Wel­come To The In­cred­i­ble Rain­bow Moun­tains Of Peru


“The mir­a­cle is not to walk on wa­ter. The mir­a­cle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present mo­ment and feel­ing truly alive.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the most mag­nif­i­cent ge­o­logic fea­tures in the world is the Au­san­gate Moun­tain of the Peru­vian An­des. The moun­tain is striped with col­ors rang­ing from turquoise to laven­der to ma­roon and gold. How­ever, this “painted moun­tain” is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to find and get to, re­quir­ing sev­eral days of hik­ing to reach its peak deep within the An­des by way of Cusco.

The painted Au­san­gate moun­tain is also con­sid­ered to be holy and be­lieved to be the de­ity of Cusco by local Peru­vians. It is a site of daily wor­ship and of­fer­ings by local cit­i­zens. Ev­ery year thou­sands of Quechua pil­grims visit the Au­san­gate Moun­tain for the Star Snow fes­ti­val which takes place a week

be­fore the Cor­pus Christi feast.

The moun­tain sits at an el­e­va­tion of 6,384 me­ters and is lo­cated ap­prox­i­mately 100 kilo­me­ters south­east of the ma­jor city Cusco. The local area is rich in ge­ol­ogy, from up­lifted granitic cliffs to glaciers which have eroded large val­leys and the cre­ta­ceous lime­stone “for­est” nearby.

The An­des are an in­cred­i­bly com­plex moun­tain chain that ex­tends along the western edge of the South Amer­i­can con­ti­nent. The sub­duc­tion of the Nazca plate un­der­neath the South Amer­i­can plate ini­ti­ated moun­tain build­ing and up­lift of the moun­tain range. This pro­duced sig­nif­i­cant vol­can­ism and the in­tro­duc­tion of rare and var­ied min­er­al­ogy to the An­des Moun­tains.

The rea­son we see the rain­bow col­oration in the strati­graphic lay­ers of the Au­san­gate moun­tain is largely due to weath­er­ing and min­er­al­ogy. Red col­oration of sed­i­men­tary lay­ers of­ten in­di­cates iron ox­ide rust as a trace min­eral. Sim­i­lar to how a nail will rust and turn red when ox­i­dized, sed­i­ments that are iron rich will change when ex­posed to oxy­gen and wa­ter. This, in com­bi­na­tion with up­lift and tec­ton­i­cally driven crustal short­en­ing has tilted the sed­i­men­tary lay­ers on their side ex­pos­ing stripped strati­graphic in­ter­vals.

The dif­fer­ent col­oration is due to dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions and min­er­al­ogy when the sed­i­ment was orig­i­nally de­posited and sub­se­quently di­a­ge­net­i­cally al­tered. In­tro­duc­tion of goethite or ox­i­dized limonite will in­tro­duce a brown­ish col­oration to sand­stones. The bright yel­low col­oration could be due to iron sul­phide as trace min­er­als within the pore ce­ment. In ad­di­tion, chlo­rite will of­ten color sed­i­ments vary­ing shades of green de­pen­dent on di­a­ge­netic his­tory and con­cen­tra­tion.

As your eye scans the many lay­ers of the Peru­vian Painted Moun­tain, you’re see­ing mil­lions of years of his­tory and all the com­plex­i­ties that are as­so­ci­ated therein. Un­der­stand­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal and ge­o­logic con­di­tions that formed the rock units we see to­day is one of the key build­ing blocks of ge­ol­ogy and al­lows us to bet­ter un­der­stand our world long be­fore hu­mans walked this green Earth.


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