Medallion Name –  TOP OF THE WORLD

Significance – Everything is higher in Colorado; it’s the tallest state in the Union. The Centennial State land starts at a low of 3,350 feet above sea level and climbs from there. Be proud; Colorado is home to 58 of the nation’s mountain peaks taller than 14,000 feet in elevation. Known colloquially as “Fourteeners,” these mountains dominate Colorado’s Rocky Mountain skyline. These mountains were created rather quickly, geologically speaking….

Inscription – Long’s Peak, visible at the end of 17th Street, is 14,255 feet in elevation.

The National Forest Service lists 54 peaks of 14,000 feet in elevation with the state of Colorado. Mt. Elbert at 14,433 feet it the highest peak in the Rocky Mountain chain. Though there are higher mountains in the United States, Colorado claims the highest low point in the nation – 3,350 feet.

Location – 39°44’40.0″N 104°59’20.2″W

Details – Colorado’s Fourteeners are dispersed throughout the state’s Rocky Mountain backbone, rising in the San Juan, Sawatch, Elk, Mosquito, Tenmile, San Miguel, Sangre de Cristo, Front, and Gore mountain ranges. According to the Colorado Geological Survey, the tallest is Mount Elbert at 14,440 feet and the smallest is Sunshine Peak at 14,001 feet. In addition to being over 14,000 feet in elevation, a peak must include topographic prominence of at least 300 feet and be isolated from a higher summit. By this rule, Colorado has 53 fourteeners, California has 12, and Washington has two. The Rocky Mountains stretch far beyond Colorado; the range spans more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the Southwestern United States.

A mountain is a large landform that stretches above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak. They are formed through tectonic forces or volcanism which can raise the surface of the earth. Mountains erode slowly through the action of rivers, weather conditions, and glaciers. A few mountains are isolated summits, but most occur in huge mountain ranges.

The rocks that would surge into the Rocky Mountains were formed long before the peaks were raised by tectonic forces. The oldest rock is Precambrian metamorphic rock and sedimentary argillite from the core of the North American continent, it dates back more than 1.7 billion years.

The short story is that terrains and tectonic plates began to collide approximately 350 million years ago. This geological process lasted for around 270 million years; the effects of millions of years of Pacific seafloor plate and the North American plate grinding against each other finally forced the subduction of the Pacific plate under the North American plate around 80 million years ago.

Geological records show first steps in the formation of Pikes Peak occurred more than a billion years ago, when a tremendous bubble of magma forced its way up into the ancient rocks. This granite injection – a blend of salmon-pink feldspar, black biotite, and opaque gray quartz – combined to produce what is now known as Pikes Peak granite. This hard rock comprises Pikes Peak itself, as well as the coarse gravel eroding from the exposed boulders halted its upward course a few miles below Earth’s surface, cooling very slowly to become the Pikes Peak Batholith.

Toward the end of the Cretaceous period, some great readjustment took place within the body of the earth which caused worldwide changes at its surface. The disturbance forced seas to recede and lands to rise and weather into what we now know the Rocky Mountains.

The angle of subduction was shallow, resulting in a broad belt of mountains running down western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch far beyond Colorado; the range spans more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the Southwestern United States.

Since then, further tectonic activity, weathering and erosion by glaciers have sculpted the Rockies into dramatic peaks and valleys.  Over the last 2.5 million years, various ice ages have caused glaciers and ice fields to form all across Canada and the northern United States, extending throughout the Rocky Mountains. These tremendous masses of ice dramatically altered the mountaintops. Wide basins, called cirques, are a typical result of glacial movement. In addition, Pleistocene glaciers carved valleys and furrows out of the mountains as gravity pulled them downward, leaving great deposits of debris called moraines as they fluctuated in alternating episodes of ice encroachment and recession. As the last

ice age subsided, humans started to inhabit the mountain range. Minerals and furs drove the initial economic exploitation of the mountains, although the range itself never became densely populated.

Archival and archaeological evidence suggests that Ute and Arapaho peoples were some of the state’s first mountaineers. There is a renowned saga about an Arapaho elder named Old Man Gun Griswold who built a trap on Longs Peak’s 14,259-foot summit. He would a coyote carcass he would leave out as bait and wait patiently in a stone shelter for a passing eagle to come investigate. When an eagle lit near the carcass, Old Man Gun would leap from his shelter and grab the eagle by the feet.

Spanish, French, and American explorers were the next group to scramble up Colorado’s massive mountains. Beginning in the early eighteenth century, Spaniards in search of mineral wealth and new trade routes ventured deep into the heart of Colorado’s Fourteener country. Their presence is remembered in the names of Blanca, El Diente, San Luis, and La Plata Peaks and in the designation of Southern Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo (“Blood of Christ”) Range. French fur traders found Colorado’s prominent mountains the perfect navigational landmarks as they traversed the state seeking animal pelts.

It would be well into the next century before the U.S. government commissioned surveyed and cataloged the locations and elevations of Colorado’s highest peaks. One of the centers of North America’s great gold rush of the 19th Century, many of Colorado’s peaks bare the marks of early prospecting, surveying and mining. This is also reflected in the golden, if only short-lived, histories of many of the towns found across the region. The majority of 14er peaks share a modern history of mining.

Responsibility for managing most of Colorado’s Fourteeners falls to the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. Two exceptions are Longs Peak, which lies within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park, and Culebra Peak, which is privately owned. Mountains like Longs Peak and those in the Elk and Gore Ranges are the most popular because they are closest to Denver. Nearly all of the Fourteeners have some history of mining activity and a few, like Pikes Peak, have hosted ski areas.

The popularity and geographic prominence of Fourteeners in Colorado has led to the growth of distinct communities that identify strongly with a particular peak. Towns like Minturn, Buena Vista, Leadville, and Ouray have organized economically and socially around nearby mountains. This has transformed several of Colorado’s Fourteeners into potent symbols of community and also transformed these small mountain towns into popular jumping-off points for visitors wishing to experience the surrounding nature.

Thank you, Wikipedia, for this list of Colorado’s 14,000 peaks:


Quiz Questions

The National Forest Service lists how many peaks of 14,000 feet or more in elevation in the state of Colorado?

What is the name of the tallest peak in Colorado?

How did the Rocky Mountains form?

Please define a mountain peak’s topographic prominence.

How is a cirque created?