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Montana Western Regents Professor Wins High Plains Book Award

September 29, 2021

Dr. Robert Thomas is a Regents Professor of Geology in the Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Montana Western and co-author of “Roadside Geology of Montana”. The publication has been awarded the 2021 High Plains Book Award in the Medicine & Science category.


The High Plains Book Award was established in 2006 by the Billings Public Library Board to recognize regional literary works which examine and reflect life on the High Plains, including the states of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The 2021 winner in the Medicine & Science category, “Roadside Geology of Montana”, is a complete guide to the geological history of Montana designed to be utilized from the state’s many roadways by professionals and amateurs alike.

“A person could spend hours poring over the wonderful illustrations and diagrams in this book. This is definitely a book that you come back to again and again as you journey across Montana,” said a High Plains judge.

The publication is a completely revised second edition of the original “Roadside Geology of Montana” authored by Don Hyndman and Dave Alt in 1986. Hyndman is a retired Professor of Geology at the University of Montana and taught Thomas when he earned his master’s degree in the late ’80s. Hyndman approached Thomas about being a co-author for the updated second edition due to the quality of his work on the Roadside Geology of Yellowstone Country book published in 2011.

“Roadside Geology books are a very important point of access for the layperson to understand the history and processes that formed their planetary home,” said Thomas. “To have been asked by Don Hyndman, my former professor, to create an entirely new version of his landmark book with Dave Alt was a great honor.”

The project took Hyndman and Thomas five years to complete and required traveling to almost every corner of the state gathering data, taking photos, creating illustrations, and researching literature to confirm that the geology was correct and up to date. Thomas’s focus was on his backyard of southwest Montana, but he has traveled from the Yaak in the northwest to Alzada in the southeast, filling in new road guides and other gaps in the book. Thomas says that even though it is technically a second edition, everything is new and is an entirely different book.

The update was successfully launched by John Rimel and Mountain Press Publishing in Missoula in 2020.

“The accessibility is really what sets this book and the Roadside series apart. Not only does it inform, but it also inspires the average individual that wants to learn more about the place that they live,” said Mountain Press CEO John Rimel. “And there couldn’t be better ambassadors of geology in the state of Montana than Rob Thomas and Don Hyndman.”

Thomas would like to extend special thanks to Rimel, editor Jennifer Carey, and illustrator Chelsea McRaven Feeney for making the project possible.

The Roadside Geology series originated in 1972 with “Roadside Geology of the Northern Rockies.” Now, nearly every state and one Canadian province has a book of their own.

“Of the more than 75 peer-reviewed publications in my career at Western, I am most proud of this book. The most valuable contribution I can make in my academic career is to help all people understand and be excited about how the Earth works. ‘Roadside Geology of Montana’ is that contribution for my friends and neighbors in Big Sky Country!” said Thomas.

Thomas hopes to tour the book this fall at local bookstores for signing events and presentations on Montana geology.

For more information, please contact Robert Thomas at [email protected]. To purchase a signed copy of the “Roadside Geology of Montana,” call The Bookstore in Dillon, Montana at 406-683-6807 or you can visit