The geologic map of the Nelson quadrangle, scale 1:24,000, was prepared as part of the Montana Investigations Project to provide new information on the stratigraphy, structure, and geologic history of an area in the geologically complex southern part of the Montana disturbed belt. In the Nelson area, rocks ranging in age from Middle Proterozoic through Cretaceous are exposed on three major thrust plates in which rocks have been telescoped eastward. Rocks within the thrust plates are folded and broken by thrust faults of smaller displacement than the major bounding thrust faults. Middle and Late Tertiary sedimentary and volcaniclastic rocks unconformably overlie the pre-Tertiary rocks. A major normal fault displaces rocks of the western half of the quadrangle down on the west with respect to strata of the eastern part. Alluvial and terrace gravels and local landslide deposits are present in valley bottoms and on canyon walls in the deeply dissected terrain.
Different stratigraphic successions are exposed at different structural levels across the quadrangle. In the northeastern part, strata of the Middle Cambrian Flathead Sandstone, Wolsey Shale, and Meagher Limestone, the Middle and Upper Cambrian Pilgrim Formation and Park Shale undivided, the Devonian Maywood, Jefferson, and lower part of the Three Forks Formation, and Lower and Upper Mississippian rocks assigned to the upper part of the Three Forks Formation and the overlying Lodgepole and Mission Canyon Limestones are complexly folded and faulted. These deformed strata are overlain structurally in the east-central part of the quadrangle by a succession of strata including the Middle Proterozoic Greyson Formation and the Paleozoic succession from the Flathead Sandstone upward through the Lodgepole Limestone. In the east-central area, the Flathead Sandstone rests unconformably on the middle part of the Greyson Formation. The north edge, northwest quarter, and south half of the quadrangle are underlain by a succession of rocks that includes not only strata equivalent to those of the remainder of the quadrangle, but also the Middle Proterozoic Newland, Greyson, and Spokane Formations, Pennsylvanian and Upper Mississippian Amsden Formation and Big Snowy Group undivided, the Permian and Pennsylvanian Phosphoria and Quadrant Formations undivided, the Jurassic Ellis Group and Lower Cretaceous Kootenai Formation. Hornblende diorite sills and irregular bodies of probable Late Cretaceous age intrude Middle Proterozoic, Cambrian and Devonian strata. No equivalent intrusive rocks are present in structurally underlying successions of strata. In this main part of the quadrangle, the Flathead Sandstone cuts unconformably downward from south to north across the Spokane Formation into the upper middle part of the Greyson Formation. Tertiary (Miocene?) strata including sandstone, pebble and cobble conglomerate, and vitric crystal tuff underlie, but are poorly exposed, in the southeastern part of the quadrangle where they are overlain by late Tertiary and Quaternary gravel.
The structural complexity of the quadrangle decreases from northeast to southwest across the quadrangle. At the lowest structural level (Avalanche Butte thrust plate) exposed in the canyon of Beaver Creek, lower and middle Paleozoic rocks are folded in northwest-trending east-inclined disharmonic anticlines and synclines that are overlain by recumbently folded and thrust faulted Devonian and Mississippian rocks. The Mississippian strata are imbricated adjacent to the recumbent folds. In the east-central part of the quadrangle, a structurally overlying thrust plate, likely equivalent to the Hogback Mountain thrust plate of the Hogback Mountain quadrangle adjacent to the east (Reynolds, 20xx), juxtaposes recumbently folded Middle Proterozoic and unconformably overlying lower Paleozoic rocks on the complexly folded and faulted rocks of the Avalanche Butte thrust plate. The highest structural plate, bounded below