Denver's Geologic Setting

As appearing in The Gold Nugget, September 2005
by Paul Nagy

At the August 2005 meeting, the program featured a video, owned by Gary Hawley, depicting the geologic evolution of the area now occupied by metro Denver.

In our brief tour of duty on earth, we imagine our surroundings to have been pretty much the same as they are now. But at various times in the geologic past, standing in Lakewood, Colorado, we would have been standing on a mountain top, on a dune in a windswept desert, at the bottom of a barren acidic ocean, in a sweltering mangrove swamp, floating in a warm salty inland sea, on a placid upland, in a tropical rain forest, shivering on a vast glacier, or in a field of exploding volcanoes amid a shower of hot ash and rivers of lava.

For company, had humans existed through it all, we would have shared our space with gigantic voracious fish, insects the size of hawks, horses the size of foxes, bears as large as delivery vans, towering reptiles, saber-toothed cats like oxen, and myriad bizarre creatures, monstrous and tiny, now lost to geologic time.

In a high-speed kaleidescope of geologic history, the Rockies rise and fall twice, replaced by creeping oceans. Pegmatites, coarse granites, ooze up from the depths and then are exposed by erosion, showing their treasure of amethyst, garnet, and topaz. Gold deposits are emplaced, then exposed, and whose discovery in 1859 spurs the settlement of the region. Uranium is found, which in 1898, finds its way to the laboratory of Marie Curie.

Each science makes its unique impact on human sensibility. With astronomy, it is distance. With geology, it is time. The video compresses 1.8 billion years of Denver's earth history into 25 minutes of motion, while the narrator invites us to imagine 4.5 billion years of earth history as one earth year. In that case, humans only just appear before midnight on the final day. We are truly newcomers to an old world.

In comparison to the processes of the earth, man's doings are as nothing. May we some day accept our faint presence here and show fitting humility to the earth and respect to each other!

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