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The Flatirons


In my novel Profile, my character Arden Chase, a resident of Boulder, Colorado, mentions the Flatirons several times. They’re rock formations, but what exactly do they look like?

Depends on where you’re standing. Looking at them straight on, it can be difficult to distinguish them from the mountain that they are considered a part of, Green Mountain. To appreciate their unique features, you have to view them from an angle.

Now, I know most of you come here to enjoy the delights of my clever prose and my sardonic wit. So let’s just get this sciency stuff out of the way.
According to Wikipedia:

The Flatirons consist of conglomeratic sandstone of the Fountain Formation. Geologists estimate the age of these rocks as 290 to 296 million years; they were lifted and tilted into their present orientation between 35 and 80 million years ago, during the Laramide Orogeny. The Flatirons were subsequently exposed by erosion. Other manifestations of the Fountain Formation can be found in many places along the Colorado Front Range, including Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, Roxborough State Park in Douglas County, and Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison.

What does all that mean? How the hell should I know? I’m a fiction writer, not a geologist. Suffice to say they’re old, they’re rocks, and there are other examples of them besides Boulder.

Wikipedia mentioned Garden of the Gods and Roxborough State Park, both of which I’ve hiked in. I’ve also been to Red Rocks Amphitheatre several times. Not to hike, but any of you who have been there know what a hike (and climb) it is to get from the parking lots to the amphitheatre itself. Wear good, comfortable shoes and be really sure that the concert you’re going to see is worth it. (The Beatles played there in 1964. That one would have been worth it, but alas, I was only five at the time.)

Anyway, back to the Flatirons. They, along with these other formations, began forming long ago, when the Rocky Mountains were just a twinkle in the great inland sea. Numerous marine fossils have been found on these rocks which once formed the seabed. But as the seas retreated and one tectonic plate slid under another, it forced the seabed to turn upward, eventually resulting in the diagonal slabs of sandstone known as the Flatirons.

The majority of the people who visit the Flatirons close-up, though, don’t care how or when they formed. They’re just there to climb on them. That’s right, since the Flatirons are part of the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks system, they’re popular destinations for hikers and rock climbers.

Arden, like me, was more of a computer jockey than an adrenaline junky. He never climbed the Flatirons, but he (and I) hiked near them in Chautauqua Park. In this area, the Flatirons are so universally recognized that the word and the image are included in countless company names and logos. So it just seemed to make sense to refer to them in a story that was set here.

They truly are eye-catching formations. For those of you who can’t make it out here to see them, there’s actually a web cam that shows views of the Flatirons throughout the day, and even assembles them into a time lapse video.

Almost like being here, huh?