Walks & Talks


I am back in the field again giving in person tours. I hope you can join me. I am also still doing a variety of virtual tours. 

If you attended one of my virtual events and feel so inclined, a tip (or you could think of it as helping me to buy a cup or two of coffee!) or simply a nice note is always appreciated.  (Via Square) Thanks kindly.

As a former national park ranger, outdoor instructor, and museum educator, I have over 35 years of speaking experience. I have given talks to elementary school children, Elderhostel participants, and teachers. I have given presentations while canoeing in canyon country, walking through downtown Seattle, and in formal classroom settings. Locally, I have given tours for MOHAI, Seattle Architecture Foundation, the Burke Museum, Historic Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest Historians Guild.

Below is a list of upcoming public talks and walks, as well as descriptions of all of my programs. (I’d be happy to talk to you about working with your group to see one of  my Available Upon Request talks.) I hope they encourage people to look more carefully at the natural and cultural world around them and to reconsider places they may have taken for granted.

Upcoming Talks and Walks

July 21 – Bainbridge Island Boat Tour/Benefit – 11:30 to 3:30 pm – I will be the guest narrator/historian on Set Sail into History, a four hour cruise/lunch to benefit the Bainbridge Museum of Natural History. I will be discussing history, geology, kelp, and Puget Sound, some of my favorite topics.

– July 24Birds Connect Seattle – 6:30 pm – I will be leading a walking tour looking at carved and terra cotta animals in downtown Seattle. We cover about 1.5 miles and the tour lasts about 90 minutes. We’ll see a horse, many eagles, and many interesting faces.

  • Talks Available Upon Request 

    Each of my hour-long programs (which includes time for Q&A) is available as a virtual or in-person PowerPoint presentation with me as a live narrator.

    Contact me about scheduling your group to see one of these talks.

    These programs are great for team building, keeping in touch with your community, and for anyone interested in learning more about Seattle and its human and natural history.

Secrets of Seattle Disappearing Denny Hill – Since settlers first arrived in Seattle, the city’s citizens have altered the landscape with an unrivaled zeal. We have regraded hills, reengineered tideflats, and replumbed lakes to provide better locations for business and easier ways to move through the challenging topography. Weaving together geology and social history, I highlight the unprecedented Denny Regrades (from 1897-1930) as a way to provide a foundation for understanding Seattle and how its topography shaped its destiny. This talk is based on my award winning book, Too High and Too Steep.

“The Secret of Seattle’s Disappearing Hill was fantastic. I’ve lived in Seattle for 20 years and never understood why or how the Denny Regrade took place. David did an amazing job telling the story of the Denny Regrade in a way that was interesting and easy to understand. He clearly knows his stuff and was able to explain everything very well by using a combination of current and historic photos. I loved getting to see overlays of where old buildings would be in present time – It really brought the story to life for me. I highly recommend this experience!”

James – ***** Airbnb Review – August 6, 2020

Stories in StoneAvailable as a Seattle-focused tour or a tour around the United States and Italy. Most people do not think of looking for geology from the sidewalks of a major city, but for the intrepid geologist any good rock can tell a fascinating story. All one has to do is look at building stone to find a range of rocks equal to any assembled by plate tectonics. Furthermore, building stones provide the foundation for constructing stories about cultural as well as natural history. In this talk, based on my book, Stories in Stone (which was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award), I explore building stone from around the country, ranging from rock used by the Romans to build the Colosseum to a gas station made of petrified wood to a granite quarry that lead to the first commercial railroad in the United States. (I can tailor this program specifically to Seattle.)

David B. Williams’ virtual Stories in Stone tour is engaging, entertaining, and educational. As you’d expect from a naturalist of Williams’ caliber, the tour is multifaceted–weaving together geology, geography, architecture, and history. I highly recommend it.”
Kim Owens, Program Director, Seattle Architecture Foundation

“A decade ago, David Williams’ book Stories in Stone opened my eyes to interpreting the rich tapestry woven by geology and history into our urban environments. Unsurprisingly his Zoom presentation for our club this month was just as rich and engaging as the experience of reading one of his books.”
Paul Edison-Lahm, Geologic Society of the Oregon Country

Who’s Watching You?Do you ever have the feeling that you are being watched when you walk in downtown Seattle? You are probably right. Hundreds of eyes peer out from buildings in the city observing your every step. Neither human nor electronic, these ever-present watchers belong to dozens of carved and molded animals gazing out from Seattle buildings. Based on my book, Seattle Walks, this 1.5 mile tour (available as a talk or walk) through Seattle’s central business district will reveal a menagerie of beasts fabled, fantastic, and fierce, including lions, eagles, ducks, and walruses, in addition to likely sightings of live birds and other animals in our city.

Secrets of Seattle’s Historic Shoreline –  More so than most cities, Seattle has shaped itself to suit its needs. Seattle has removed hills, filled tide flats, and created a completely new downtown shoreline. On this tour (available as a talk or walk) we’ll explore the last vestiges of the former downtown bluffs, trace the island where Seattle was founded, and examine how the subterranean fill still affects the modern landscape. Based on my award winning book, Too High and Too Steep.

Secrets of the Ship Canal and Locks – Few engineering projects have shaped Seattle as much as the construction of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks and Ship Canal. Nor do many have as many false starts, political shenanigans, and chaotic history. In this talk based on my co-authored history of the canal and locks, Waterway (which was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award), I share the far-reaching social, economic, and environmental impacts of the canal’s construction and operation.

Secrets of Seattle’s Botanical Past – If you asked early citizens of Seattle which natural feature best symbolized the region, few would have hesitated in responding “Douglas firs.” These trees were everywhere, but they were not the only plants in the area.  In this talk, I describe the presettlement botanical landscape of Seattle by examining modern clues, such as neighborhood names, big stumps, and big trees, that provide hints for telling this story and for showing the complexity and beauty of Seattle 150 years ago. Based on a chapter from my book The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist.

Secrets of Seattle Geology – Unlike many regions in the country, the Seattle area is constantly reminded of its geologic past, present, and future.  Whether it is our landslides, our glacier-carved topography, or our three major earthquake zones, this area’s geologic history is young, dynamic, and accessible. In this talk, I will explain why we can blame California for some of our geo hazards, how coal influenced our economic development, and why its harder to travel east/west than north/south.

Secrets of Seattle’s Seven Hills – Early Seattleites often liked to boast that their city was built on seven hills, just like ancient Rome. Many still hold on to this idea, though of the original seven, two have been replaced and one has been removed via regrading. What are the remaining hilly heptad? How did they get their names? What is their human and natural history. All will be explained. Based on a chapter from my book The Seattle Street-Smart Naturalist.

Puget Sound: A Maritime Highway – From canoes to the mosquito fleet to our modern day ferry system, boats have been a principal means of travel around Puget Sound. In a landscape dominated by forest and sea, water was often the best way to get from point A to point B. In this talk, which is based on research for my next book about human and natural history in Puget Sound, I explore the 13,000-year history transportion in this extraordinary waterway to illustrate how landscape has a central influence on the residents of a place and how they live their lives.

Here’s a link to talk I did for HistoryLink at its annual HistoryLunch.

Past Walks and Talks

4th Annual Denny Lecture Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), Pacific Northwest Historians Guild (Keynote), Highline Historical Society, Shannon & Wilson, Inc., Washington Business and Professional Women’s Club (Campus Chapter), Washington State Ridesharing Organization (Keynote), Tucson Festival of Books, Structural Engineers Association of Washington (Keynote), Construction Specifications Institute (Seattle Chapter), Road Scholar (aka Elderhostel), Centralia College Lyceum Lecture Series, Seattle Architectural Foundation, Architectural Heritage Center, Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door, North Cascades Institute, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle Audubon Society, Washington Ornithological Society, Northwest Geological Society, StoneFest, Bellevue Rock Club, Portland State University, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, The Rainier Club, Colorado College Alumni Association, University of Chicago Alumni Association, Elderhostel, Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site, Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks, Washington Native Plant Society, University of Washington Program on the Environment, Northwest Sustainability Conference, Sierra Club Cascade Chapter, Homewaters Project, Horizon House, Ida Culver House, Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources, Cowlitz County Historical Museum, Northwest Perennial Alliance, Wenatchee River Institute, North Seattle Lapidary and Gem Club, Endless Opportunities-Jewish Family Service, Jefferson Land Trust Geology Group