partnership with the Helena Historic Preservation Committee, presented a talk featuring Mrs. Laura and Dr. Mark Steltenpohl on Monday, Aug. 21 that occurred at Helena City Hall.

The discussion, titled Stories from the Roadside Geology of Alabama, primarily focused on the Steltenpohls’ efforts in making an addition to the long-running Roadside Geology series published by Mountain Press, their contribution being focused on the state of Alabama.

The series, a staple in the geologic community since 1972, breaks down fascinating and accessible information in each state’s geologic makeup through the usage of classifying and separating discussed areas by the roads that readers would travel along as they viewed such areas.

“We wrote this book, Roadside Geology of Alabama, as our retirement project and it took us about four years traveling the roads of Alabama,” Laura Steltenpohl said. “We both are geologists. Mark taught at Auburn University for about 30 years, and I am a retired high school science teacher. So, it’s a good combination (for the book) with his geologic research expertise and my ability to translate his technical jargon to hopefully an understandable language, because I spent 20 years explaining scientific concepts to high school students.”

Contained in their talk were three subjects, or stories, that the Steltenpohls found to commonly collect the greatest interest.

These topics consisted of an explanation of how a species of dinosaur native to the region that would become Alabama, a variant of Tyrannosaurus Rex known as Appalachiosaurus, came to be found in a sediment deposit on what was once the ocean floor. They also discussed how Wetumpka Alabama is host to a five-mile-wide impact crater that tells the story of an asteroid’s collision with Earth some 80 million years ago, and how the crater now serves as a visible scar from the largest natural disaster in the state’s geologic history.

Mark Steltenpohl also explained the third story, how fossils from Africa came to be found in what is now southeastern Alabama, by detailing the processes of continental drift. He then concluded the talk with an in-depth explanation on the workings of plate tectonics and the formation and dispersion of supercontinents, a process that over the course of millions of years has caused areas such as Montgomery and Dothan, Alabama to go from being thousands of miles apart to where they are today.

The conversation on the subject of Alabama’s rocks proved to be one that drew a sizable crowd that included members of all ages and also generated a healthy discussion among attendees following the talk. The topics covered in the night’s talk are all available, along with many others, in their book which is now available for purchase.

Both Mark and Laura Steltenpohl also stayed for some time after their presentation to sign copies of their book and even donated a copy to the Helena Public Library at the onset of the evening.

“This project is published by Mountain Press, but we didn’t get any advance, we funded the project ourselves, it was a labor of love,” Laura said. “All of our proceeds are being used to fund an undergraduate scholarship in Geology education.”

Those seeking to find out more information on the book, Roadside Geology of Alabama, can find information on it, and the entire book series to which it is a part, at Mountain-press.com/collections/geology. It can be purchased at the same site, on Amazon.com, or wherever such books are sold. The Steltenpohls are now working on a similar project which will cover North Carolina.