The McCauley Sinks, in the Holbrook basin of northeastern Arizona, are comprised of some 50 individual sinkholes within a 3-km-wide depression. The sinks are grouped in a semi-concentric pattern of three nested rings. The outer ring is an apparent tension zone containing ring fractures. The two inner rings are semi-circular chains of large sinkholes, ranging up to 100 m across and 50 m deep. Several sub-basins within the larger depression show local downwarping and possible incipient sinkholes. Permian Kaibab Formation limestone is the principal surface lithology; the limestone here is less than 15 m thick and is near its easternmost limit. Although surface rillenkarren are present, and the sinks are seen in the Kaibab limestone outcrops, the Kaibab is mainly a passive rock unit that has collapsed into solution cavities developed in underlying salt beds. Beneath the Kaibab is Coconino Sandstone, which overlies the Permian Schnebly Hill Formation, the unit containing the evaporite rocks-principally halite in the Corduroy Member. Evaporite karst in this part of the Holbrook basin is quite different from the eastern part, probably because of the westward disappearance of the Holbrook anticline, a structure that has major joint systems that help channel water down to the salt beds farther to the east. Also, the McCauley Sinks are near the western limits of the evaporites. The structure at McCauley Sinks suggests a compound breccia pipe, with multiple sinks contributing to the inward-dipping major depression. The Richards Lake depression, 5 km southeast of McCauley Sinks, is similar in form and size but contains only a single, central sinkhole. An apparent difference in hydrogeology at McCauley Sinks is their proximity to the adjacent, deeply incised, Chevelon Canyon drainage, but the hydrologic connections are unknown. The 3-km-wide McCauley Sinks karst depression, along with five other nearby depressions, provide substantial hydrologic catchment. Because of widespread piping into karst features and jointed bedrock at shallow depth, runoff water does not pond easily at the surface. There appears to be a greater recharge efficiency here than in alluvial areas; thus concern exists for groundwater users downgradient from the karst area. Accordingly, sinkholes and open fissures should not be used for waste disposal.
Additional publication details
McCauley Sinks: A compound breccia pipe in evaporite karst, Holbrook Basin, Arizona, U.S.A