Remnants of Nature's Powerful Forces

A photograph of the Wall Mountain Tuff and it's wayside in the form of a postcard.
The Wall Mountain Tuff and its wayside.

NPS: Herb Meyer


Big Boom

Volcanoes are not active in Colorado today, making it hard to imagine a superheated mass of volcanic gas and pumice sweeping through this area. But 37 million years ago, an eruption near modern-day Mount Princeton 50 miles west of here caused a massive volcanic hurricane called a pyroclastic flow. A devastating "cloud" raced across the landscape at 100 miles per hour, incinerating everything in its path. The outcrop of purple and pink rock that can be seen here is a remnant of the Wall Mountain Tuff that formed from that eruption. It was the first of many such eruptions in Colorado during the 15 million years that followed.
Diagram showing hypothetical extent of Wall Mountain Tuff eruption, a large oval that circles around Castle Rock and Gunnison and nearly touching Leadville and Canon City.
Possible extent of the Wall Mountain tuff eruption based on the locations of rock outcrops today.

Colorado Geological Survey, Larry Scott

The volume of material ejected through the ancient volcanic eruption was a thousand times greater than in the 1980 Mount St. Helens event. Scorching ash and gases were spewed over hundreds of square miles. During the millions of years since, subsequent volcanoes, faulting, and erosion have covered or mostly removed most of the hardened volcanic rock. Scattered outcrops like the one here are all that is left, yet these Wall Mountain Tuff remnants provide clues about the ancient landscape.
Series of three images with arrow denoting increasing magnification: outcrop of pink-purple tuff, handsample of tuff, microscope slide of tuff.
The Wall Mountain Tuff under increasing magnification.

NPS; Michael Kelly; Bud Wobus and Christian Lockwood

A Massive Explosion

As the pyroclastic flow settled, minerals, pumice, ash, rock fragments, and glass were fused together by the heat to form this rock known as welded tuff.

The caldera that formed the Wall Mountian Tuff was the first of many across southwest Colorado between 37 and 23 million years ago. All of these calderas produced eruptive clouds and formed welded tuffs similar to the one here.
Schematic diagram illustrating the subduction of the Farallon plate under the North American plate and subsequent eruption of the Wall Mountain Tuff.
The Farallon Plate's angle of subduction steepened in the Eocene causing an inflow of asthenosphere. Hot asthenosphere caused melting in the lithosphere that erupted at the surface.

NPS/SIP Mariah Slovacek

Wall Mountain Tuff provided a source of rock that was well-suited for making stone tools. Archaeological artifacts found in the monument provide evidence that this rock was used as long as 8,000 years ago.
Photo of bile of boulders and a wayside panel at front.
Stop 13: Root's of Pikes Peak

Click here to go to Stop 13.

Map of the physical locations of the waysides.
Virtual Tour Homepage

Explanation of the virtual tour and links to all stops.

Photograph of a valley overlook with a wayside panel at front.
Stop 15: The Valley Overlook

Click here to go to Stop 15.

Last updated: September 3, 2022

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