Tag Archives: TEDxMileHigh

The History of the Rocky Mountains

IMG_1691 (1)Many travelers are motivated to visit a variety of destinations by intellectual curiosity; Curiosity about culture, people and history. Curiosity about nature, science, and how our planet works. Unique natural features, such as Arches National Park and the Badlands, always make me wonder. How did this these distinct features come to be? Why can this be seen on this little section of our planet and seemingly not everywhere else? Is there anything similar, anywhere else?

This leads us back to history; history that pre-dates human beings. The geological processes that produced the colors, shapes and terrain we admire often occur over multiple millions of years. Some even pre-date any of our mammalian ancestors. Over the course of any one person’s lifespan, it is highly unlikely that any changes in our natural world resulting from geological processes will be noticeable. Nonetheless, geological processes can manifest themselves in some rather explosive ways, including earthquakes, volcanoes and sinkholes.

All this is true of unique natural features like Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, as well as the ring of volcanoes in places like Iceland and Hawaii. This is also true of the larger natural feature that in many ways defines life in Western North America; The Rocky Mountains.

As it turns out, the Rocky Mountains, as far as mountain ranges go, are quite unique.

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This past weekend, Drs. Robert Anderson and Lon Abbott of the University of Colorado-Boulder, lead a group of people up Sugarloaf Mountain to examine the geological history of the Rocky Mountains. This event was put on by the TEDxMileHigh organization as one of their adventures.

Sugarloaf Mountain is a relatively easy hike 15 minutes West of Boulder, along the Boulder Canyon. The distance from the trailhead to the top of the mountain is only about 1.4 miles, and the vertical gain is less than 600 feet. However, it is said to have one of the best views of Boulder Canyon in the area.

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This particular hike was chosen to as a backdrop for presenting Colorado’s geological history based on the specific terrain features that appear along the trail. For example, 1.7 Billion Years ago, Colorado was a shallow Ocean with tall mountains sticking up out of the ground, much the way present-day New Zealand is. Some of the mountains in the distance resemble the mountains that one would see had they been floating (or canoeing) across this area at the time.

300 Million years ago, it was a tropical seashore. The Rocky Mountains themselves formed from a period of time roughly 70 Million years ago to about 40 Million years ago. More recently (over the past 8 million years), the Great Plains, which the trail periodically overlooks, began to subside, creating the sharp contrast between the flat terrain east of the mountains and the high peaks of the Central Rockies that we see in our present day world.

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At this exact elevation threshold, roughly 8500 feet, the type of rock observed changes, also a result of some of the long-term processes that created the Rocky Mountains.

The same combination of processes and events created some of the most celebrated unique rock formations of the region, including Red Rocks and Garden of the Gods. Thanks to the University of Colorado Department of Geology, this short hike became a trip through time.

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The view at the top didn’t disappoint. It was interesting to see the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains on an October day with some sun, but also plentiful cloudiness. It felt quite different from many of my hiking days Colorado, where there is often near total sunshine. I had previously forgotten about how much I enjoy seeing mountainous terrain like this, with sections of it lit by the sun, and other sections shadowed by the clouds, creating unique color contrasts that gradually shift over time.

The geological history of the Rocky Mountains is somewhat unique, and has yet to be fully explained. Geographically speaking, looking at a present day map of the world, the Rocky Mountains are fairly unique due to how far away from any major fault line they are.

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Many mountain ranges like the Andes and the Himalayans are right on a fault line and associated with geological activity; earthquakes and volcanoes. Colorado is not a hotbed for either, making for a somewhat unique mountain experience.

Geologists are still trying to explain why the mountains formed here the way they did. The Rockies continue to puzzle the scientific community. Why the mountains are as tall as they are when other properties of the Earth’s crust would indicate otherwise? Why did the Great Plains subside and become “disconnected” from the Front Range? Nevertheless, since geological processes are so slow, the mountains, as we see them today, are unlikely to change too much within any of our lifetimes.

Regardless of whether we are intellectually curious about why they are the way they are, or simply want to ski, hike, raft and climb, there are there and will continue to be there for us. They are confusing but consistent, much like life itself.

TEDxMileHigh: Point of Departure

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It’s a mid-summer weekend in sunny Colorado and thousands of people are standing in line, actually various lines that snake all around the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in downtown Denver. They are all waiting to get into the theater to hear a series of talks. These talks will cover a wide variety of subjects. One will be about a big idea, something that may change the world in the coming years. Another may be a personal narrative, and another may even be a musical or poetic performance. The only thing these talks have in common is the main draw. The main reason anyone chose to spend a Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in the middle of the summer inside a building as opposed to in the mountains where most Coloradans chose to spend their summer weekends, the association with a brand known as TED.

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Most people have some form of exposure to TED talks, even if they did not purposely seek them out. TED talks are shown at all sorts of conferences and workshops, are shared with friends and colleagues regularly, and are commonly found in web searches. This was the first time I chose to attend a TED event, but I have watched quite a few TED talks in my life. When you are really ill, watching TED talks on YouTube can be the most productive thing to do with your time.

What I notice most about TED talks, both at this conference and online, is the fact that I never get bored during them, despite the fact that I find it quite easy to get bored and antsy during presentations, especially of the standard power point variety. It is quite clear that the people who organize TED events (and TEDx events, which means they are independently organized) follow a formula that takes into account how the human mind works and responds to information as presented. Talks are generally 15-20 minutes, consistent with most scientific understanding of the human attention span. Short videos are presented between talks of wildly differing topics to ease the transition from one topic to another.

Speakers undergo a rigorous three-month long process of preparation to ensure all TED talks meet their standards. As a result, speakers always seem to emphasize the right words, stay poised, and avoiding using filler words. Auditions for speakers for this conference took place in February, and auditions for their next conference, in November, take place at the end of July!

When I think of the brand TED, the first thing I think of is people who think like me. By this, I do not mean people who have the same opinions on certain specific issues or policies. It is more of a general sense of what “TED people” are like. If there is one thing that binds all the people who speak at and participate in this brand known as TED, it is the desire to think beyond the day-to-day routine, the next task or the next purchase. People come here because they want to be inspired. They imagine possibilities beyond what is seen directly in front of them day-to-day. They want to engage their intellectual curiosity. They believe their life will be changed, or even that the world will be changed, by something they hear about and talk about here.

The conference provided a few other perks as well…

Each ticket, regardless of whether it was General Admission, VIP, or All Access, provided a free lunch, to be redeemed at one of many food trucks located in sculpture park behind the Denver Performing Arts Center (which houses the Ellie Caulkins Opera House). There were vendors for many other other organizations too, including ones that focus on environmental activism, sell new flavors of tea, or focus on career development. At the end of the conference, I even got a free pair of eclipse glasses, which I intend to use to view next month’s total solar eclipse.

 

After 22 speakers spread over three sessions, meeting countless interesting people, and a really awesome after-party (there was an after party both nights, but I only attended the Saturday night one due to poor meal planning on my part), I felt something absolutely crazy. I came out of this conference with more energy than when I had arrived. I wasn’t expecting this, as most conferences leave me drained. This one covers even more intellectually and emotionally draining topics than most.

The success of the TED brand seems to run contrary to every piece of business advice I have ever received. I am always told to have a specific product in mind, a narrower purpose, and a specific target audience, like all those blogs that focus on one activity.

Yet, this idea seemed to start with a broader purpose; to inspire and change the world. Then, they thought about humanity and found the most effective way in which to present the information. If TEDxMileHigh Point of Departure taught me anything (other than specifics like how fast a supersonic jet can go) it is to stop worrying about how others achieved, or what status anyone has. It is all about having something to offer that people see as worth-wile, and bringing it to them effectively, regardless of titles or perceived status.