Areal geology of the Little Cone quadrangle, Colorado

Bulletin 1082-G

Prepared on behalf of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and published with the permission of the Commission
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The Little Cone quadrangle includes an area of about 59 square miles in eastern San Miguel County in southwestern Colorado. The quadrangle contains features characteristic of both the Colorado Plateaus physiographic province and the San Juan Mountains, and it has been affected by geologic events and processes of two different geologic environments.

The continental sedimentary rocks of the Cutler formation of Permian age are the oldest rocks exposed in the quadrangle. Deposition of the Cutler was followed by a long period of erosion and peneplanation. There is no marked angular discordance between the Cutler and the overlying Dolores formation in the Little Cone quadrangle, but there is in areas some tens of miles east and west of the quadrangle where some crustal warping took place.

The continental sedimentary rocks of the Dolores formation of Late Triassic age are red beds that are similar in gross lithology to those of the Cutler. The Dolores formation is subdivided into five general units that persist throughout the quadrangle and for some tens of miles to the north, south, and east. A second long period of erosion followed deposition of the Dolores.

The Entrada sandstone of Late Jurassic age overlies the Dolores formation, and is in turn overlain by the Wanakah formation, also of Late Jurassic age. The Wanakah consists of the Pony Express limestone member at the base, the Bilk Creek sandstone'member near the center, and a "marl" member at the top. The Morrison formation, which overlies the Wanakah, consists of the Salt Wash sandstone member in the lower part and the Brushy Basin shale member in the upper part. A period of erosion, probably of relatively short duration, followed deposition of the Brushy Basin member.

The Burro Canyon formation of Early Cretaceous age occurs as discontinuous bodies that fill channels cut in the top of the Morrison formation. Deposition of the Burro Canyon formation was followed by another period of erosion, which in turn ended with deposition of the Dakota sandstone of Late Cretaceous age. The Dakota sandstone grades upward into the Mancos shale, also of Late Cretaceous age.

The Paleozoic and Mesozoic formations were broadly folded during Laramide time as part of an orogeny of regional extent, and the San Juan Mountains area was uplifted as a broad dome. Extensive erosion followed deformation, and the Cretaceous rocks in the area of the Little Cone quadrangle and the Mesozoic and Paleozoic rocks eastward from the quadrangle were successively bevelled. The Telluride conglomerate of Oligocene(?) age was laid down on this surface. In the Little Cone quadrangle several hundred feet of the Telluride was deposited upon a considerable thickness (probably 3,000 feet or more) of the Mancos shale. At Telluride, about 12 miles east of the quadrangle, the Telluride conglomerate lies upon the Dolores formation. Volcanic rocks of Miocene (?) and Miocene age were deposited widely upon the Telluride conglomerate; at one time they had a thickness of probably 1,000 feet or more in the quadrangle. They have been eroded completely from the quadrangle, but are present in the San Miguel Mountains a few miles to the south and southeast.

During the middle Tertiary, probably during the Miocene, the sedimentary rocks were cut by many igneous bodies. Four major rock types are represented; in decreasing order of abundance they are granogabbro, granodidrite, rhyolite(?), and microgabbro. The granogabbro is by far the most abundant, and it forms the Flat Top Peak plug, the Little Cone laccolith, several sills in the Dakota sandstone and the Mancos shale, and a few dikes. The granodiorite forms sills in the Dakota sandstone and the Mancos shale, and the rhyolite(?) forms a single major sill in the Dakota. The microgabbro forms dikes that cut rocks as young as the Mancos shale. Metamorphic effects adjacent to the intrusive bodies generally are restricted to baking that extends only a few feet out into the enclosing rocks; in many places no metamorphic effects are evident.

The rocks in the Little Cone quadrangle were displaced along numerous faults in middle Tertiary time, probably after the igneous rocks were injected. All of the faults are normal, and have vertical or very steep dips. In part, the faults form two long and narrow northward- and northwestward-trending grabens that extend into the adjoining Placerville quadrangle to the north. The graben faults form two systems, one trending northward to northwestward, and the other trending northwestward, that are probably contemporaneous. Other faults trend eastward to northeastward; some of these appear to be related to the intrusion of the igneous rocks.

At the end of the Tertiary, probably in the early Pleistocene, the general area was again uplifted and subjected to extensive erosion. The Mancos shale was stripped from the northern part of the Little Cone quadrangle, and in this part of the area, the upland surfaces formed on top of the Dakota sandstone were largely controlled by the geologic structure.

During the Quaternary a basalt flow was erupted on Specie Mesa on a surface that cuts both the Mancos and the Dakota. The surface preserved beneath the flow has virtually the same position and slope as the adjacent present-day surfaces. Pleistocene deposits consist of (a) high-level or older drift that is unrelated to the present drainage systems and is correlated with the Cerro glacial stage of early Pleistocene age, and (b) younger drift and valley fill within the valleys of the present drainage systems that are correlated with the Durango or Wisconsin glacial stages and may represent both. Recent surficial, landslide, and spring deposits are also present.

Within the Little Cone quadrangle and in the Placerville quadrangle to the north and the Gray Head quadrangle to the east, the Entrada sandstone of Late Jurassic age contains vanadium deposits with which are associated large but low-grade amounts of uranium. These deposits form a practically continuous layer about 10 miles long and 1 to 1% miles wide, and possibly a second layer of smaller dimensions. Placer gold deposits in terrace gravel and valley fill of Pleistocene age and in alluvium of Recent age contain the only other ores.

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USGS Numbered Series
Areal geology of the Little Cone quadrangle, Colorado
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U.S. Government Printing Office
Report: iv, 69 p.; 2 Plates: 9.44 x 13.64 inches and 26.72 x 35.00 inches
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USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title:
Contributions to economic geology, 1958
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United States
Miguel County