Rocks, Ridges, and Rivers: Geological Wonders of Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National Parks by Dale Leckie
(Broken Poplars Press, distributed by Sandhill Book Marketing $27.95)

Review by Syd Cannings (BCBW 2019)

Most of us have made a pilgrimage to Canada’s Rocky Mountain national parks or have it on one of our lists of things to do. On that trip, if you’re a curious sort of person, questions might keep popping into your head….

How did these mountains get here and why are they all lined up like that?

What is the Burgess Shale (in B.C.’s Yoho Park) anyway, and why is everyone talking about it?
Why is the water in Miette Hot Springs so hot?

And the classic: why is Lake Louise such a glorious aquamarine colour?

If you’re that sort of curious person, here is a roadside guide to geology in the broad sense, covering mountain building, paleontology, erosion, glaciation, and every other aspect of the field. We are in good hands with Rocks, Ridges, and Rivers by Dale Leckie, an award-winning geologist who has made the Rockies his backyard for decades.

The first thing I noticed about this book was that it was a pleasure to look at. A welcome but unusual feature (in a guide such as this) is the inclusion of quite a few stunning paintings by Heather Pant. Although these aren’t used in illustrating geological formations, they again serve to make the book a pleasure to leaf through.

Rocks, Ridges, and Rivers begins by looking at the big picture, putting the geology of the Rocky Mountains in the context of geological time, and in the regional context of the formation of all the mountain belts of western North America.

Leckie tells the story of the assembling of the various geological terranes that make up the western edge of the continent, and how their collisions created the high ground from which today’s mountains have been sculpted.

This complex story is accompanied by colour diagrams, maps, and tables that include the stratigraphy of the Rockies through geological time, a cross-section of the Rockies from west to east, and the tectonic evolution of western North America.

The bulk of the book is organized as a road trip through the Rockies, with fifty stops of interest (or Geological Experiences, as they are called by Leckie), from Mount Yamnuska (east of Canmore) north to Miette Hot Springs in Jasper National Park.

Some stops are pullouts along the highway; others involve a short walk on a park trail. Each stop is illustrated with one or more colour photographs, maps, and geological diagrams. Panoramic photographs are marked with the names of geological formations and faults. That way we know exactly what we’re looking at.

We learn that at 51 degrees Celsius, the Miette Hot Springs are the hottest springs in the Canadian Rockies. Ground water in this area descends to about 1600 m below the ground until it meets with the Hot Springs Fault, and is heated about 1 degree for every 33 metres of its descent.

We learn why the mountains of the Main Ranges are castellated with more horizontal layers (think of Castle Mountain in Banff National Park) than the tilted, skyward-pointing peaks of the Front Ranges (think of Mount Rundle, east of Banff).

We learn how rivers flowing down hanging valleys plummet over waterfalls early in their history, but ultimately may create deep canyons.

Sidebars highlight sites that are “Interesting and Nearby” or go into depth on geological subjects such as the Devonian Period in Alberta, or the geography of glaciers, or how erosion created the Rockies we know today.

If you don’t know what a normal fault or a syncline is—or if slatey cleavage, slickensides, or knickpoints cause your eyebrows to go up—Leckie provides a glossary.

I count myself in the “interested naturalist” group and, even though I’ve written about geology for the layperson, I still find that I must go back again and again to the geological time scale to remind myself exactly when the Middle Ordovician (for example) began and ended.
Sometimes I wish we were provided with the approximate age in millions of years rather than a name, but that may just be laziness on my part.

As an aging reader, I found the typeface a wee bit small, especially in the sidebars and captions. But I don’t need a magnifying glass to see this is not a guide to all the Canadian Rockies, or even all the parks of the southern Canadian Rockies.

Conspicuously absent is Kootenay National Park, which is adjacent to Banff and Yoho. Waterton Lakes National Park, separated some distance to the south, is also excluded. As a former park naturalist in Mount Robson Provincial Park (which adjoins Jasper), I was hoping to see its spectacular geology featured, if only in a sidebar.

But clearly this is a book that would be a welcome passenger on my trips through the Rocky Mountains. The design is a major feature of the book, and I was happy to see that the designer, Sergio Gaytán, is acknowledged with a full page and a photograph at the back of the book. As someone who has written similar books, I know the importance of a great designer, and of a good author-designer collaboration.


Born and raised in the Okanagan Valley Syd Cannings with his brother Richard, wrote British Columbia: A Natural History (1996; 2004, 2015), which won the Bill Duthie Booksellers Choice Award for best book published in B.C., the Canadian Science Writers’ Book Award, and the Lieutenant-Governor’s Silver Medal for best book on the history of B.C.