Volcanic Plugs, Buttes, and Cones in Spanish Peaks Country

Huerfano County has been described as “a broken, tilted and eroded plateau bridging the mountains and the high plains.”

Most of the tilting we see today occurred during the Sangre de Cristo upthrust, about 27 million years ago, which tilted the county higher in the west. The easterly flow of the runoff caused the surface erosion we see now.

The fault lines that allowed for the fault block uplift we call the Sangre de Cristos run through western Huerfano County. However, there was a break in the rock being pushed up from around the south side of La Veta Pass to around the north side of Medano Pass. In the gap between those two areas there was a bubble of magma pushing up and about, which solidified in open holes and vertical cracks in the sub-surface of the Earth’s crust, forming the Spanish Peaks-White Mountains group (and the associated radial dike system) and the Mt. Mestas-Rough Mountain-Silver Mountain-Sheep Mountains group (and the associated radial dike system).

The same flow of magma also created Goemmer Butte, Gardner Butte, Huerfano Butte, Badito Cone, the Black Hills, and the pile of rock atop Greenhorn Mountain (about 25 million years old versus 1.7 billion years for the rock that makes up the lower parts of the mountain).

All of the buttes in Spanish Peaks Country are volcanic plugs, formed when magma flowed up a vent towards the surface but solidified in the form of a plug.

Goemmer Butte

Goemmer Butte is in the valley between the West Spanish Peak and the Sangre de Cristos.

Gardner Butte

Gardner Butte is in the valley between the Mt. Mestas-Silver Mountain-Sheep Mountains group and Greenhorn Mountain.

Huerfano Butte

To be different, Huerfano Butte is on the edge of the high plains, southeast of the foot of Greenhorn Mountain, just below the south shore of the Huerfano River.

Badito Cone

Badito Cone is actually a conical high point on a dike formation pointed directly uphill at the tops of Greenhorn Mountain. In the old days, travelers on the Taos (or Trapper’s) Trail looked for Badito Cone as a trail marker, which is how the settlement at Badito came to be.

Travelers on the San Luis Valley branch of the Santa Fe Trail would look for Huerfano Butte as a trail marker. At one time, there was a busy hotel, saloon, and post office located beside the Huerfano River, just north of the butte.

The Black Hills are an area where the magma flow didn’t solidify as dikes or as plugs but as a series of ragged hills. To see what all of this really looks like, take a trip some early morning: find your way to Greenhorn Mountain Road and follow it to the end. You’ll be on a shelf there, looking out over all of western Huerfano County.