Geologic studies were made at all of the uranium mines and prospects in the Dakota Sandstone of Early(?) and Late Cretaceous age in the Gallup mining district, McKinley County, New Mexico. Dakota mines in the adjacent Ambrosia Lake mining district were visited briefly for comparative purposes.
Mines in the eastern part of the Gallup district, and in the Ambrosia Lake district, are on the Chaco slope of the southern San Juan Basin in strata which dip gently northward toward the central part of the basin. Mines in the western part of the Gallup district are along the Gallup hogback (Nutria monocline) in strata which dip steeply westward into the Gallup sag.
Geologic factors which controlled formation of the uranium deposits in the Dakota Sandstone are: (1) a source of uranium, believed to be uranium deposits of the underlying Morrison Formation of Late Jurassic age; (2) the accessibility to the Dakota of uranium-bearing solutions from the Morrison; (3) the presence in the Dakota of permeable sandstone beds overlain by impermeable carbonaceous shale beds; and (4) the occurrence within the permeable Dakota sandstone beds of carbonaceous reducing material as bedding-plane laminae, or as pockets of carbonaceous trash.
Most of the Dakota uranium deposits are found in the lower part of the formation in marginal-marine distributary-channel sandstones which were deposited in the backshore environment. However, the Hogback no. 4 (Hyde) Mine (Gallup district) occurs in sandy paludal shale of the backshore environment, and another deposit, the Silver Spur (Ambrosia Lake district), is found in what is interpreted to be a massive beach or barrier-bar sandstone of the foreshore environment in the upper part of the Dakota.
The sedimentary depositional environment most favorable for the accumulation of uranium is that of backshore areas lateral to main distributary channels, where levee, splay, and some distributary-channel sandstones intertongue with gray carbonaceous shales and siltstones of the well-drained swamp environment. Deposits of black carbonaceous shale which were formed in the poorly drained swamp deposits of the interfluve area are not favorable host rocks for uranium.
The depositional energy levels of the various environments in which the sandstone and shale beds of the Dakota were deposited govern the relative favorability of the strata as uranium host rocks. In the report area, uranium usually occurs in carbonaceous sandstone deposited under low- to medium-energy fluvial conditions within distributary channels. A prerequisite, however, is that such sandstone be overlain by impermeable carbonaceous shale beds.
Low- to medium-energy fluvial conditions result in the deposition of sandstone beds having detrital carbonaceous material distributed in laminae or in trash pockets on bedding planes. The carbonaceous laminae and trash pockets provide the necessary reductant to cause precipitation of uranium from solution. High-energy fluvial conditions result in the deposition of sandstones having little or no carbonaceous material included to provide a reductant. Very low energy swampy conditions result in carbonaceous shale deposits, which are generally barren of uranium because of their relative impermeability to migrating uranium-bearing solutions.