Geochronology and geology of late Oligocene through Miocene volcanism and mineralization in the western San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Open-File Report 99-347

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Twenty-five new 40Ar/39Ar ages from volcanic rocks and veins in the western San Juan Mountains clarify relationships between volcanism and mineralization in this classic area. Five calc-alkaline ash-flow sheets erupted from caldera sources (Ute Ridge, Blue Mesa, Dillon Mesa, Sapinero Mesa, and Crystal Lake Tuffs) from 28.6 to 27.6 Ma. This is a much more restricted time interval than previously thought and indicates that the underlying batholith rose and evolved very rapidly beneath the western San Juan Mountains. The new ages and geologic relations constrain the timing of joint resurgence of the Uncompahgre and San Juan calderas to between 28.2 and 27.6 Ma. The collapse of the Silverton caldera produced a set of strong ring fractures that intersected with graben faults on the earlier resurgent dome to produce the complex set of structures that localized the mid-Miocene epithermal gold veins. Later calc-alkaline monzonitic to quartz monzontic plutons solidified at 26.5-26.0 Ma as the underlying batholith rose through its volcanic cover. A new age from lavas near Uncompahgre Peak supports earlier interpretations that these lavas were fed by nearby 26 Ma monzonite intrusions. Nearly all of these intrusions are associated with subeconomic Mo and Cu mineralization and associated alteration, and new ages of 26.40 and 25.29 Ma from the Ute-Ulay and Lilly veins in the Lake City region show that some of the most important silver and base-metal veins were temporally and possibly genetically connected to these plutons. In addition, the Golden Fleece telluride vein cuts all of the post-Uncompahgre caldera volcanics in the area and is probably temporally related to this cycle, though its age of 27.5 ? 0.3 Ma was determined by less precise U/Pb methods. The 22.9 Ma Lake City caldera collapsed within the older Uncompahgre caldera structure but is petrologically unrelated to the older calc-alkaline activity. The distinctive suite of high-silica rhyolite tuff and alkaline resurgent intrusions indicates that it is closely related to the early stages of bimodal high-silica rhyolite-alkali basalt volcanism that accompanied the onset of extensional tectonism in the region. Both 40Ar/39Ar ages and paleomagnetic data confirm that the entire caldera sequence formed in less than 330,000 years. Only weak quartz vein mineralization is present in the center of the caldera, and it appears to be related to leaching of metals from the intracaldera tuffs above the resurgent intrusion. Massive alunitization and weak Mo and Cu mineralization along the eastern ring fracture are associated with calc-alkaline lavas and stocks related to late stages of the caldera cycle. These calc-alkaline stocks also appear to be genetically and temporally linked to a radial pattern of barite-precious metal veins on the northeastern margin of the Lake City caldera.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Geochronology and geology of late Oligocene through Miocene volcanism and mineralization in the western San Juan Mountains, Colorado
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Version 1.0.
Year Published:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey,
33 p.