The Geology Time Trail Gains Boulders from Local Historic Quarries

By Cindy Smith

The Cowan Brothers Quarry and the Byzantine Quarry in Shaws Park northwest of Cañon City have been producing building stone used locally, regionally, and even nationally, as well as aggregate for landscaping materials, for the better part of a century. Both quarries have generously contributed prized boulders to the Geology Time Trail located on the Pueblo Community College – Fremont Campus (PCC).

The Crossroads Through Time Heritage Park – Geology Time Trail project, which showcases rocks from local Fremont County formations and beyond, strives to help people understand and appreciate the beauty of our Fremont County landscape.

Heavy moving equipment was provided by Penrose Trucking

The Cowan Brothers Quarry, now quiet and historic, operated for much of the 20th century, run by brothers David and Joseph Cowan, providing travertine used in Cañon City and in the stunning Church of the Holy Ghost in downtown Denver, and also Fountain conglomerate in the walls of our Fremont County Administration Building and in columns in the East Lobby of the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. Sadly, the latter were removed a decade ago during construction of a new Capitol Visitor Center.

Their understanding of stonework passed to the next generation through David and Joseph’s nephew, John Foraker. The Foraker family gave permission for a partially sculpted travertine monument to be transported to PCC where it has been placed in a prominent position across from the main lobby and at the 1930-1940 period along the People & Places Trail (which celebrates recent history). This remarkable monument was ordered several decades ago by an individual, but after being partially sculpted, it was rejected due to a crack. Another stone was then made for the customer, and this huge travertine beauty has now found a new home where it can be admired and treasured.

Loading the travertine

Travertine is produced when either cold or hot water from underground seeps upward, covering the ground and leaving behind a precipitate of calcium carbonate. This travertine dates at about 1 million years old. At some time in the geologic past, an unfortunate humming bird nest complete with eggs was covered and subsequently fossilized in the water. Old timers will remember this on display at the Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center during the 1950s.

Rocky Mountain Landscape Materials in Pueblo West operates the Byzantine Quarry just north of the Cowan Brothers Quarry, producing rocks for landscaping needs. We believe this quarry was once also owned by the Cowan brothers. The Byzantine Quarry gave permission to relocate two huge boulders from much older rock units to be placed along the PCC Geology Time Trail.

Moving the Fremont Formation boulder to its new home

A Fountain Formation boulder with beautiful angular (close to the source) clasts, some very opaque green, now graces the trail at the 310 million year old mark. This mixture of rocks was deposited by violent rushing streams as the Ancestral Rocky Mountains were being eroded flat, producing a rock mix from the same time frame as the conglomerate walls of the County Admin Building, but with a distinctly different look.

The Byzantine Quarry also contributed a 350 million year old limestone rock showing clear lines of sedimentation. This Williams Canyon Formation is found in abundance west of Colorado Springs but only outcrops near Twin Mts in Fremont County, so we are delighted to have this unusual freshwater limestone boulder with striking sedimentary layering.

Several varied formations were deposited locally between 265 and 350 million years ago.  Some of these are mirrored in situ across Highway 50

Rich Jansen, owner of Penrose Trucking, provided transport, once again proving he’s the best in the region at transporting and maneuvering rocks; he has the patience and determination to place the boulders at the correct location along the trail which, at a scale of 1 foot equals 1 million years, helps people grasp the concept of Deep Time.

The Geology Time Trail now showcases the vast majority of local geologic formations in their appropriate place along the trail. The Crossroads Through Time Steering Committee is working to fill in those formations that are missing. Signage describing these gems from our landscape is our next priority, and will be in place once funding is available.

Loaded and ready to roll, three boulders en route to the Geology Time Trail at PCC.  Cindy Smith (Crossroads Through Time); Penrose Trucking owner Rich Jansen (in orange vest) provided transport for the boulders; Tracy Matthews, General Manager of Rocky Mountain Landscape Materials, gave permission from the Byzantine Quarry; Jim Nelson (Crossroads Through Time).
Partially sculpted travertine monument from the Cowan Brothers Quarry.
A 310 million year old Fountain Formation boulder along the Geology Time Trail
Placing the Williams Canyon Formation boulder at the 350 million year mark.