Middle tertiary volcanic field in the southern Rocky Mountains

Memoir of the Geological Society of America



A widespread volcanic field covered most of the Southern Rocky Mountains in middle Tertiary time, 40 to 25 m.y. ago (approximately Oligocene time). This field covered an erosion surface that beveled structures formed during the Laramide orogeny in Late Cretaceous and early Tertiary time. The source vents from which the volcanic rocks were derived were largely restricted to the deformed area. Recognized volcanic centers lie mostly within a broad triangular area bounded on the east by the Rocky Mountain front, on the northwest by the northeast-trending Colorado mineral belt lineament, and on the southwest by the southern margin of the recurrently active Uncompahgre-San Luis uplift. Local volcanic centers existed also in the Never Summer Mountains and Rabbit Ears Range north of the mineral belt lineament. The resulting volcanic field thus consisted of a major southern segment covering all of south-central Colorado and adjacent New Mexico and a northern segment extending into the mountain areas of north-central Colorado. The two segments were linked along the trend of the Colorado mineral belt. Most of the volcanic field consisted of volcanic rock of intermediate composition derived from many widely scattered volcanoes. Extensive aprons of volcaniclastic rocks around these volcanoes coalesced to provide a virtually continuous cover of volcanic material. In places, the volcanic activity became more silicic with time, great ash-flow tuff sheets were erupted, and the source areas subsided to form calderas. The largest ash-flow field and most of the calderas formed in the San Juan Mountains. Other ash flows apparently were derived from areas in the Sawatch Range in central Colorado and the Never Summer Mountains in northern Colorado. Large near-surface batholiths were emplaced beneath the San Juan Mountains and beneath the region that extends northeastward from the Elk Mountains and Sawatch Range along the trend of the Colorado mineral belt as far as the Rocky Mountain front. These batholiths are manifested by two large gravity lows and by many exposed epizonal plutons that represent cupolas on the larger underlying bodies. The batholith in central Colorado probably consists of plutons of both Laramide (70 to 55 m.y.) and middle Tertiary (40 to 25 m.y.) ages.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Middle tertiary volcanic field in the southern Rocky Mountains
Series title Memoir of the Geological Society of America
DOI 10.1130/MEM144-p75
Volume 144
Year Published 1975
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Description 20 p.
First page 75
Last page 94
Country United States
Other Geospatial Rocky Mountains
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