|West Elk Mountains|
|Peak||West Elk Peak|
|Elevation||13,042 ft (3,975 m)|
|Counties||Gunnison, Delta and Montrose|
|Parent range||Rocky Mountains|
|Borders on||Elk Mountains|
The West Elk Mountains are a high mountain range in the west-central part of the U.S. state of Colorado. They lie primarily within the Gunnison National Forest, and part of the range is protected as the West Elk Wilderness. The range is primarily located in Gunnison County, with small parts in eastern Delta and Montrose counties.
The West Elks are surrounded by tributaries of the Gunnison River. The range is bounded on the north by the North Fork of the Gunnison and on the east by the East River, another tributary of the Gunnison. On the south and west it is contiguous with Black Mesa and Fruitland Mesa, both part of the uplift in which sits the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. On the northeast it is contiguous with the Elk Mountains, being separated from them by Anthracite Creek and Coal Creek. Nearby towns include Gunnison, Paonia, and the ski resort of Crested Butte.
The northern and southern West Elk Mountains have contrasting geologic histories and surface features. In the north, the prominent peaks are laccoliths, formed when magma intruded into Mancos Shale about 30 million years go. Since then, the overlying Mesozoic sedimentary rock, including the relatively soft Mancos Shale, has eroded away, exposing the laccoliths. Laccoliths in the West Elk Mountains include Marcellina Mountain, Mount Gunnison, East Beckwith Mountain, the Anthracite Range, Mount Axtell, Carbon Peak, and Whetstone Mountain.
In contrast, volcanic rocks dominate the southern portion of the range. Shortly after the laccolith intrusions in the north, volcanic activity began to the south. A large stratovolcano and other vents ejected material that accumulated over what is now the southern West Elk Mountains. Most of these volcanic rocks are included in the West Elk Breccia Formation, a heterogeneous collection of volcanic materials including extensive mudflow deposits. West Elk Breccia is in places over 3,500 feet (1,100 m) thick.
On top of the West Elk Breccia, volcanic ash was deposited through repeated eruptions in the San Juan volcanic field to the south. Most of the ash was deposited 26 to 27 million years ago. The resulting rock, tuff, is relatively soft, but the ash landing toward the southern edge of the West Elk volcanic field was hot enough to fuse into harder welded tuff. These welded tuffs are more resistant to weathering than the underlying breccia and today they cap multiple south-sloping mesas in the southern West Elk Mountains.
Erosion has cut valleys and defined the mesas and peaks we see today. The highest point in the West Elk Mountains is West Elk Peak, which is located near the center of the large volcano that once dominated this landscape. Stratigraphic profiles of these rock layers can be seen at the southern edge of the West Elk Mountains where the Gunnison River has eroded through the volcanic strata. A good example can be seen at the Dillion Pinnacles in Curecanti National Recreation Area. The resistant welded tuff that caps Dillon Mesa is on top, overlying the West Elk Breccia, which has eroded into the pinnacles. Exposed under the breccia are the older, underlying Mesozoic sedimentary rocks including the Mancos, Dakota, and Morrison Formations.
|1||West Elk Peak NGS PB|| feet13,042|
|2||Mount Gunnison NGS PB|| feet12,725|
|3||Whetstone Mountain NGS PB|| feet12,527|
|4||East Beckwith Mountain NGS PB|| feet12,441|
|5||Anthracite Range High Point NGS PB|| feet12,394|
|6||Carbon Peak NGS PB|| feet12,088|
|7||Mount Guero NGS PB|| feet12,058|
|8||Coal Mountain PB|| feet11,710|
|9||Marcellina Mountain PB|| feet11,353|
Tuff is a type of rock made of volcanic ash ejected from a vent during a volcanic eruption. Following ejection and deposition, the ash is lithified into a solid rock. Rock that contains greater than 75% ash is considered tuff, while rock containing 25% to 75% ash is described as tuffaceous.
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The Colorado Plateau, also known as the Colorado Plateau Province, is a physiographic and desert region of the Intermontane Plateaus, roughly centered on the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States. This province covers an area of 336,700 km2 (130,000 mi2) within western Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, southern and eastern Utah, northern Arizona, and a tiny fraction in the extreme southeast of Nevada. About 90% of the area is drained by the Colorado River and its main tributaries: the Green, San Juan, and Little Colorado. Most of the remainder of the plateau is drained by the Rio Grande and its tributaries.
The Powderhorn Wilderness is a 62,050-acre (251.1 km2) wilderness area in Hinsdale and Gunnison Counties, Colorado, USA, located 5 miles (8.0 km) northeast of Lake City. Most of the northern part of the area, 48,115 acres (194.71 km2), about 77.5%, is located on Bureau of Land Management land and its southern portion, 13,935 acres (56.39 km2), about 22.5%, is located within the Gunnison National Forest. Elevations in the wilderness range from 8,500 feet (2,600 m) at the West Fork Powderhorn Creek to 12,661 feet (3,859 m) at the summit of Calf Creek Plateau.
Ute Mountain, also known as Ute Peak or Sleeping Ute Mountain, is a peak within the Ute Mountains, a small mountain range in the southwestern corner of Colorado. It is on the northern edge of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation. The Reservation forms the southwestern corner of the state and of Montezuma County.
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Mount Lamborn is a mountain summit in the West Elk Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 11,402-foot (3,475 m) peak is located in Gunnison National Forest, 5.9 miles (9.5 km) southeast by south of the Town of Paonia in Delta County, Colorado, United States. The summit of Mount Lamborn is the highest point in Delta County. Together with nearby Landsend Peak to the southwest, it lies at the western edge of the West Elks, rising dramatically nearly 6,000 ft above the valley of the North Fork Gunnison River to the west.
Crested Butte is a prominent mountain summit in the Elk Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 12,168-foot (3,709 m) peak is located in Gunnison National Forest, 2.1 miles (3.4 km) northeast by east of the Town of Crested Butte in Gunnison County, Colorado, United States. Ski lifts and runs of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort occupy the north side of the mountain.
Needle Rock Natural Area is located at the western edge of the West Elk Mountains of Colorado. The surrounding terrain is characterized by laccolithic mountains flanked by precipitous cliffs, extensive talus aprons, forested mesas, canyons, and spacious, well-watered intermontane basins. Needle Rock is an intrusive plug of monzonite porphyry cropping out 3.5 miles (5.6 km) east-northeast of the Town of Crawford in Delta County, Colorado, United States. At an elevation of 7,797 feet (2,377 m), the towering rock spire stands 800 feet (240 m) tall above the floor of the Smith Fork of the Gunnison River valley. The massive rock feature originated in the Oligocene geological epoch when magma intruded between existing sedimentary rocks as the crown of a buried laccolith or possibly the underlying conduit of a laccolith. Subsequent erosion has exposed the prominent rock formation seen in the natural area today.
Tomichi Dome rises north of U.S. Highway 50 west of Hot Springs Creek and south of Waunita Hot Springs Reservoir in the southeast quarter of Gunnison County, Colorado. It is situated within the Gunnison National Forest.
West Elk Peak, elevation 13,042 ft (3,975 m), is the highest summit in the West Elk Mountains of Gunnison County, Colorado. The mountain is in the West Elk Wilderness, northwest of Gunnison. The terrain consists mostly of volcanic breccia, known in this area as West Elk Breccia, dated at 35 to 30 million years old.
East Beckwith Mountain is a prominent mountain summit in the West Elk Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 12,441-foot (3,792 m) peak is located in the West Elk Wilderness of Gunnison National Forest, 13.4 miles (21.5 km) west by south of the Town of Crested Butte in Gunnison County, Colorado, United States.
Whetstone Mountain, elevation 12,527 ft (3,818 m), is a summit in the Gunnison National Forest of western Colorado. The mountain is located 3 mi (4.8 km) south of Crested Butte in Gunnison County. Whetstone Mountain is one of several prominent laccoliths found in the West Elk Mountains.
Carbon Peak, elevation 12,088 ft (3,684 m), is a summit in the West Elk Mountains of Colorado. The peak is southwest of Crested Butte in the Gunnison National Forest. Carbon peak is a laccolith formed during the mid-Tertiary period, and is part of the “laccolith triangle” as described by the Colorado Geological Survey.
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The geology of Nevada began to form in the Proterozoic at the western margin of North America. Terranes accreted to the continent as a marine environment dominated the area through the Paleozoic and Mesozoic periods. Intense volcanism, the horst and graben landscape of the Basin and Range Province originating from the Farallon Plate, and both glaciers and valley lakes have played important roles in the region throughout the past 66 million years.
West Beckwith Mountain is a prominent mountain summit in the West Elk Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 12,185-foot (3,714 m) peak is located in the West Elk Wilderness of Gunnison National Forest, about 16.5 miles (26.5 km) southwest of Crested Butte in Gunnison County, Colorado, United States.
Youngs Peak is a small mountain located on the western side of the West Elk Mountains just east of and overlooking Crawford, Colorado. It has an elevation of 7,424 ft (2,263 m) with about 600 ft (180 m) of vertical relief above the town below. Although much of the mountain is covered with sedimentary rocks, Saddle Mountain is an exposed igneous intrusion that geologists call a laccolith.
The Anthracite Range is a mountain range in the West Elk Mountains, a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The range is located in Gunnison County of western Colorado and lies within the West Elk Wilderness of the Gunnison National Forest. The Anthracite Range is one of several prominent laccoliths found in the West Elk Mountains.