About 20 miles north of Butte and extending nearly to Helena, is an area of 350 square miles containing hundreds of veins and altered zones. The bedrock of the area is 1) late Cretaceous volcanic rocks, forerunners of the Boulder batholith, 2) the Boulder batholith of late Cretaceous to early Tertiary age and 3) two groups of Tertiary volcanic rocks lying on the eroded batholith. The veins are post-batholith and pre-Tertiary in age.
The veins are largely either quartz-sulfide veins of mesothermal type or chalcedony veins of epithermal type. The relations of these two types of veins have been the subject of conflicting ideas for 60 years. Three workers have proposed three different genetic classifications. This report shows that the quartz veins and the chalcedony veins are closely related parts of a strongly zoned hypogene vein system.
Strong zonal patterns were established using the grain size of quartz (or pyrite vs. carbonate in one district) as well as features of the altered rocks. The scale of the zoning ranges from single veins through groups of veins or mining districts to the entire mineralized area. Single veins are zoned around a core of coarse-grained quartz; the quartz outward from the core becoming progressively finer-grained. The cores are zoned around eight major centers and several lesser ones. The centers and their nearby related veins are assigned to central, intermediate, and peripheral zones. Nearly all of the veins around the edge of the mineralized area are chalcedony.
Envelopes of altered rocks consist of seven major bands representing three major groups of constituents, aluminum silicates, iron-bearing minerals, and silica. Plagioclase altered successively to montomorillite, kaolinite, and sericite; potassium feldspar altered to sericite (aluminum silicate group). Biotite released iron which formed successively, iron oxides, iron-bearing carbonate, and pyrite (iron-bearing minerals). Excess silica formed silicified bands. Constituents for which no stable phase occurs were largely leached from the rocks.
A model has been constructed showing the arrangement of zoned veins and altered rocks in which the minerals produced by alteration are arranged in bands on each side of the vein, similar to the Butte pattern. Along strike from the cores, the inner bands thin and pinch out against the vein so that the vein becomes enclosed successively in the next outer bands. The sequence of alteration minerals along the veins is sericite, kaolinite, and montmorillonite for the aluminum silicates; and pyrite, carbonate, and iron oxides for the iron-bearing minerals.
Alteration is thought to be controlled by reactions between wallrock minerals and the pore solution. In the aluminum silicate reactions, H+ was added to the rock and Na+ and Ca++ were removed. Carbon and sulfur from the vein were added to iron of the wallrock to produce pyrite and iron carbonate. Carbon, sulfur, and hydrogen moved into the wallrock, while Ca++, Na+, and some SiO2 moved toward the vein along concentration or activity gradients.
Temperatures during mineralization ranged from below 200? C to about 350? C.