Southern Rocky Mountain and Colorado

Plateau
Mid-Tertiary Impact Event



I have recently found a serious problem with the date of this event.
I have tentatively dated this event ~ 20 million years ago. The Pine
Valley Laccolith and the rest of the Iron Axis Laccoliths are dated
between 20.5 and 21.5 million years ago (Ma) as are the other Utah
Laccoliths and the Ogallala Formation. However, the Florissant
Formation near Pikes Peak is dated about 34 million years ago and
the Formation had to have been deposited after the Front Range
Impact Structures were formed. So unless there were several
impacts in this area which seem unlikely I have TO FIND ANOTHER
EXPLANATION. I believe I have found planar deformation structures
and shatter cones on all of the structure I have included in this
event, but the dates of the Utah Laccoliths are much younger than
the other structures along the axis of the Rocky Mountains. I
suppose that there could have been two separate impact events,
but I am not comfortable with two multiple impact events
overlapping each other within 15 million years. I am currently going
through all my notes to try and find an answer to this problem.


I will present evidence to support my hypothesis that there was an enormous
Mid-Tertiary Impact Event in the Southern Rocky Mountains and Colorado
Plateau.



























Hubble Telescope Image of the ―String of Pearls Comet‖ credit: Dr. H. A.
Weaver and Mr. T. E. Smith, STScI, NASA which might be an analog to the
impact event I am proposing.


Digital Elevation Model of the western United States upon which I have highlighted areas
where I have found evidence of shock metamorphism.

I have been asked by family, friends and colleagues what I have been
working on for the past 10 or 11 years. The project has grown from
gathering evidence to verify what I believed was a small isolated impact
crater (Pecos Impact Crater) into a regional impact event. This paper is an
attempt to help me put my thoughts in order, and a vehicle that may help me
explain what I have been doing for the last decade. I expect to be adding and
subtracting from this hypothesis for as long as I can keep my thoughts
together; however, it will always be a snapshot of my progress. So I beg
your indulgence as I jump off into uncharted water.
I am proposing several new impact structures along with known impact
structures, and evidence of shock metamorphism in areas that I cannot
associate with a specific impact structure within the Southern Rocky
Mountains and Colorado Plateau. The assumption that there was a impacting
body that caused multiple impacts and/or chain impacts helps me form a
hypothesis that allows me to predict the possibility of an individual impact
crater and test that prediction. My hypothesis speculates that all the impact
structures, proposed impact structures, and evidence of shock
metamorphism is coeval and is the result of the impact of an asteroid or
comet composed of loosely packed bolides ranging in size from dust to very
large bolides capable of creating an impact crater fifty or more kilometers in
diameter. There are both macroscopic and microscopic evidence that I
believe is the result of shock metamorphism and corroborates or
complements the specific proposed impact structure. In conclusion I will
present a working hypothesis of the history and development of this impact
event.
I am slowly publishing the evidence I have accumulated and the new impact
structures I have identified in Scribd (http://www.scribd.com/tmcelvain_1). So far
I have written up my evidence on the following new impact craters:
Santa Fe Impact Structure, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Iron Axis Structures, St. George, Utah

Pecos Structure, Pecos, New Mexico

La Sal Mountains Structure, Moab, Utah

Abajo Mountain Structure, Blanding, Utah

Cerro Blanco Structure, Gallina, New Mexico

El Capitan Structure, Lincoln, New Mexico

Emory Caldera, Mimbres, New Mexico

Musing about a seismic interpretation, Uinta Basin, Utah

Amalia-Comanche Point Impact Structure, New Mexico

The two following impact structures are known and are described by other
authors:

Upheaval Dome, Moab, Utah

Sierra Madiera Impact Structure, Fort Stocton, Texas



My History
Bachelor of Science Geology,
University of Arizona
I am a petroleum geologist and was
part owner and President of a small
family oil and gas exploration and
production company for forty years.

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE
HISTORY OF MY
INVESTIGATION

After I retired from the oil business
in 1997 I decided to map the
geology surrounding our home near
Pecos NM. The geology and the
structure in that area completely
confused me until serendipitously
my wife and I visited Rochechouart, France in 1998 we rented an apartment
for a week, because we thought the town and surrounding countryside would
be interesting to visit and walk through. While we were there I found a
museum dedicated to the Rochechouart Impact Structure, which also had a
map of walks illustrating various elements of the structure. During our stay
as I visited the museum and walked the countryside a light went off in my
head, I all of a sudden understood what was confusing me at home. Further
investigation convinced me that our home lay within the central uplift of a
morphological complex impact crater approximately 9 miles in diameter. In
order to try and prove that the Pecos Structure was an impact crater I began
to read about impact craters and attended field sessions and field trips on the
subject. During this process I came away with the realization that the only
definitive proof of an impact structure is the presence of shocked quartz
more particularly planar deformation structures (PDFs). Shatter cones can be
proof of impact but they can also be made by lesser explosions. With the
assumption that one would have to find shocked quartz or shatter cones
within the structure I began to examine the quartz in the sandstone within
the Pecos Structure. I found planar microstructures (PMs) in the sandstone,
and what I believe is a shatter cone. In order to substantiate that the PM's
were shock induced I measured the angle pole of the plane of the planar
microstructure to the c-axis, and then to indexed the results. My field work
and subsequent laboratory work convinced me that the Pecos structure in
indeed an impact structure, see my paper on the Pecos Impact Structure.
During my field work I also found what appeared to me to be another
smaller impact structure within the Pecos Structure, which intrigued me and
expanded my area of interest. I began looking in the Pecos area finding
evidence of shock metamorphism as I explored farther and farther afield I
have ended up searching and finding evidence of shock metamorphism all
over the Southern Rocky Mountains and Colorado Plateau.
With the one assumption that shocked quartz is the only definitive evidence
of an impact crater I began to prospect for shocked quartz. The results were
interesting and encouraging but confusing. At first I began to look for shock
metamorphism in the center of likely structures, but it soon became apparent
that I was more likely to find the shocked quartz in the youngest and
highest structural beds affected by the proposed impact even if they were
some distance from the center and near the structure’s outer ring. This may
have resulted in the fact that in many cases there was twenty to thirty
thousand feet of sediment on top of the basement rock that dissipated the
energy of the shock wave pressures such a degree that there was not
enough pressure to shock the quartz in the basement rock. Slowly after
years of field and microscope work the immensity of the Impact Event
began to sink into my head. If my hypothesis is correct the impact was
caused by an extended asteroid or comet resembling the Shoemaker-Levy
Comet as it impacted Jupiter. In that case the size of the individual impact
structures would be fractal. The impacting pieces of the asteroid or comet
would range in size from very large bolides down to dust. These pieces of
the large extended asteroid could be composed of different material and
density that would result in a wide variety of impact crater morphologies.
Due to the countless number and fractal nature of the impacting objects the
structures are very complex and difficult to identify; however, I now believe
I can recognize some very large melt bodies and central uplifts even though
many of the el ement s impact structure have been destroyed by erosion
and/or overlapping impacts. And most important I believe I have identified
some distal ejecta of this giant impact event. The planar microstructures
(PMs) that I have identified fit the scale of PDF’s and in many cases there
are two or more sets of planar features in a single quartz grain, and to my
knowledge there is no known example of two or more sets of a low pressure
or Bohm lamellae within a single crystal. Assuming I have discovered shock
metamorphism I have developed a working. This working hypothesis is a
work in progress and is subject to radical changes as my research continues.



Working Hypothesis
My present working hypothesis is that there was a mid-
Tertiary impact of a comet or asteroid that was pulled apart
by the earth’s gravity and resembled the Shoemaker-Levi
comets impact of Jupiter. This enormous impact event
materially affected the formation of the Southern Rocky
Mountains and Colorado Plateau. This working hypothesis
is a very broad brush history and obviously erroneous in the
details.

The progress of my research and exploration for impact
craters and shock metamorphism in the Southern Rocky
Mountains, and Colorado Plateau has created a picture of
the area that does not fit any of the present interpretations of
the geologic history of this province that I am aware of.
Over the past ten years as the enormity of the evidence
began to accumulate I had to develop a working hypothesis
to help me put everything into perspective. This hypothesis
assumes a very large comet or extended asteroid impact
created an impact scar consisting of hundreds if not
thousands of impact craters created by objects varying in
size from large bolides to dust, all of which resulted in what
might loosely be described as a giant crater some 1000
kilometers in width, and depending on how far the earth’s
gravitational field extended the comet or asteroid the length
could vary from 1000 kilometers to a chain impact two or
more thousand kilometers in length.
The proposed impact virtually blasted away or helped to
remove huge volumes of the sediment from Mid-Tertiary
down into the Precambrian, followed over the intervening
by isostatic readjustment that activated old faults and zones
of weakness resulting in the present topography. Another
interesting fact that I believe helps support my theory is
that some of the structures on the western edge of the crater
over print the Sevier Thrust Fault, which would date them
after the Laramide Orogeny, and not associated with the
thrust faulting.
Figure B is an artist’s rendition of the Shoemaker-Levi
comet impacting Jupiter. I believe this is a good algorithm
to use for my vision of the Mid-Tertiary, Southern Rocky
Mountain – Colorado Plateau impact event.
The proposed impact virtually blasted away or helped to
remove huge volumes of the sediment from Mid-Tertiary
down into the Precambrian, followed by isostatic
readjustment that activated old faults and zones of
weakness resulting in the present topography. Another
interesting fact that I believe helps support my theory is
that some of the structures on the western edge of the crater
over print the Sevier Thrust Fault, which would date them
post Laramide Orogeny, and not associated with the thrust
faulting.
Figure B is an artist’s rendition of the Shoemaker-Levi
comet impacting Jupiter. I believe this is a good algorithm
to for me to use for my vision of the Mid-Tertiary,
Southern Rocky Mountain – Colorado Plateau impact
event.



B.
Figure C below is a photo of some of the actual impacts of
the bolides of the Shoemaker-Levi Comet on Jupiter:
however, I do not believe the earth’s gravity was strong
enough to pull the comet or asteroid this far apart. I believe
the impacting objects would be much closer together and
many would be right on top of each other.


C.


On the digital elevation map D. below I have placed yellow
circles where I have found evidence of shock
metamorphism and other corroborating evidence of extra-
terrestrial impact. It is difficult to date some of these
proposed impact structures, but many of them disturbed
Eocene and earlier formations. The Sierra Madera structure
has been dated as a Mid-Tertiary structure. There is a major
Mid-Tertiary angular unconformity throughout this area.
The latest intense mountain building and rifting is dated
Mid to Late-Tertiary, and a major period of volcanism
also started about this time. The orange dots on the map
are placed where I have collected samples of aeolian sand
containing grains of quartz with possible PDF's in the
Ogallala Formation which I believe is reworked distal
ejecta and Mid-Tertiary in age.



D.
Figure E below is a map copied from The Evolution of
North America, 1959, Philip B.
King, Princeton University Press, and the thickness of
Early Tertiary sediment preserved within in the Inner
Rocky Mountains is represented by numbers. I used this
thickness data to make an isopach map of total thickness of
the early Tertiary sediment that I believe was deposited in
the Cretaceous Intercontinental Seaway trough instead of
the various Inter Rocky Mountains that exist today. The
isopach contours that I have overlain on King’s map
represents the thickness of the clastic wedge of Tertiary
sediments deposited before the mid-Tertiary unconformity,
assuming that they were deposited in one continuous basin
(The Cretaceous Intercontinental Seaway), and that
Laramide deformation was pretty much confined to
intensified thrusting along the Sevier Belts.





















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E.


Figure F below is a copy of a cross section taken
from The Evolution of North America,
1959, Philip B. King, Princeton University Press.






F
Figure G. below is a cartoon of a possible cross
section of the active foreland basin before the impact event.
With some magic from Photoshop I warped the above cross
section to represent the subsidence caused by the vigorous
renewed activity of the foreland and rapid deposition of
clastic Tertiary sediments into the Intercontinental Seaway.
The rapid deposition of clastic material would drive the
seawater from the Intercontinental Seaway. The subsidence
from this load of clastic material probably caused a lake to
form east of the Sevier Belt where the fresh water Eocene
shale was deposited.
Orange represents Triassic and Jurassic Sediments.
Blue represents Paleozoic Sediments
Red represents Precambrian rocks


G.
Figure H below is a cartoon that illustrates how this
proposed impact blasted away large amounts of sediment,
effectively un-roofing what will later become the Southern
Rocky Mountains and Colorado Plateau. The variation in
the intensity of the bombardment would have removed
much more sediment in one location than another. The
intermountain basins then would represent areas of lesser
bombardment and in the mountains where Precambrian
rocks are exposed would represent areas of intense
bombardment. In other words the older the rocks exposed
at the surface the more that area has been bombarded. This
would explain the structural nature of the intermountain
basins and as an aside may help explain why the rather
impermeable sandstones in these basins are fractured which
greatly enhanced oil and gas production in these basins.



H.
Figure I below is a carton of the result of isostatic
readjustment after the impact. The differences in
displacement in the mantle after the uneven removal of
tremendous volumes of over burden would reactivate old
Precambrian faults and form new ones in order to bring the
mantle and continental rocks back into equilibrium.



I.


Figure J. below is a photo of a digital elevation map of
North America. If the comet was extended further by the
earth’s gravity the impact tract could extend from
Guadalajara Mexico into southwest Montana – notice the
chain of circular structures. The Colorado Plateau is a very
pronounced circular structure and there is another centered
on Guadalajara Mexico and numerous smaller and less
defined ones in-between. All these structures are on a
plateau about the same elevation as the Colorado Plateau.
This idea is purely speculative; I have not studied any rocks
in Mexico.





J.
The furthest south I have found quartz with planar
microstructures is in Big Bend National Park in far west
Texas. There also is a structure there called the Solitario the
formation of which looks like an impact structure but
researchers have not been able to convince the experts that
the planar microstructures found there are definitive.



K. El Solitario
I believe more work should be done on this crater
before it is completely condemned as an impact structure.
The problem being that the only sedimentary rock with
quartz is some one thousand meters below the present
surface. Cretaceous and Tertiary sediments would have to
be added to the to the present one thousand meter depth of
the crater making two or more thousand feet of overburden
from the Mid-Tertiary impact target sediment to the present
exposed quartz formation, and it is my experience that the
shock wave would have attenuated and lost enough energy
traveling through the target rock to shock the quartz in this
formation with enough energy to generate planar
deformation structures.

Distal Ejecta resulting from the Mid-
Tertiary Impact Event
The immense crater formed by the comet or asteroid left a
crater approximately six hundred miles in diameter
including the Southern Rocky Mountains and Colorado
Plateau. An impact of this size would have to have
deposited a layer of distal ejecta. I believe the stratigraphy
of the Ogallala Formation is also indicative of an ejecta
blanket. In general the lower units of the Ogallala Fm. are
composed of sand and gravel which represent the upper
Cenozoic and Mesozoic clastic formations of the target and
the upper Ogallala unit is rich in limestone which would
represent the Paleozoic limestone of the target rock. The
resulting stratigraphy is overturned as would be expected in
an ejecta deposit. The red dots on the following map
located on the high plains mark the locations where I
collected samples of the basal eolian sand in the Ogallala
Formation



The red dots are locations where I have collected samples of the Ogallala Formation
which I believe is distal ejecta, and the yellow dots are locations where I have found
evidence of shock metamorphism that I believe is related to the Southern Rocky Mountain
and Colorado Plateau Impact Event.


.





The blue flags on the above map mark the locations where I
have found planar microstructures (PM's) in the basal
eolian sand beds in the Ogallala Formation. The planar
features fit the scale of planar deformation features (PDF's)
and there are usually more than two sets of planar features
in a crystal which rules out Bohm lamellae.

The Ogallala Formation




The above illustration marks the present location of the
Ogallala Aquifer published in Upper Arkansas River
Conversation Project Reconnaissance Study, August 2005,
Prepared by Wright Water Engineers, Inc. and Spronk
Water Engineers, Inc.


The Ogallala formation and the gravels associated with it
are an enigma. The slope of the Ogallala formation is 10 to
11 feet per mile, or approximately 1 foot in 528 feet, or
approximately 1 inch in 50 feet. A stream flowing across
this plane would barely move much less carry gravel or
sand some 300 miles from the source. One easy assumption
is that all the sand and gravel is distal ejecta; however,
there are other problems with this assumption. There is
fossil evidence in some locations of evolution over the 20
plus or minus million years since the base of the Ogallala
was laid down. I do not know how this dilemma could be
solved except by reworking of the sediment, or that the
impacts were not coeval but happened over millions of
years. At present it is enough to say that the age of the
earliest deposition conforms to the 21.5 plus or minus year
old age of the proposed Southern Rocky Mountain and
Colorado Plateau Impact Event.
The following excerpts from the article Downloaded
from gsabulletin.gsapubs.org on 20 May 2009 illustrate
the magnitude of the enigma concerning the Ogallala
Formation.
? ?
Geological Society of America Bulletin Post-Paleozoic
alluvial gravel transport as evidence of continental
tilting in the U.S. Cordillera
Post-Paleozoic alluvial gravel transport as evidence of
continental tilting in the U.S. Cordillera
Paul L. Heller

Kenneth Dueker Margaret E. McMillan


Department of Geology and
Geophysics, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82
071, USA
ABSTRACT
The western United States contains three thin but
remarkably widespread alluvial conglomeratic units
that record episodes of large-scale tilting across
the U.S. Cordilleran orogen in post-Paleozoic time.
These units are: (1) the Shinarump Conglomerate of
Late Triassic age exposed in northern Arizona and
adjacent parts of Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico; (2)
Lower Cretaceous gravel deposits that overlie the
Morrison Formation throughout
the Rocky Mountain region










. Thus, long wavelength tilting of the
Earth’s surface must have occurred for these gravels to

; (3) gravel-rich
parts of the Miocene-Pliocene age Ogallala Group in
western Nebraska and adjacent southeastern Wyoming.
Paleoslopes of the rivers depositing these units were in
the ang of 10
4
to 10
3
, based on paleohydraulic
calculations. However, depositional thickness trends of
these units are not sufficient to have generated such
steep paleoslopes

be transported. Although these units were deposited
adjacent to large tectonic features, including an
evolving and migrating continental arc, and, for the
Ogallala Group, the northward-propagating Rio
Grande Rift, the tilting occurred over wavelengths too
broad to be directly generated by these features. These
widespread gravel units attest to the interplay between
the creation of subduction-related isostatic and dynamic
topography and continental sedimentation. Hence,
paleotopography, as determined from calculated
transport gradients of sedimentary deposits, provides a

E-mail: heller@uwyo.edu.

Present address: University of Arkansas at Little Rock,
Department of Earth Sciences, Little
Rock, Arkansas 72204, USA.
means of relating constructional landforms to mantle-
driven processes.
Keywords: paleohydraulics, tectonics, dynamic
topography, U.S. Cordillera, conglomerate,
paleotopography, syntectonic sedimentation.
INTRODUCTION
A common characteristic of synorogenic alluvial
conglomerates is the relatively limited distance they
prograde from their uplifted source areas out into the
adjacent basins— most are found within a few tens of
kilometers of their associated mountain fronts (Fig. 1, A–
G). The restricted distance of gravel deposition reflects the
long-term balance between the rate of delivery of coarse
sediment supply and basin subsidence rate that acts to trap
the gravel. Since on an elastic plate both supply and
subsidence are proportional to the size of adjacent
mountain belts, it is no surprise that basin sedimentation
patterns have a similar length scale.
In contrast, a few conglomeratic units seen in the U.S.
Cordillera are unusually widespread in distribution (Stokes,
1950; Stewart et al., 1972a; Heller and Paola, 1989), being
deposited over many hundreds of kilometers downstream
from their source areas (Fig. 1), yet being relatively thin
over their entire extent. These gravels are related to the
temporal and spatial pattern of subduction and late
Cenozoic uplift of the central and southern Rocky
Mountains. We argue that the occurrence of these thin,
widespread gravel units does not reflect climatic controls,
but must record times of large-wavelength/low-amplitude
tilting of the continental interior. Thus, we believe they are
the stratigraphic records of deep processes affecting the
western U.S. during post-Paleozoic time.


Heller et. al. have attributed the geometry of the
Ogallala formation to the tilting of the continental interior;
however, I believe the geometry of the bed is the result of
the formation being an ejecta blanket.

Planar Microstructures possible Planar
Deformation Features

The following photomicrographs are of quartz grains found
in the basal eolian sand in the Ogallala Formation collected
from locations marked with the blue flag in the above map.
In most of the photomicrographs the quartz grains have two
intersecting sets of fresh planar microstructures (PM's) that
fit the scale of planar deformation features PDF's. I do not
see how the shocked sand grains could have eroded from a
shocked terrain. I believe the sand was deposited in a cloud
of fine grained ejecta and was deposited over this enormous
area. The sand probably was reworked by the wind which
removed the fines.






08040-2-400X

..

0.020 mi-Q






















As illustrated in the above photomicrographs the
planar features are straight, and fit the 1 to 5 micron
separation scale necessary to be classified as Planar
Deformation Features. The fact that in many cases there are
two or more sets of planar features also tends to confirm
that the planar features are indeed Planar Deformation
Features.

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