Contact versus Regional Metamorphism: The Secret to Yule Marble’s Unrivaled Quality

To Understand the Supreme Quality of Colorado Yule Marble

You Need To Know The Difference Between

Contact and Regional Metamorphism

 

For years now, since February 2013 to be precise, I have taken every opportunity to inform anyone willing to hear me out that Colorado Yule Marble is not only “on a par” with the finest commercial marble in the world, but is technically, scientifically and geologically superior structurally and integrally. And perhaps even as importantly, dare I say it, in looks !

It was actually September of 2011 when I began my Yule marble journey, as I split a huge slab of well seasoned marble and carved the resulting blocks into over 41 individual carvings. And over this eight-year span I have not only collected much statistical data on the subject, some of which you are about to receive, but have myself carved Yule marble in very large volumes, and to incredibly demanding proportions, so that I now firmly believe would not be possible with marble created via Regional Metamorphism. And to date none of my carvings, touch wood, have broken, chipped or cracked even though they have been propelled into the real world, both indoor and out, in every possible way.  Because not only is Colorado Yule Marble a miraculous material in-of-itself, and capable of holding tensile strength in a way that Regional Metamorphosed Marble, I suspect, could never aspire, let alone duplicate; it also happens to be a very, very, extraordinarily rare commodity. And so let’s begin there.

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Take a look at the above picture, and the next time you see the Lincoln Memorial recall that every last little piece of it came out of this tiny little quarry. For there are no others around the corner, down the road, in the next state, or anywhere in the entire North American continent. This is IT. This is THE Colorado Yule Marble quarry – the ONLY quarry in this entire enormous region to boast Contact Metamorphosed marble. And so bear this tiny little quarry in mind as you scroll down and see the nature and scale of its commercial rivals across the seas in Europe.

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Now, take a look at the scale of the Carrara operation. And believe me, this is not the whole picture – the major part of it for sure, but quarries are to be found nestled across a region that spreads several miles in a semicircle fanning out from the Mediterranean coast.

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Once the marble is hewn from the mountain it is hauled down through a special tunnel dug in order to bypass the town of Carrara, and distributed around the multitude of huge gantry yards, as indicated by the white contrast to the red tiled rooftops of Tuscany.

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And there it is; the semi-precious stone that can actually be seen from space! In fact, so gigantic are the proportions that passing tourists routinely mistake the marble topped mountains for snow. For I must say, that was pretty much the impression they made on me too, and I knew for sure that they were marble because I had scrambled all over them myself. And yet, snow capped peaks they really appeared to be.

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And so, once again, here it is – the mighty Yule Marble Quarry in its entirety. Do I need to labor the point further? I thought not. And so we will move on to the science, geology and applied logic implied by my bold proclamation that: Colorado Yule Marble is actually not merely the equal to that of its well known rivals, but actually way superior to that of any commercial marble on the market today, as evidenced by its new found status as ‘The most desired, sought after and expensive marble in the world’ by many within the highest level of the international marble industry.

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please click to enlarge

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For ease of understanding let us begin with Wikipedia:

Yule Marble is a marble of metamorphosed limestone found only in the Yule Creek Valley, in the West Elk Mountains of Colorado, 2.8 miles (actually 3.8) (4.5 km) southeast of the town of Marble, Colorado. First discovered in 1873—it is quarried underground at an elevation of 9,300 feet (2,800 m) above sea level—in contrast to most marble, which is quarried from an open pit and at much lower elevations. The localized geology created a marble that is 99.5% pure calcite, with a grain structure that gives a smooth texture, a homogeneous look, and a luminous surface. It is these qualities for which it was selected to clad the exterior of the Lincoln Memorial and a variety of other buildings throughout the United States, in spite of being more expensive than other marbles”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule_Marble

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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Lincoln Memorial

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And now let’s see what Oregon State Education has to say on the subject:

“Rocks are formed on Earth as igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic rocks. Igneous rocks form when rocks are heated to the melting point which forms magma. Sedimentary rocks are formed from the cementing together of sediments, or from the compaction (squeezing together) of sediments, or from the recrystallization of new mineral grains which are larger than the original crystals. Metamorphic rocks form from heat and pressure changing the original or parent rock into a completely new rock. The parent rock can be either sedimentary, igneous, or even another metamorphic rock. The word “metamorphic” comes from Greek and means ‘To Change Form’. Temperature increases can be caused by layers of sediments being buried deeper and deeper under the surface of the Earth. As we descend into the earth the temperature increases about 25 degrees Celsius for every kilometer that we descend. The deeper the layers are buried the hotter the temperatures become. The great weight of these layers also causes an increase in pressure, which in turn, causes an increase in temperature.

Contact Metamorphism occurs when magma comes in contact with an already existing body of rock. When this happens the existing rocks temperature rises and also becomes infiltrated with fluid from the magma. The area affected by the contact of magma is usually small, from 1 to 10 kilometers.

Regional Metamorphism occurs over a much larger area. This metamorphism produces rocks such as gneiss and schist. Regional metamorphism is caused by large geologic processes such as mountain-building. These rocks when exposed to the surface show the unbelievable pressure that cause the rocks to be bent and broken by the mountain building process.http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/metamorphic-rocks-lesson-14

Finally, here is Science Direct weighing in:

Regional Metamorphism occurs over wide areas, affects large volumes of rocks, and is associated with tectonic processes such as plate collision and crustal thickening (orogenic metamorphism) and ocean-floor spreading (ocean-floor metamorphism). During the subsidence of large basins, sedimentary piles can be affected by PT conditions of 200–400 °C and 0.05–0.2GPa. These conditions mark the transition from diagenesis to metamorphism and are named burial metamorphism. 

Contact Metamorphism is caused by igneous intrusions as a result of the thermal effects of hot magma on the surrounding cooler country rock.  Pyrometamorphism is a special form of contact metamorphism at very high temperatures (> 1000 °C) and very low pressures (< 0.1GPa), affecting small fragments of country rock in a volcanic or subvolcanic environment.” https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/regional-metamorphism

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So, what was that about that small fragment of “country rock in a volcanic or subvolcanic environment? Just take a long look at that Colorado Rocky Mountain landscape below and ask yourself whether this sort of terrain could possibly fit the “Pyrometamorphism” credentials for the “special form of contact metamorphism at very high temperatures (> 1000 °C) and very low pressures“? Well, I am here to suggest that it very well might. In fact, this would appear to be the very reason why Colorado Yule Marble is so very special (and rare) indeed.

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Rare, and very special as it is; Colorado Yule bears all the hallmarks of perhaps the greatest white marble ever to be quarried. And now that you have discovered just why that might be, scientifically, geologically and plain logically; let me now show you the scale of Europe’s biggest marble quarry just for comparison.

By-the-way, in no way am I trying to put down or impugn the magnificent nature, ethic or endeavors of the rather magnificent, and relatively new Pirgon Quarry, which I must stress is according to their own website “the largest quarry of white marble in Greece and one of the largest worldwide…. Located in Drama of Northern Greece, near the village of Pirgon”.

This beautiful little video lays out the case rather well, for although the massive quarry can claim top spot when it comes to volume, I suspect that even the quarry owners must acquiesce when it comes down to thorny issue of sheer quality. For if you watch the marble being loaded in the first 30 seconds of the film you will see a massive block of marble crack and split as it is being loaded – literally falling apart from under its own weight. Then when you look around you will see many, many such misshapen blocks. And although I am not decrying their commercial use, the same weaknesses are practically unknown with Contact Metamorphosed Yule, as evidenced by all the many straight-sided cubes of perfectly extracted blocks of marble adorning the quarry yard, as seen below

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Introducing the Largest Quarry in Europe

Birros Marble Quarry, Pirgon,

near the village of Drama of Northern Greece

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In my next post I aim to feature the Birros quarry for a special report, as from what I can see – as opposed to Yule and Carrara, the former of which I have carved often, and the latter I have scrambled all over – the way they have gone about the quarrying operation is nothing short of exceptional, and as with Yule, serves to provide itself as a prime example of 21st Century marble quarrying.

Whether Birros traces its geological ancestry to Contact or Regional Metamorphism remains to be confirmed, as such information is not easy to source. However given the lack of visible surface granite (as indicated by Yule marble’s stark ridge in the form of that dramatic ‘brow line’ – or magma capping the open seam), I would place my money on it being Regional, as is the case with all Carrara marble quarries. Because after all, you can only quarry what you have, and in both Italy and Greece, what they have on their hands it appears would have been produced via Regional Metamorphism, given the rareness of Contact, and the proliferation of Regional Metamorphosed marble throughout the eastern Mediterranean region. It is therefor logical to surmise that Birros is of the latter more prolific Regional variety, but I will find out for sure one way or another and get back to you.

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The evidence as provided above would appear conclusive: Regional Metamorphism is the result of friction gained via enormous pressure as the earth’s tectonic plates scraped past one another, over incomprehensible periods of geological time. This would explain why we find so very much of it, and spread over such vast periods of land. It also explains just why most of it is so completely fractured as to be virtually unrecognizable as marble. Regional Metamorphism, by creating so much heat from tension and pressure, also sows the seeds of its own downfall, for very little of the marble quarried is of commercial value.

Contact Metamorphism creates marble superior in every way to that of Regional Metamorphism by the very nature in which it was created: the higher temperatures, the Pyrometamorphism effect as it is known, whereby not just most, but practically ALL the marble quarried is of fine commercial grade – as I have found out, and the new owners of the quarry appear naturally convinced. And so I’ll leave you with one or two quotes from the men themselves who find them charged with extracting the world’s finest marble, from the world’s MOST beautiful landscape. And boy, do they do a fantastic job, or what?

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STEFANO MAZZUCHELLI: Yule Marble Quarry Master

“I work in the quarry (industry) about 38 years. I love the (Yule) marble, I love it because usually in a regular quarry we recover about 20 to 25 percent, right here we are recovering about 60 to 80 percent, so it is all good marble.”

DANIEL PENFIELD: Quarry Safety Manager

“The future of Colorado Stone Quarries looks very good. Since I’ve been here we’ve gone from having our strictly lower (100 year-old) workings, to opening portals 5, 6 and 7. We’ve made major investments in equipment, safety, and every aspect of quarrying up here.”

MARCO PEZZICA: Italian Marketing Manager

“I am from Italy, my home town is Carrara, which is considered the capitol in the world for the excavation of white marble, and my family has been in this business for generations. What to say? It is amazing. Many years of my life all over the world to see quarries, but not even in Carrara do you see quarries with such a pattern and uniformage. Not at all.”

DANIELE TREVES: General Manager

“Every day when you pull one block, you are there like everything is new. Because you know what you have in front, in your face, but you never know what is at the back. It’s a challenge, every day. Every day it is a challenge. The challenge here is first to keep open the quarry all year long, but we ‘not lost a single day of work. We are able to work five days a week, all year long, of course! All the equipment we have here for quarrying the block, everything is from Italy. Not because we are Italy, but because I believe in the world we are the best in the business of the marble. We have a good crew, a good team. I am happy when they get home.”

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At one time, believe it or not, this remote little Rocky Mountain town of Marble, Colorado hailed the world’s largest finishing mill – the remains of which are still to be viewed to this day. Rich men, poor men and men of every stripe in between have bet all they had on Yule, and lost, many a time, over and over, for well over a hundred years. But that is a long and familiar story here at martincooney.com, for I currently count myself within those ranks. But fortunately for me, those days would appear to finally be over. For it was never a question of the quality of Colorado Yule Marble – that has never really been in doubt (again, look for the many links on this site to prove it). What has plagued, damned and near destroyed the great Colorado Yule Marble Dream has been a killer combination of utter rugged remoteness, and the formerly unfathomable distances involved in getting this most beautiful stone to market, without shaking, rattling and rolling it to death along the way.

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Courtesy of Marble Museum, Colorado

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These days, as we all know, such transportation problems are consigned to the past. Furthermore, the machinery quarry masters and marble haulers have at their disposal today would make their predecessors head spin. Now, with the quarry currently engaged in the launch of a new fabrication plant in the nearby city of Delta, at last commercial amounts of top grade Colorado Yule Marble blocks will be hitting the market in increasing numbers in the months and years to come. So stay tuned, and I’ll keep you informed on events as they unfold.

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Contact versus Regional Metamorphism: The Secret to Yule Marble’s Unrivaled Quality

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thanks for visiting martincooney.com

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