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The two impressive mountains coming up ahead are the Spanish Peaks, a landmark for all the people who passed through here: Native Americans, soldiers, trappers, traders, settlers, and gold seekers. The peaks are part of the gigantic Southern Colorado volcanic field, which began forming 40 million years ago. Here's geologist Brian Penn: BRIAN PENN: This is all part of the same volcanic field. There are mega volcanoes and we have one right there. We are talking some big, mega eruptions. The two peaks aren't actually volcanoes themselves. About 25 million years ago, a pool of magma pushed its way to the surface, but didn't erupt. Instead, it cooled and hardened into rock. But back then, you wouldn't have been able to see the peaks, because this all happened underground. BRIAN PENN: Everything you see around you is an erosional remnant, what was left after all the wind, and all the water and everything got rid of all the dirt and rock that wasn't as resistant. And the peaks themselves have just been exhumed. The Spanish Peaks have inspired many legends and a wide variety of names. The Ute are a Native American tribe who lived in these mountains during the summer months for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. One of the names you'll hear today for the Spanish Peaks comes from the Utes. Their name for the mountains was Wahatoya, meaning two elders or guardians, though you might also hear them called the breasts of the earth. Spanish-speakers called them Dos Hermanos, or two brothers. But most people today just call them the East Peak and the West Peak. In the early 20th century, yarn-spinning Louis Sporleder arrived in Huerfano County. As he explored the mountains and plains around the Spanish Peaks, he wrote long legends that he claimed to have heard from Native Americans. These were tales of mischievous demons, evil priests, talking panthers, and beautiful princesses. One of his stories tells of the history of this dry landscape. In the Spanish Peaks lived the rain and sun gods. They were generous, making the land into a beautiful Eden. People were happy and life was easy. But one day, a new group of people arrived, bringing with them war and unhappiness. Their violence angered the gods, who shut the gates of rain. The land became arid. The lakes evaporated, and food was scarce. Sporleder says that if you go close to the mountains, you can still hear the gods rumbling under the surface, showing their anger at the violence of mankind.
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