Looking below the surface of city water supply
Fifty-four years ago, in the summer, I came across Glenwood Springs’ water supply in an unusual manner. In the summer of 1948, I was a field geologist employed by the U.S. Geological Survey, a member of a team led by N. Wood Bass, a distinguished and crusty geologist, to map the geology of the Glenwood Springs 15-minute quadrangle, which encompassed much of the Flat Tops. We covered the territory on horseback, with each geologist operating on his own so as to cover as much territory as possible in the field season. One morning I took my horse string up No Name Creek instead of Transfer Springs or Storm King Mountain. The string consisted of two saddle horses and three pack horses.
I was then 25, a native New Yorker with a long cruise in the Pacific behind me and I knew then, as I know now, that I was one of the most fortunate persons on Earth. There could never be and never was a job as thrilling as mapping the Flat Tops!
No Name Creek was a rolling, tumbling mountain stream which later claimed the life of Jess Weaver, a distinguished rancher whose home was beside the stream. The climb with the horse string was a weekly event and the scenery was all new and spectacular.
The trail went higher and higher. As I approached the high country, something strange happened. There was silence. The only sound was from the pack string. I was still in a valley, but there was no sound from the creek.
I tethered my lead horse to a tree branch and walked back down the trail. Within 50 yards, the roar of the water was apparent. By scrambling down to the stream bed, I saw a great spring, probably the major source of No Name Creek.
Most surprising of all, the spring was not, as far I could see, in the Mississippian age Leadville limestone (known elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains as Madison limestone). The spring issued from a Devonian age quartzite within the Chaffee formation and maybe the Parting member and lying below the Leadville.
The Devonian quartzite is distinct, and outcrops in many places around the Flat Tops, but it is not a massive formation, being only a few feet thick. It can be seen from I-70 near the east end of the canyon, above the remarkable joint system in the Manitou dolomite.
The quartzite represents a beach sand made of grains of quartz fused together into a hard rock but is nevertheless permeable and porous. It acts, I believe, as a sort of sponge or blotter and contains, over broad areas, a great deal of water.
No Name Creek, although it is the principal source of water for Glenwood Springs, is not the only source. The adjacent drainage to the east of No Name Creek is Grizzly Creek, which is the secondary source of water for Glenwood Springs.
I neither searched for nor mapped any springs in Grizzly Creek or in Grizzly Meadows. Grizzly Creek was then too darn difficult for one person alone to explore in detail by horseback.
Grizzly Meadows is underlain by more than one quartzite formation and may possibly be a subsurface reservoir, especially after years of great snowpacks. In fact, it does seem likely to me. (Having mulled this over for 54 years gives me somewhat of an advantage.)
Surface water in both drainages is no doubt important, but aquifers in the Flat Tops – and great springs – may be a more likely and more stable source of water for Glenwood Springs and may better explain the constant flow.
I have told this story to my family at the dinner table more than they have the capacity to listen, and I am determined to pass on the tale to others.
Frank G. Cooley is a Meeker attorney and a former chairman of the Arkansas River Compact Administration.
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