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The Colorado Almanac, by Thomas J. Noel

Review by Ed Quillen

Colorado – December 2001 – Colorado Central Magazine

The Colorado Almanac – Facts About Colorado
by Thomas J. Noel
Published in 2001 by West Winds Press
ISBN 1558685987

FOR YEARS I HAVE WISHED that there was a Colorado Almanac along the line of the World Almanac. The World gives you things like the governor of every state, and the Colorado would provide all county and municipal officials, along with climate data, populations and demographics, agricultural production, the state constitution — all the things that you need to look up in a hurry that still take too long to find on the World Wide Web (if they’re there at all).

Unfortunately, this isn’t the almanac I wanted — it’s more like a One-Volume Encyclopedia of Colorado. It’s even organized that way, with short articles arranged in alphabetical order.

In general, the entries are lively and informative, but the arrangement can cause more searching than should be necessary. For instance, there’s an entry for the Sand Creek Massacre, but no entry for the Ludlow Massacre — it’s under “Labor.” John M. Chivington, who was in charge of the soldiers at Sand Creek, is certainly a prominent figure in Colorado history — and he’s not even in the index, let alone the topic of an article. Nor is Ludlow in the index.

A good index would make up for deficiencies in the article topics and their arrangement — but this book doesn’t have a good index, and that’s a major flaw in a reference work.

Another serious flaw is inaccuracy. The map at the start of the book shows Colorado divided into drainages — and everything above Salida on the Arkansas is grouped with the South Platte. We read that “Colorado enforces the death penalty with a gas chamber” when it is in fact applied by lethal injection. The Saguache Crescent “is still printed on a hand-set press,” when “hand-set” refers to the type, not the printing press, and even at that, the bulk of the Crescent is not set by hand, but by a Linotype machine. The Vail Daily, less than 20 years old, is listed as one of the “other long-established daily newspapers.” Our state song, “Where the Columbines Grow,” was written by Dr. Arthur J. Fynn, not the Flynn in the Almanac.

Granted, this is mostly nit-picking. But reference books ought not to have so many nits to pick.

On the brighter side, the book is attractively designed with good typography and a host of framed tidbits, like a list of the 10 best saloons (Leadville’s Silver Dollar makes it, Salida’s Victoria doesn’t), or a “List of Offbeat Tourist Lures” that includes the Alligator Farm in the Valley, the Coney Island Diner in Conifer and the Shroud of Turin Museum in Colorado Springs.

It lists all state-wide office-holders and our congressional delegation, as well as members of the General Assembly with a map of the House and Senate districts. There’s a calendar of annual events, and plenty of pointers to relevant web sites, telephone numbers, and similar sources of additional information. Another valuable entry is an appendix which contains the Bill of Rights from the State Constitution.

To get a feel for the prose, try this brief entry:

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

This infectious disease is spread by a virus harbored in rodents and other animals and carried by infected ticks that attach themselves to humans. First discovered in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana, this fever occurs in Colorado, but is most common in the southeastern states.

Symptoms include high fever, coughing, headache, pain in the back and legs, and a skin rash that first appears on the extremities and spreads to the trunk. Severe cases may lead to a drop in blood pressure, delirium, coma, and death.

You can help avoid ticks by wearing long pants, boots, and long-sleeve shirts in wooded or grassy areas, and by wearing tick repellent. If potentially exposed to ticks, inspect the scalp, groin, armpits, behind the knees, around the waistband, and other potentially moist, sheltered body parts.

While the Colorado Almanac could and should be a better book, what we’ve got isn’t bad. It’s a place to look first when you need some Colorado information, and it ought to be a perfect present if you’ve got a nit-picking Colorado buff on your shopping list.

— Ed Quillen