Colorado is a playground for geologists with its diverse selection of rocks and minerals that tell the story how our beautiful state was formed. What some don’t know, however, is that amidst the vast landscape lies many volcanoes that played a crucial role in how the land looks today. The phenomenon of volcanic activity helped shape Colorado and the evidence is all around us.
At one time, about 2/3 of Colorado was covered by volcanic rocks, according to the Colorado Geological Survey. The largest concentration of volcanic rock and debris from eruptions dating from about 37 million years ago to 25 million years ago can be found in the southwest region of the state today. Much of that has eroded away, but volcanic rock is still found in most areas of the state, and volcanic activity is still very much present.
Should Colorado residents be concerned about active volcanoes nearby? Should you raid your apocalypse bunker in preparation for catastrophe? Most likely not, but understanding the potential and history of Colorado’s volcanoes can’t hurt.
Dotsero is located at the confluence of the Colorado and Eagle rivers and sits at an elevation of 7,316 feet. While this volcano is considered active, there is no known threat of an eruption any time soon. The magma body of Dotsero, however, is still very much present and is the source of warmth for the hot springs in Glenwood Springs.
Notable Past Eruptions
The La Garita Caldera is a volcanic caldera (a depression in the landscape formed when magma evacuates the area) located in the San Juan Mountains near Creede. According to the USGS, La Garita Caldera was formed by one of the largest known volcanic eruptions in Earth’s history almost 28 million years ago. The eruption deposited about 3,107 cubic miles of lava throughout the state, playing a huge role in shaping the landscape we see today.
Visit a Colorado Volcano
Want to see Colorado’s volcanic activity first hand? Here are some hikes that can bring you back in time to when the Earth was more liquid than solid.
1. Dotsero Crater (a.k.a., Colorado’s most hikeable volcano)
The Dotsero Crater is located along the Dotsero-Ute Trail about one mile east of the town of Dotsero just before Glenwood Canyon on I-70. The Ute Indians were the first to use this trail followed by prospectors looking for silver ore in the Caronate mining area in the early 1900s. Take exit 133 to Dotsero and drive north on Colorado River Road about 0.5 miles to the trailhead. This out-and-back trail is about three miles one way with an elevation gain of 1,850 feet.
2. North and South Table mountains
Enter the main parking lot for North Table Mountain off of Highway 93 just north of Golden. Follow the North Table Loop trail for a moderate 3.2 mile roundtrip hike.
3. Goemmer Butte
Hike West Spanish Peak for the best view of the Goemmer Butte. Drive 20 miles south of La Veta on Highway 12. Turn east on Forest Road 46 and follow it six miles to the summit of Cordova Pass. There is a trailhead sign here for the moderate 7.9-mile out and back trail to the summit of West Spanish Peak.
4. La Garita Wilderness Area
The most striking spot to view the fallout from the La Garita eruption is at the Wheeler Geologic Area. The Wheeler Geologic Area was actually Colorado’s first national monument established in 1908. It lost its title in 1950 when it became a protected area of the La Garita Wilderness Area. Start your visit to this incredible place from Creede, Colorado.
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