The NSS Bulletin - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 41 Number 3: 95-101 - July 1979

A publication of the National Speleological Society

Karst Development on the White River Plateau, Colorado
R. Mark Maslyn and Donald G. Davis


The White Riever Plateau in northwestern Colorado is a broad, 30 by 40 mile wide, domal uplift which underwent Pleistocene glaciation, primarly by cap ice. Mississippian-age Leadville Limestone is exposed over large areas of the plateau and possesses a wide variety of karst features, including the state's four largest caves. There is an approximate zonation of the karst features by altitude: areas below 7000 ft exhibit minor karren; from 7000 to 10,000 ft the major caves are developed; areas above 10,000 ft contain well developed alpine karst. The latter two division reflecet the presence or absence, respectively, of a protective cap of Belden Shale over the Leadville. Where the shale is present, major caves are developed. Where the shale has been removed, in the cental area of the plateau, alpine karst exists.

In the latter area, sinkholes are abundant and reach one-half mile in length. Dry valleys up to one mile in length are also present, with solution shafts up to 90 ft deep along their sides. Throughout the central area, surface drainage is quickly diverted underground to joint-controlled caves containing stairstep drops and passages. These caves span much of the 200-ft thickness of the Leadville. The water resurges as canyon-side springs in either the lower Leadville or the underlying Dyer Dolomite. Smaller-scale solution features are also present in the area. Locally, modern solution has exhumed red-siltstone-filled Mississippian age solution features as well. Faulting has locally influenced the development of the karst features.

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