Geology of the Western Slope

  • Rocky Mountain Conservancy
  • August 12, 2017
  • Location: 1895 Fall River Road, Rocky Mountain Conservancy, CO
  • Phone: (970) 586-3262
  • Price: $80 per adult

The western part of Rocky Mountain National Park offers a grand opportunity to see some of the oldest rocks in Colorado as well as some beautiful examples of very recent (geologically speaking) glacial features. In this course, participants will learn how geologists interpret the nature and history of the rocks they study, as well as the processes that created and deformed the rocks. We will be looking far back in time and deep into the Earth to understand how metamorphism changed sediments that may have been more than two billion years old into the 1.75-billion-year old schists and gneisses that dominate western RMNP's bedrock. We will examine the effects of tremendous tectonic forces that began more than 69 million years ago and caused these rocks to be heaved up more than two miles above sea level. The extensive volcanic activity that occurred just 25 million years ago in the Never Summer Range on the west side of the Park will be another topic of our investigation.

Ever since the present day Rockies were uplifted to their highest elevations, erosion has been at work demolishing these majestic mountain ranges. Glaciation was a principle agent of erosion that began its work about 300,000 years ago and continued until about 12,000 years ago. We will investigate the glacial features produced during the two major periods of glaciation during that time. The western side of Rocky Mountain National Park displays many wonderful examples of both erosional and depositional glacial features.

In this course, our time will be spent in the field examining features of geological interest. The goal is to provide a general knowledge of the geologic history of this region and the thought processes and geologic tools used by geologists to decipher this history. Much remains to be learned about some of the geologic processes that shaped the geology of the western part of the Park.

Whereas most of our observations will be made from roadside stops, we plan to take a few short hikes, time permitting. Our hikes will not be strenuous, but you will need to bring raingear, good shoes for hiking, water, and a lunch. Since part of our day will be spent above tree line, it would also be advisable to bring a warm layer or two of clothing.

Geology of the Western Slope