Regional: Iconic Rabbit Ears Peak near Steamboat Springs goes floppy after losing a big chunk of an ear
Perhaps it was an ear piercing gone very, very wrong.
Or could it just be that awkward phase after a bad haircut?
No, it’s much more likely Mother Nature is to blame for what’s happened to Northwest Colorado’s iconic Rabbit Ears Peak.
The stone rabbit landmark that greets drivers and hikers on the top of Rabbit Ears Pass has recently lost a big chunk of one of its ears.
Local residents might not have even noticed the rabbit’s new floppy “do.”
But when viewed from U.S. Highway 40 heading east toward Denver, the western ear on viewer’s left is significantly skinnier and pointier following what appears to be an erosion event at the top of the rock formation.
The change can be seen with the naked eye.
After he was told about a possible change to the appearance of the rock formation, U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Chad Stewart said he made a point to look at Rabbit Ears Peak on a drive he took this week.
“It looked like a person was standing up there (on top of the ear),” Stewart said noting how the rock now has a very skinny point on top of it. “I do think it looks different.”
Steamboat Today started checking in on the health of the iconic rock formation after snowmobiler Andrew Crockett shared photos with the the newspaper last week that appeared to show a dramatic transformation.
So, on Thursday, a reporter armed with close-up photographs of the rock formation taken in 2014 huffed and puffed all the way up to the peak to take new photos to compare.
When the old and new photographs taken in the exact same spot are placed side by side, it proves a large chunk of rock at least as big as two humans gave way.
The change is even more dramatic when viewed from the start of the trail that leads up to the ears.
Local geologist Tom Delancey said he wouldn’t be surprised by a large chunk of the rock formation falling off.
The formation itself has always been fragile and precarious, he said.
“It wouldn’t take a whole lot of time for them to come down,” he said of the ears.
Delancey did not report seeing any major changes to the rock formation when he hiked up there last summer.
It raises the possibility that the big change occurred this winter.
(Help us pin down when the change occurred. Send your photos of Rabbit Ears Peak taken in the last two years including a date to reporter Scott Franz at email@example.com)
Delancey said about 90 percent of erosion in the nearby mountains can be attributed by frost wedging, which is caused by a repeated freeze, thaw cycle on rocks.
On a formation like Rabbit Ears Peak, water can build up inside cracks and holes, and the rocks can break free when the water freezes and thaws.
It’s this same process that causes large rocks and boulders to sometimes break free and roll onto highways in such places as Mount Harris Canyon.
But could the missing chunk of rock on Rabbit Ears be human caused?
The piece that broke off was at a height that would not be easily accessible to humans.
Stewart said there are also no rock climbers permitted to operate at the rock formation, making this scenario more unlikely than natural erosion.
Delancey said the Rabbit Ears Peak formation is the remains of pyroclastic debris that was launched out of a nearby volcano millions of years ago.
The material cooled and solidified, leaving behind volcanic rock material that was shaped into what it is today.
According to Steamboat Pilot archives, Rabbit Ears Peak was given its official name by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, who headed a United States Geological and Geographic Survey of the area in the late 1860s.
A plaque near the start of the hike up to Rabbit Ears Peak states the rock formation was named by the earliest trappers in the area because of its resemblance to a pair of rabbit ears.
The change to Rabbit Ears comes as other famous landmarks around the world are disappearing due to erosion and other natural causes.
Last year, frost was blamed for taking down a famous spire, or hoodoo, in Bryce Canyon, Utah.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10
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