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Pikes Peak stands beyond the valley

The Front Range is a mountain range of the Rocky Mountains of North America that is located in the north-central portion of the U.S.marker State of Coloradomarker. The Front Range is so named because, moving west along the 40th parallel north across the Great Plainsmarker of North America, it is the first mountain range encountered.

The name "Front Range" is also applied to the Front Range Urban Corridor, the populated region of Colorado and Wyomingmarker just east of the mountain range and extending from Pueblo, Coloradomarker, north to Cheyenne, Wyomingmarker. This urban corridor is made possible by the weather-moderating effect of the Front Range mountains, which help block prevailing storms.

This setting provides both scenery as the Front Range towers over Denvermarker and Bouldermarker and is an outdoors hotspot for the people living there who take part in mountain biking, hiking, climbing, camping, skiing, and snowboarding during winter. However, millions of years ago the present-day Front Range was home to ancient mountain ranges, deserts, beaches, and even oceans. The evidence for these vastly different landscapes lies in the very rocks the people of Colorado live on. Clues from these rocks have given geologists the necessary tools in unlocking the Front Range’s past.

Pike’s Peak Granite

About 1 billion years ago, the earth was producing mass amounts of molten rock that would one day amalgamate, drift together and combine, to ultimately form the continents we live on today. In the Colorado region, this molten rock spewed and cooled, forming what we now know as the Precambrian Pike’s Peakmarker Granite. Over the next 500 million years, little is known about changes in the sedimentation (sediment deposition) after the granite was produced. However, at about 500 – 300 million years ago, the region began to sink and sediments began to deposit in the newly formed accommodation space. Eroded granite produced sand particles that began to form strata, layers of sediment, in the sinking basin. Sedimentation would continue to take place until about 300 million years ago.

Fountain formation

Around 300 million years ago, the sinking suddenly reversed, and the sediment-covered granite began to uplift, giving rise to the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. Over the next 150 million years, during uplift the mountains would continue to erode and cover themselves in their own sediment. Wind, gravity, rainwater, snow, and ice-melt supplied rivers that ultimately carved through the granite mountains and eventually led to their end. The sediment from these once gigantic mountains lies in the Fountain Formation today. Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of Denver, Colorado, is actually set into the Fountain Formation.

Lyons Sandstone

At 280 million years ago, sea levels were low and present-day Colorado was part of the super-continent Pangaea. Sand deserts covered most of the area spreading as dunes seen in the rock record, known today as the Lyons Sandstone. These dunes appear to be cross-bedded and show various fossil footprints and leaf imprints in many of the strata making up the section.

Lykins Formation

30 million years later, the sediment deposition was still taking place with the introduction of the Lykins Formation. This formation can be best attributed to its wavy layers of muddy limestone and signs of stromatolites that thrived in a smelly tidal flat at present-day Colorado. 250 million years ago, the Ancestral Rockies were burying themselves while the shoreline was present during the break-up of Pangaea. This formation began right after Earth’s largest extinction 251 million years ago at the Permian-Triassic Boundary. Ninety percent of the planet’s marine life was destroyed and a great deal on land as well.

Morrison Formation

After 100 years of deposition, a new environment brought rise to a new formation, the sandstone Morrison Formation. The Morrison Formation contains some of the best fossils of the Late Jurassic. It is especially known for its sauropod tracks and sauropod bones among other dinosaur fossils. As identified by the fossil record, the environment was filled with various types of vegetation such as ferns and zamites. While this time period boasts many types of plants, grass had not yet evolved.

Dakota Sandstone

The Dakota Sandstone, which was deposited 100 million years ago towards Colorado’s eastern coast, shows evidence of ferns, and dinosaur tracks. Sheets of ripple marks can be seen on some of the strata, confirming the shallow-sea environment.

Pierre Shale

Over the next 30 million years, the region was finally taken over the by a deep sea, the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway, and deposited mass amounts of shale over the area known as the Pierre Shale. Both the thick section of shale and the marine life fossils found (ammonites and skeletons of fish and such marine reptiles as mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, and extinct species of sea turtles, along with rare dinosaur and bird remains). Colorado eventually drained from being at the bottom of an ocean to land again, giving yield to another fossiliferous rock layer, the Denver Formation. At about 68 million years ago, the Front Range began to rise again due to the Laramide Orogeny in the west.

Denver Formation

The Denver Formation contained fossils and bones from dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops. While the forests of vegetation, dinosaurs, and other organisms thrived, their reign would come to an end at the K-T Boundary. In an instant, millions of species are obliterated from a meteor impact in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsulamarker. While this extinction lead to the dinosaurs’ and other organisms’ demise, some life did prevail to repopulate the earth as it recovered from this tremendous disaster. The uplifted Front Range continued to constantly erode and, by 40 million years ago, the range was once again buried in its own rubble.

Castle Rock Conglomerate

Suddenly, 37 million years ago, a great volcanic eruption took place in the Collegiate Range and covered the landscape in molten hot ash that instantly torched and consumed everything across the landscape. An entire lush environment was capped in a matter of minutes with 20 feet of extremely resistant rock, rhyolite. However, as seen before, life rebounds, and after a few million years mass floods cut through the rhyolite and eroded much of it as plants and animals began to recolonize the landscape. The mass flooding and erosion of the volcanic rock gave way to the Castle Rockmarker Conglomerate that can be found in the Front Range.

Quaternary Deposits

Eventually, at about 10 million years ago, the Front Range began to rise up again and the resistant granite in the heart of the mountains thrust upwards and stood tall, while the weaker sediments deposited above it eroded away. As the Front Range rose, streams and recent (16,000 years ago) glaciations during the Quaternary age literally unburied the range by cutting through the weaker sediment and giving rise to the granitic peaks present today. This was the last step in forming the present-day geologic sequence and history of today’s Front Range.

Prominent peaks

The Front Range includes the highest peaks along the eastern edge of the Rockies. The highest mountain peak in the Front Range is Grays Peakmarker. Other notable mountains include Torreys Peakmarker, Mount Evansmarker, Longs Peakmarker, Pikes Peakmarker, and Mount Bierstadtmarker.

The 20 Mountain Peaks of the Front Range With At Least 500 Meters of Topographic Prominence
Rank Mountain Peak Subrange Elevation Prominence Isolation
1 Grays PeakmarkerThe summit of Grays Peakmarker is the highest point on the Continental Divide of North America. NGS Front Range 4352.000 = 14,278 feet

4352 m
0844.296 = 2,770 feet

844 m
00040.27 = 25.0 miles

40.3 km
2 Mount Evansmarker NGS Front Range 4348.000 = 14,265 feet

4348 m
0843.991 = 2,769 feet

844 m
00015.76 = 9.8 miles

15.8 km
3 Longs Peakmarker NGS Front Range 4346.000 = 14,259 feet

4346 m
0896.112 = 2,940 feet

896 m
00070.19 = 43.6 miles

70.2 km
4 Pikes Peakmarker NGS Pikes Peak Massifmarker 4302.310 = 14,115 feet

4302 m
1685.544 = 5,530 feet

1686 m
00097.82 = 60.8 miles

97.8 km
5 Mount Silverheelsmarker NGS PB Front Range 4215.000 = 13,829 feet

4215 m
0695.858 = 2,283 feet

696 m
00008.82 = 5.5 miles

8.8 km
6 Bald Mountain PB Front Range 4172.805 = 13,690 feet

4173 m
0639.775 = 2,099 feet

640 m
00012.09 = 7.5 miles

12.1 km
7 Bard Peak PB Front Range 4159.484 = 13,647 feet

4159 m
0518.465 = 1,701 feet

518 m
00008.74 = 5.4 miles

8.7 km
8 Hagues Peak NGS PB Mummy Rangemarker 4137.000 = 13,573 feet

4137 m
0737.616 = 2,420 feet

738 m
00025.62 = 15.9 miles

25.6 km
9 North Arapaho Peakmarker PB Indian Peaksmarker PB 4117.172 = 13,508 feet

4117 m
0507.492 = 1,665 feet

507 m
00024.78 = 15.4 miles

24.8 km
10 Parry Peakmarker Front Range 4083.340 = 13,397 feet

4083 m
0527.609 = 1,731 feet

528 m
00015.22 = 9.5 miles

15.2 km
11 Mount Richthofen PB Front Range 3945.770 = 12,945 feet

3946 m
0816.864 = 2,680 feet

817 m
00015.54 = 9.7 miles

15.5 km
12 Specimen Mountain PB Front Range 3808.261 = 12,494 feet

3808 m
0527.609 = 1,731 feet

528 m
00007.82 = 4.9 miles

7.8 km
13 Bison Peak NGS PB Tarryall Mountains PB 3789.400 = 12,432 feet

3789 m
0747.065 = 2,451 feet

747 m
00030.80 = 19.1 miles

30.8 km
14 Waugh Mountain PB South Park Hills PB 3570.910 = 11,716 feet

3571 m
0710.184 = 2,330 feet

710 m
00032.22 = 20.0 miles

32.2 km
15 Black Mountain NGS PB South Park Hills PB 3550.500 = 11,649 feet

3551 m
0680.923 = 2,234 feet

681 m
00012.92 = 8.0 miles

12.9 km
16 Williams Peak NGS PB South Williams Fork Mountains PB 3541.800 = 11,620 feet

3542 m
0624.535 = 2,049 feet

625 m
00017.37 = 10.8 miles

17.4 km
17 Puma Peakmarker PB South Park Hills PB 3528.049 = 11,575 feet

3528 m
0688.848 = 2,260 feet

689 m
00011.97 = 7.4 miles

12.0 km
18 Thirtynine Mile Mountain PB South Park Hills PB 3521.414 = 11,553 feet

3521 m
0636.422 = 2,088 feet

636 m
00017.08 = 10.6 miles

17.1 km
19 Twin Sisters Peaksmarker PB Front Range 3484.642 = 11,433 feet

3485 m
0709.574 = 2,328 feet

710 m
00007.01 = 4.4 miles

7.0 km
20 Green Mountain NGS PB Kenosha Mountains PB 3178.300 = 10,427 feet

3178 m
0566.623 = 1,859 feet

567 m
00006.72 = 4.2 miles

6.7 km

See also


  1. The elevation of this summit has been converted from the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) to the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88). National Geodetic Survey

Further reading

  • Fishman, N.S. et al. (2005). Principal areas of oil, natural gas, and coal production in the northern part of the Front Range, Colorado [Geologic Investigations Series I-2750-B]. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Sprague, L.A., R.E. Zuellig, and J.A. Dupree. (2006). Effects of urban development on stream ecosystems along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado and Wyoming [USGS Fact Sheet 2006-3083]. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.

External links

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