Western Colorado has been surveyed and mapped many times since the Hayden Geological Survey passed through the area in 1874 ahead of U.S. expansion into the west. But nothing has been accomplished quite like the survey and mapping project Paonia geologist Dr. Dave Noe embarked on back in 2006.
Noe, a fourth-generation Coloradan, attended the universities of Northern Colorado and Texas at Austin, and Colorado School of Mines. For about a decade of his career with the Colorado Geological Survey he was involved in STATEMAP, a nationwide effort to survey and map the country's geological features.
Beginning April 19, Noe will give a series of talks on the results of those surveys. Topics include some of the unique features that were discovered through the survey, and the practical applications the resulting maps present.
While working at CGS, Noe helped map more than 100 areas in Colorado. To create a single map, geologists, working with a geology student, survey the area for three months. The team then returns to Mines in Golden to enter data into a geographic information system (GIS). The result is an electronic image of the area's features that is then overlaid onto an existing topographical map.
The detail is unparalleled, said Noe. A single 7.5-minute quadrangle map can identify more than 35 individual geologic units, each telling a different story. The Mancos shale layer alone, about 4,000 feet thick in this area, contains about 12 different compositions between the North Fork and Montrose areas. Knowing how to interpret those stories has many practical uses, said Noe, including geotechnical engineering, geologic hazard assessment, mineral resource development, emergency management planning, and ground water exploration.
The maps aren't intended to promote or obstruct any particular use, said Noe. Every map is created using the same methodology. "We try to the best of our ability to interpret and show what geology we think is there," said Noe. "We want to be a trusted resource."
Unlike U.S. Geological Survey projects, which focused mainly on unpopulated areas, these surveys address populated and agricultural areas, and include both public and private lands. Property owners were very receptive to allowing access to their property, and curious to know what geological features they had, said Noe.
While landscapes change -- a most recent example being the 2014 West Salt Creek landslide on the Grand Mesa, these maps should have a shelf life of at least 200 year, said Noe.
With their intricate patterns and colorful details, the maps are also works of art. Noe showed the Orchard City quadrangle a couple of years ago at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts.
Select maps can be downloaded for free through the CGS website, www.coloradogeologicalsurvey.org. Hard copies are $35 and include the quadrangle map, a 3-dimensional map of the area, and a booklet describing the geologic history of the area.
Talks will be given at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at the Paonia Library; at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, at the Hotchkiss Library; and on May 12 at the Crawford Library, with the time to be announced later. Talks are sponsored by Delta County Library District and Western Slope Conservation Center.
Noe said his talks are geared to anyone interested in geology and how it relates to land use. They will include general information about the lava flows that occurred about 11 million years ago on Grand Mesa, the geological features of the West Elks range and Gunnison Uplift, and interesting discoveries revealed during the surveys. For example, 10 different versions of North Fork River flow areas, located between today's riverbed and about 8,000 feet in elevation, were identified. In other words, said Noe, "What's happening today happened systematically several times over about 2 million years."