Geology and Ore Deposits of the Uncompahgre (Ouray) Mining District, Southwestern Colorado

Professional Paper 1753




The Uncompahgre mining district, part of the Ouray mining district, includes an area of about 15 square miles (mi2) on the northwestern flank of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado from which ores of gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc have had a gross value of $14 to 15 million. Bedrock within the district ranges in age from Proterozoic to Cenozoic. The oldest or basement rocks, the Uncompahgre Formation of Proterozoic age, consist of metamorphic quartzite and slate and are exposed in a small erosional window in the southern part of the district. Overlying those rocks with a profound angular unconformity are Paleozoic marine sedimentary rocks consisting mostly of limestones and dolomites and some shale and sandstone that are assigned to the Elbert Formation and Ouray Limestone, both of Devonian age, and the Leadville Limestone of Mississippian age. These units are, in turn, overlain by rocks of marine transitional to continental origin that are assigned to the Molas and Hermosa Formations of Pennsylvanian age and the Cutler Formation of Permian age; these three formations are composed predominantly of conglomerates, sandstones, and shales that contain interbedded fossiliferous limestones within the lower two-thirds of the sequence. The overlying Mesozoic strata rest also on a pronounced angular unconformity upon the Paleozoic section. This thick Mesozoic section, of which much of the upper part was eroded before the region was covered by rocks of Tertiary age, consists of the Dolores Formation of Triassic age, the Entrada Sandstone, Wanakah Formation, and Morrison Formation all of Jurassic age, and the Dakota Sandstone and Mancos Shale of Cretaceous age. These strata dominantly consist of shales, mudstones, and sandstones and minor limestones, breccias, and conglomerates. In early Tertiary time the region was beveled by erosion and then covered by a thick deposit of volcanic rocks of mid-Tertiary age. These volcanic rocks, assigned to the San Juan Formation, are chiefly tuff breccias of intermediate composition, which were deposited as extensive volcaniclastic aprons around volcanic centers to the east and south of the area. The Ouray area, in general, exhibits the typical effects of a minimum of three major uplifts of the ancestral San Juan Mountains. The earliest of these uplifts, with accompanying deformation and erosion, occurred within the Proterozoic, and the other two occurred at the close, respectively, of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic. The last event, known as the Laramide orogeny, locally was accompanied by extensive intrusion of igneous rocks of dominantly intermediate composition. Domal uplifts of the ancestral mountains resulted in peripheral monoclinal folds, plunging anticlines radial to the central core of the mountain mass, faults, and minor folds. The principal ore deposits of the Uncompahgre district were associated with crosscutting and laccolithic intrusions of porphyritic granodiorite formed during the Laramide (Late Cretaceous to early Tertiary) orogeny. The ores were deposited chiefly in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary strata having an aggregate thickness of about 4,500 feet (ft) and occur beneath the early Tertiary unconformity, which in places truncated some of the uppermost deposits. A few ore deposits of late Tertiary age occur also in the sedimentary rocks near the southern margin of the district, but are restricted mostly to the overlying volcanic rocks. Ore deposits in the Uncompahgre district range from low-grade, contact-metamorphic through pyritic base-metal bodies containing silver and gold tellurides and native gold to silver-bearing lead-zinc deposits, and are zoned about the center of intrusive activity, a stock in an area referred to as The Blowout. Ore deposition within the Uncompahgre district was largely controlled by structural trends and axes of uplift established mainly in the late Paleozoic phase of deformation, but also in part by structural lin

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Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Geology and Ore Deposits of the Uncompahgre (Ouray) Mining District, Southwestern Colorado
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
U.S. Geological Survey
Report: x, 107 p.; 7 Plates