The Aspen area, located 170 km southwest of Denver, Colo., lies at the intersection of the northeast-trending Colorado mineral belt and the west margin of the north-trending Sawatch uplift of Laramide age; it is within the southwest part of the northwest-trending late Paleozoic Eagle basin.
Precambrian shales and graywackes, perhaps as old as 2 billion years (b.y.), were converted to sillimanite-bearing gneiss and muscovite-biotite schist 1.65-1.70 b.y. ago. They were deformed into northeast-plunging folds and were migmatized, and they were intruded by quartz diorite, porphyritic quartz monzonite, and granite. Muscovite-biotite quartz monzonite intruded this older Precambrian terrane about 1.45 b.y. ago and is the predominant Precambrian rock near Aspen. Uplift, some faulting, and much erosion occurred during the 900-million year (m.y.) interval between emplacement of the plutonic rocks and deposition of Upper Cambrian sediments.
From Late Cambrian through Mississippian the region was part of a broad area alternately covered by shallow seas or occupied by low-lying land. Quartzite, dolomite, and limestone 200-320 m thick, comprising the Sawatch Quartzite and Peerless Formation (Cambrian), Manitou Dolomite (Ordovician), Chaffee Group (Mississippian(?) and Devonian), and Leadville Limestone (Mississippian) were deposited during this interval.
After an hiatus during which soil formation and solution of the Leadville Limestone took place in the Late Mississippian, a thick sequence of marine and nonmarine clastic rocks was deposited in the newly developing Eagle basin during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic. Deposition of about 300 m of carbonaceous shale, limestone, dolomite, and minor siltstone and evaporite of the Belden Formation began in a shallow sea in Early and Middle Pennsylvanian time. Facies relations indicate that the northwest-trending Uncompahgre uplift southwest of Aspen, if present at that time, had very low relief. The overlying Middle Pennsylvanian Gothic Formation of Langenheim (1952) contains calcareous sandstone, siltstone, shale, limestone, and evaporite. Its clastic debris, significantly coarser than that in the Belden, signals the initial rise of the Uncompahgre uplift bordering the Eagle basin on the southwest; the Gothic here lacks the conglomerates and fossiliferous marine limestones found closer to the uplift. Red terrigenous clastic rocks and minor limestone and evaporite of the Maroon Formation as much as 3,200 m thick, deposited mainly in a fluvial flood-plain environment during the rest of the Pennsylvanian and the Early Permian, indicate withdrawal of the sea caused by further uplift of the Uncompahgre highland.
Following an hiatus accompanied by local folding, the red conglomerate, sandstone, and siltstone of the State Bridge Formation (Late Permian and Early Triassic) was deposited in a fluvial-lacustrine environment adjacent to a much-expanded Uncompahgre uplift; a significant part of the State Bridge is material recycled from the Maroon Formation exposed to erosion on the flank of the uplift. The State Bridge, absent towards the south, becomes thicker and finer grained towards the north.
The Chinle Formation (Late Triassic) rests with angular unconformity on the State Bridge Formation. The Chinle contains a basal discontinuous quartz-pebble conglomerate (Gartra Member) and is chiefly calcareous siltstone and limestone, with some beds of sandstone and conglomerate composed of fragments derived from the limestone beds. The Chinle was deposited on flood plains and in lakes by streams. Storms may have disrupted the sediments in the lakes producing the limestone pebble conglomerates. The lack of feldspar in the Chinle indicates that the nearby part of the Uncompahgre uplift was not a sediment source, or was covered by a deeply weathered feldspar-free mantle. The formation, absent towards the south, thickens toward the north.
Thicknesses of the Maroon, State Bridge, and Ch
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USGS Numbered Series
Geology of the Aspen 15-minute quadrangle, Pitkin and Gunnison counties, Colorado