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Evaporite tectonism in the lower Roaring Fork River valley, west-central Colorado

June 4, 2002

Evaporite tectonism in the lower Roaring Fork River valley in west-central Colorado has caused regional subsidence of a differentially downdropped area in the southern part of the Carbondale collapse center during the late Cenozoic. A prominent topographic depression coincides with this collapse area, and drainage patterns within the collapse area contrast sharply with those outside of it. Miocene volcanic rocks are downdropped as much as 1220 m in the collapse area. Much of the structural lowering occurred along the margins of the collapse area. Major Laramide-age structures bound the east and west sides of the collapse area, but movement on these structures during late Cenozoic collapse was in an opposite direction to their Laramide movement. Within the interior part of the collapse area faults and folds have as much as 300 m of structural relief. Large blocks of rock may be rafting into the Roaring Fork River valley as underlying evaporite flows toward the valley. Sinkholes are common in the collapse area, as are closed, or nearly closed, structurally controlled topographic depressions that are formed in both surficial deposits and bedrock. Upper Cenozoic deltaic and lacustrine deposits preserved on ridgelines and mesas document the positions of former structural depressions that were initially filled with sediments and later breached by erosion. At least 450 m of syn-collapse sediments accumulated in a collapse depression on the north side of Mount Sopris. Complexly deformed and brecciated deposits in the interior parts of the collapse center are interpreted as collapse debris. Evaporite flow is an important element in the collapse process, and during early stages of collapse it was perhaps the primary means of deformation. Flow by itself, does not remove evaporite from the collapse area. Dissolution and accompanying transport of dissolved constituents by groundwater and surface water are the ultimate means by which evaporite exits the collapse area. Collapse continues today, as evidenced by historic sinkholes and modern high-salinity loads in rivers and thermal springs. Thick evaporite deposits still underlie much of the collapse area, so collapse will likely continue in the future.