The Geologic Features of La Veta
The Spanish Peaks are located just east of the magnificent Sangre de Cristo Mountain range and just south of the town of La Veta, Colorado. The Spanish Peaks and all the other features, with few exceptions, were intruded as much as 10 km below the paleo surface that existed some 20-30 million years ago. The processes of uplift, weathering and erosion since then have revealed what we see today. All the features you see are referred to as “erosional remnants” because most of them are more resistant to weathering than the softer sedimentary rock they intruded.
Just south of La Veta on the west (right) side of the road is the tan-colored Goemmer Butte standing above the terrain. Goemmer Butte is a “plug” of very fine-grained rock replete with inclusions of amphibole (dark green clots of crystals) from the lower crust and entrained in the magma that brought it up to its current location. Goemmer Butte is one of the few features in the Spanish Peaks area that appears to have vented to the surface. Since Goemmer Butte lies several thousand feet lower than the Spanish Peaks, it is likely that the surface at the time of the intrusion of Goemmer Butte was somewhere between 1000′-5000′ above the top of the Butte. Around each turn you’ll find spectacular views of both the Spanish Peaks and the radial dikes.
Looking west of La Veta, you see the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountain range. There are also a number of other mountains you can see from La Veta not part of the Spanish Peaks or the Sangre de Cristo range. Two of the most notable are northwest of La Veta on the north side of US 160 are Mt. Mestas and Silver Mountain. Mt. Mestas is a fine-grained granite which some think has a rock glacier near the summit. A rock glacier is a glacier covered with rocks. Beneath the rocks on the surface is a layer a of ice. This is a point of contention among geologists.
Silver Mtn. is another body of magma that never reached the surface and intruded the crust approximately 36 million years ago. Silver Mtn. also has a ring of radial dikes extending out from the mountain.
Far to the north of La Veta is the southern nose of the Wet Mountains. The highest point of the Wet Mountains that you can see is Greenhorn Peak. The Wet Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are very old mountains (over 1 billion years old.)
East of La Veta is the Cucharas River valley. The Cucharas River has eroded much of the Park Plateau, another erosional remnant of the apron of sediment that came from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This is surface ready visible from the intersection of US 160 and CO 12, five miles north of La Veta.
These are just some of the fantastic features you can see around La Veta. Because of their uniqueness and accessibility many of these features are visited annually by numerous university field courses and geologic field trips. What makes them even more remarkable is that they are easily seen from your vehicle as you drive around the Scenic Highway of Legends. If you’d like to investigate the geology of the Spanish Peaks in more depth (pun intended) go to www.spanishpeakscolorado.com.