2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM


NESSE, William D., Department of Earth Sciences, Univ of Northern Colorado, Campus Box 100, Greeley, CO 80639, william.nesse@unco.edu

Detailed E-W structural cross sections based on published geologic maps, oil well, and related data extending across the Colorado Front Range between 38o 30' and 41o 00' N latitude at 7.5' intervals show the following:

• The east flank of the Front Range is bounded by an east-dipping homocline cut at intervals by relatively small E- to NE-dipping, high-angle reverse faults and fault-propagation folds. From Boulder south, the homocline is locally modified by the east-directed Boulder and Golden thrusts, and the Jarre Canyon, Perry Park, and Rampart Range faults whose net slips are less than ~2 km. These faults are not continuous along the mountain front and are located where the dip of the sediments exceeds ~60oE.

• The west flank is bounded by west-directed thrusts that include, from north to south, Green Ridge thrust, thrust of Canadian River, Cameron Pass thrust, Never Summer thrust, thrust of Ninemile Mountain, thrust of Bottle Pass, Mount Bross thrust, Williams Range thrust, and Elkhorn thrust. They are associated with large-scale, often overturned folds that apparently developed prior to propagation of discrete thrust faults. The net slip on the thrusts is ~10-15 km, based on exposures in the Never Summer Mountains and adjacent to the Montezuma Stock in the Roberts Tunnel.

These observations indicate that the Laramide Front Range was produced by dominantly west-directed thrusting associated with shortening of the crust beneath the range. Tectonic uplift of the range relative to the Denver Basin exceeds 6 km. The thrusts along the east flank are interpreted as backthrusts. Tectonic models that involve vertical uplift on faults whose dip increases with depth on both flanks of the range are not compatible with the geologic data, nor are models that treat the range as a large flower structure on a wrench fault system.

If the thrusts are assumed to dip ~35oE beneath the range, >6 km of tectonic uplift requires >10.5 km of tectonic transport, similar to the actual slips on the Never Summer and William Range thrusts. Given an average width of ~65 km, the depth at which the thrusts must flatten to produce the homocline on the east flank of the range is ~45 km, which is the approximate depth of the Moho. These observations indicate that the Laramide Front Range uplift was produced by west-directed crustal-scale thrusts with 10-15 km of net movement.