The White Canyon area in San Juan County, Utah, contains known deposits of copper-uranium ore and is currently being mapped and studied by the Geological Survey. To date, approximately 75 square miles, or about 20 percent of the area, has been mapped on a scale 1 inch=1 mile.
The White Canyon area is underlain by more than 2,000 feet of sedimentary rocks, Carboniferous to Jurassic(?) in age. The area is on the flank of the Elk Ridge anticline, and the strata have a regional dip of 1 deg to 2 deg SW.
The Shinarump conglomerate of Late Triassic age is the principal ore-bearing formation. The Shinarump consists of lenticular beds of sandstone, conglomeratic sandstone, clay, and siltstone, and ranges in thickness from a feather edge to as much as 75 feet. Locally the sandstones contain silicified and carbonized wood and fragments of charcoal. These vegetal remains are especially common in channel-fill deposits.
Jointing is prominent in the western part of the area, and apparently affects all formations. Adjacent to the joints some of the redbeds in the sequence are bleached.
Deposits of copper-uranium minerals have been found in the Moenkopi, Shinarump, and Chinle formations, but the only production of ore has been from the Shinarump conglomerate. The largest concentration of these minerals is in the lower third of the Shinarump, and the deposits seem to be controlled in part by ancient channel fills and in part by fractures. Locally precipitation of the copper and uranium minerals apparently has been aided by charcoal and clays.
Visible uranium minerals include both hard and soft pitchblende and secondary hydrosulfates, phosphates, and silicates. In addition, unidentified uranium compounds are present in carbonized wood and charcoal, and in veinlets of hydrocarbons. Base-metal sulfides have been identified in all prospects that extend beyond the oxidized zone. Secondary copper minerals in the oxidized zone include the hydrous sulfates and carbonates, and possibly chrysocolla. The principal gangue minerals are quartz, clay minerals, chlorite, oxides of iron and manganese, alunite, calcite, gypsum, pyrite, allophane, gibbsite, opal, and chalcedony.
The origin of the copper-uranium ores has not been determined, but the association of many deposits with fractures, the mineralogic assemblage, and a lead-uranium age determination of 50 to 60 million years for the pitchblende in the Happy Jack mine favor the hypothesis that the ores are of hydrothermal origin and were deposited in early Tertiary time.
Criteria believed to be the most useful in prospecting for new deposits are (1) visible uranium minerals; (2) visible copper minerals; (3) alunite; (4) hydrocarbons; and (5) bleaching of the underlying Moenkopi formation.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Preliminary Report on the White Canyon Area, San Juan County, Utah