Geology and fluorspar deposits, Northgate district, Colorado

Bulletin 1082-F
Prepared in cooperation with the Colorado State Geological Survey Board and the Colorado Metal Mining Fund Board



The fluorspar deposits in the Northgate district, Jackson County, Colo., are among the largest in Western United States. The mines were operated intermittently during the 1920's and again during World War II, but production during these early periods of operation was not large. Mining was begun on a larger scale in 1951, and the district has assumed a prominent position among the fluorspar producers in the United States.

Within the Northgate district, Precambrian metamorphic and igneous rocks crop out largely in the Medicine Bow Mountains, and later sedimentary rocks underlie North Park and fill old stream valleys in the mountains.

The metamorphic rocks constitute a gneiss complex that formed under progressively changing conditions of regional metamorphism. They consist principally of hornblende-plagioclase gneiss (hornblende gneiss), quartz monzonite gneiss, pegmatite, biotite-garnet-quartz-plagioclase gneiss (biotite-garnet gneiss), hornblende-biotite-quartz-plagioclase gneiss (hornblende-biotite gneiss) and mylonite gneiss.

The igneous rocks comprise some local fine-grained dacite porphyry dikes near the west margin of the district, and a quartz monzonitic stock and associated dikes in the central and eastern parts of the district.

The sedimentary rocks in the district range in age from Permian to Recent. Folded Permian and Mesozoic rocks underlie the basin of North Park, and consist in sequence from oldest to youngest, of Satanka(?) shale (0-50 feet of brick-red shale) and Forelle(?) limestone (8-15 feet of pink to light-gray laminated limestone) of Permian age, Chugwater formation of Permian and Triassic age (690 feet of red silty shale and sandstone), Sundance formation of Late Jurassic age (145 feet of sandstone containing some shale and limestone), Morrison formation of Late Jurassic age (445 feet of variegated shale and minor sandstone and limestone), Dakota group as used by Lee (1927), now considered to be of Early Cretaceous age in this area (200-320 feet of pebbly sandstone, sandstone, and shale), Ben ton shale of Early and Late Cretaceous age (665 feet of dark-gray thin-bedded shale), Niobrara formation of Late Cretaceous age (865 feet of yellow to gray limy siltstone and shale), and Pierre shale of Late Cretaceous age (more than 60 feet of dark-gray fissile shale). Unconformities separate the Chugwater and Sundance formations, and the Morrison formation and the Dakota group.

Nonmarine strata of the White River formation of Oligocene age and the North Park formation of Miocene and Pliocene (?) age fill Tertiary valleys cut in the Precambrian rocks of the mountain areas, and Quaternary terrace gravel, alluvium, and dune sand mantle much of the floor of North Park.

The main outlines of the modern Rocky Mountains formed during the Laramide orogeny in late Mesozoic and early Tertiary time. Most of the Laramide structures that can be recognized in the Northgate district involve the sedimentary rocks underlying North Park which are folded into northwest-trending anticlines and synclines. The folds are open and in most the beds dip 60° or less. Yet many anticlines are cut by reverse faults of widely different trends and directions of offset. Transverse faults offset some of the folds, and the character of folding commonly is markedly different on opposing sides of these faults. The North Park basin is cut off on the north by the east-trending Independence Mountain fault, a north-dipping reverse fault along which hard Precambrian rocks have been thrust up across the trend of the earlier Laramide structures. The North Park basin is still a major structure where it is interrupted by the Independence Mountain fault, and the original basin must have extended much farther north.

Disrupted gradients at the base of pre-White River valleys suggest that the Northgate district and adjacent areas may have been deformed in middle Tertiary time, but the evidence is not conclusive. A more definite period of deformation took place in Pliocene time following deposition of the North Park formation. North Park strata in south-central North Park were folded into a northwest-trending syncline, and the central part of the Northgate district probably was warped up along a north- or northwestward-trending axis.

Four north- to northwestward-trending faults cut the Precambrian rocks and White River formation on Pinkham Mountain and the area to the southeast. Similar faults 2½ and 15 miles west of the Northgate district cut rocks of the North Park formation, and all probably formed during the Pliocene period of deformation. The known commercial fluorspar deposits are localized along the two larger faults of the Northgate district, and they have been studied in detail.

The White River formation in early Oligocene time covered a hilly terrain drained by southward-flowing streams. By late Miocene, the northward-flowing streams had cut to about the same levels reached by the pre-White River streams and had partly exhumed and modified the older terrain. During late Miocene and early Pliocene (?) time, the Northgate area was buried beneath the clays, sands, and gravels of the North Park formation. Subsequent erosion removed the higher part of the North Park formation, cut a surface of low relief across the exhumed Precambrian rocks, and removed all topographic evidence of the Pliocene period of deformation. The present courses of the major streams were superimposed across the buried terrains during this period of erosion. Rejuvenation during middle Pleistocene caused all major streams to become incised in sharp canyons.

Copper minerals occur in small concentrations in some of the pegmatite masses in the gneiss complex. The copper-rich masses rarely exceed a few feet in diameter and constitute only a small part of the associated pegmatite body.

Vermiculite is exposed in prospect pits and mine workings along the west margin of the Northgate district. All the venniculite that was seen is associated with small masses of horablendite, massive chlorite, or serpentinite where these masses are near or are cut by pegmatite bodies. Some of the deposits may be potential producers of commercial-grade vermiculite, but most are small and erratic in shape or grade.

Fluorspar is the main mineral commodity that has been produced from the Northgate district. It was deposited during two distinct periods of mineralization, but only the younger deposits have been productive.

Small bodies of silicified breccia containing minor coarsely crystalline fluorite occur along the Independence Mountain fault, and in a few places along other Laramide faults. The fluorspar is an integral part of the fault breccia and apparently was deposited while the enclosing fault was still active.

The largest deposits of fluorspar in the Northgate district occur along the late Tertiary (?) faults on Pinkham Mountain. The fluorspar consists typically of botryoidal layers that formed as successive encrustations along open fractures, or as finely granular aggregates replacing and cementing fault gouge and White River formation. Many incompletely filled cavities, called water courses, still exist. Fluorite is the principal vein material; fragments of country rock constitute the chief impurity although finely granular quartz or chalcedony is common locally. Soft powdery manganese oxide coats many fractures and in places is associated with a fine white clay.

Fluorspar was deposited in or adjacent to open spaces along the late Tertiary (?) faults. Fractures in hard granitic rocks tended to remain open after faulting and were the favored sites for fluorspar deposition; fractures in the less competent hornblende and hornblende-biotite gneiss and schist generally were tight and little fluorspar was deposited. The White River rocks, although soft, were permeable and were widely impregnated or replaced by fluorspar.

Both of the main vein zones are along faults that have predominant rightlateral strike-slip displacement. As they theoretically should be, the vein zones are narrower and contain less fluorspar where the containing fault is deflected to the left than where the fault is deflected to the right and the fractures remained open.

The crustified, vuggy structure of the fluorspar and the common association with chalcedony or finely granular quartz suggest deposition in a very shallow environment, but no direct evidence bearing on the depth at which the fluorspar formed was seen. Fluorspar was deposited throughout a vertical range of 600 feet or more on each of the main vein zones, and for a vertical range of 1,050 feet for the district as a whole. None of the deposits had been bottomed at the time this report was prepared.

Exploration at depth beneath known ore bodies is favorable for developing large tonnages of fluorspar. The best possibilities for finding new ore bodies near the surface are along the northwestern and southeastern parts of the Fluorine-Camp Creek vein zone where large bodies of granitic rocks are intersected by the fault. These areas are generally mantled by a thick overburden, and have been inadequately tested so far.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geology and fluorspar deposits, Northgate district, Colorado
Series title Bulletin
Series number 1082
Chapter F
DOI 10.3133/b1082F
Year Published 1960
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Description Report: v, 99 p.; 4 Plates: 33.80 x 32.33 inches or smaller
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title Contributions to economic geology, 1958
First page 323
Last page 422
Country United States
State Colorado
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