Rhythms of Change in Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park

Ellen Wohl

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - RE­BECCA FOSTER

Uni­ver­sity Press of Kansas Hard­cover $26.95 (240pp) 978-0-7006-2336-5

A ge­ol­o­gist cel­e­brates the beauty of a park and ex­poses threats it faces.

In Rhythms of Change in Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park, Colorado State Uni­ver­sity ge­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Ellen Wohl char­ac­ter­izes the park as “a pro­tected is­land of nat­u­ral habi­tats sur­rounded by a sea of hu­man al­ter­ation.” Her book, an en­gag­ing blend of sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion and per­sonal ob­ser­va­tion, cel­e­brates the park’s beauty and ex­poses the threats it faces in its hun­dredth an­niver­sary year.

As a ge­ol­o­gist study­ing moun­tain streams, Wohl rec­og­nizes the grave prob­lems con­fronting Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park, in­clud­ing lake acid­i­fi­ca­tion, ex­ces­sive hunt­ing of aquatic preda­tors, for­est fires, and sum­mer floods. Orig­i­nally from Ohio, Wohl has grown fond of the park through her year-round field­work. Us­ing an ap­peal­ing mix­ture of mul­ti­ple gen­res—mem­oir, trav­el­ogue, and sci­en­tific text— she tracks the park’s changes over a typ­i­cal year while also re­veal­ing the ex­tent of hu­man-led change over two cen­turies.

Start­ing with a typ­i­cal Jan­uary, the book pro­ceeds month by month. Each chap­ter ze­ros in on a dif­fer­ent ge­o­graph­i­cal area of the park as well as a par­tic­u­lar topic. This cre­ates a strong feel­ing of pro­gres­sion, both chrono­log­i­cal and the­matic. For in­stance, the Fe­bru­ary chap­ter fo­cuses on the Colorado River Val­ley and flow di­ver­sion and de­bris, while Novem­ber il­lu­mi­nates Glacier Gorge and the is­sues of tree blow­downs and bee­tle in­fes­ta­tion.

The book gives plen­ti­ful tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion about the park’s ge­ol­ogy but al­ways re­mains at­tuned to the lay­man’s un­der­stand­ing. The early pages of the March chap­ter, for ex­am­ple, are a help­ful primer on Earth’s lay­ers and how to in­ves­ti­gate them. Thirty-three pho­to­graphs give a first­hand glimpse of the park’s scope, from sweep­ing moun­tain vis­tas to ice bub­bles in Loch Vale.

Wohl’s great-grand­mother vis­ited the park in 1930 and brought back a brochure prais­ing Bear Lake’s “seclu­sion”—no longer true of this pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion. The au­thor is keenly aware of how her beloved park has been di­min­ished: flood­ing and wildfires mar the land­scape; beavers should be plen­ti­ful but strug­gle to sur­vive. How­ever, it is still a place of nat­u­ral de­lights, and Wohl is hope­ful that the in­di­vid­u­als who love it can make a dif­fer­ence.

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