Press "Enter" to skip to content

Roadside Geology of Colorado by Halka Chronic

Review by Jeanne Englert

Geology – November 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine – Roadside Geology of Colorado
by Halka Chronic
Published by Mountain Press Publishing Co.
ISBN 0-87842-105-X

EVER WONDER, when driving south on U.S. 285, why the Arkansas River takes a left turn near Poncha Springs? The answer to that and most other questions about geologic features in Colorado appear in Halka Chronic’s Roadside Geology of Colorado. Chronic explains that the Arkansas River once flowed southward into the San Luis Valley to mate with the Rio Grande, but an uplift and volcanic action blocked the river’s progress, forcing it into a new route out of the mountains.

Interesting details like this abound in Chronic’s book. As a former Durango resident, I cannot count the times I’ve travelled on U.S. 285 between Durango and Denver, admiring the view but ignorant of the gelologic forces that shape the landscape.

I never knew, for example, that the springs that give Poncha Springs its name are piped to the indoor pool at Salida. Or that the U.S. Forest Service station at Fairplay has a self-guided tour brochure for a side trip up Fourmile Creek to Horseshoe Mountain Cirque. The discovery of this brochure, which is loaded with fascinating tidbits about the history of South Park, alone justifies the price of this book.

For the most part, Chronic manages to keep the arcane geologic terms to the minimum as she explains the necessary terms. She also provides a great introductory overview of geologic history of Colorado, along with good maps. Even we ignoramuses can recognize the Tomichi Dome northeast of Doyleville on U.S. 50, thanks to Chronic’s book.

However, I do recommend taking along a small note pad and pencil to record words like “arcuate.”

“What the hell does that mean?” says my husband as I read this stuff to him on the stretch between Denver and Fairplay. Didn’t he know that he should have put the unabridged dictionary in the minivan for our camping trip?

But despite these occasional lapses, Chronic does a good job. The glossary is great. You find yourself looking forward to looking at welded tuff in the roadcut near Sargents on U.S. 50. Chronic explains that the chalk cliffs on Mt. Princeton are really not chalk but kaolin. She throws in a blurb for devotees of the Mount Princeton Hot Springs. “Have a geologic swim!”

The only real problem with this book is mechanical — the binding is not good, and after much use, a copy resembles not so much a book as a sheaf of smudged and dog-eared papers. A book that gets hauled around in a glove box and flipped through in a moving car requires a tougher binding than one that abides on a shelf.

Halka Chronic should complain about this. When the book is falling apart, how can they expect us to thumb to the glossary find out what bentonite is? With a better binding, this book would be about perfect, and as it is, treat your copy gently, or else be prepared to continue investing in new copies — once you’ve used it, you’ll never want to travel Colorado without it.

— Jeanne W. Englert