Geology of Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Professional Paper 444
By: , and 



Mount Rainier National Park includes 378 square miles of rugged terrain on the west slope of the Cascade Mountains in central Washington. Its mast imposing topographic and geologic feature is glacier-clad Mount Rainier. This volcano, composed chiefly of flows of pyroxene andesite, was built upon alt earlier mountainous surface, carved from altered volcanic and sedimentary rocks invaded by plutonic and hypabyssal igneous rocks of great complexity. The oldest rocks in the park area are those that make up the Olmnapecosh Formation of late Eocene age. This formation is more than 10,000 feet thick, and consists almost entirely of volcanic debris. It includes some lensoid accumulations of lava and coarse mudflows, heaped around volcanic centers., but these are surrounded by vastly greater volumes of volcanic clastic rocks, in which beds of unstratified coarse tuff-breccia, about 30 feet in average thickness, alternate with thin-bedded breccias, sandstones, and siltstones composed entirely of volcanic debris. The coarser tuff-breccias were probably deposited from subaqueous volcanic mudflows generated when eruption clouds were discharged directly into water, or when subaerial ash flows and mudflows entered bodies of water. The less mobile mudflows and viscous lavas built islands surrounded by this sea of thinner bedded water-laid clastics. In compostion the lava flows and coarse lava fragments of the Ohanapecosh Formation are mostly andesite, but they include less abundant dacite, basalt, and rhyolite. The Ohanapecosh Formation was folded, regionally altered to minerals characteristic of the zeolite facies of metamorphism, uplifted, and deeply eroded before the overlying Stevens Ridge Formation of Oligocene or early Miocene age was deposited upon it. The Stevens Ridge rocks, which are about 3,000 feet in maximum total thickness, consist mainly of massive ash flows. These are now devitrified and altered, but they originally consisted of rhyodacite pumice lapilli and glass shards, which compacted and welded into thick massive units during emplacement and cooling. Subordinate water-laid clastic rocks occur t(ward the top of the formation, and thin-bedded pyroclastic layers occur between some of the ash flows. Exposures on Backbone Ridge and on Carbon River below the mouth of Cataract Creek show that in places the thick basal Stevens Ridge ash flows swept with great violence over an old erosion surface developed on rocks of the Ohanapecosh Formation. Masses of mud, tree trunks, and other surface debris were swirled upward into the base of the lowermost ash fiery, and lobes and tongues of hot ash were forced downward into. the saprolitic mud. The Stevens Ridge Formation is concordantly overlain by the Fifes Peak Formation of probable early Miocene age, which consists of lava flows, subordinate mudflows, and minor quantities of tuffaceous clastic rocks. The lavas are predominantly olivine basalt and basaltic andesite, but they include a little rhyolite. They are slightly to moderately altered: the ferromagnesian phenocrysts are generally replaced by saponite, chiprite, or carbonate ; the glass is devitrified ; and the rocks are locally permeated by veinlets of zeolite. Swarms of diabase sills and dikes are probably intrusive equivalents of the Fifes Peak lavas. The upper part of the Fifes Peak Formation has been mostly eroded from Mount Rainier National Park, but farther north, in the Cedar Lake quadrangle, it attains a thickness of more than 5,000 feet. The Fifes Peak and earlier formations were gently folded, faulted, uplifted, and eroded before the. late Miocene Tatoosh pluton worked its way upward to shallow depths and eventually broke through to the surface. The rise of the pluton was accompanied by .the injection of a complicated melange of satellitic stocks, sills, and dikes. A favored horizon for intrusion of sills was along or near the unconfo

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geology of Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 444
DOI 10.3133/pp444
Edition -
Year Published 1963
Language ENGLISH
Publisher U. S. Govt. Print. Off.,
Description 93 p.