Cretaceous basaltic phreatomagmatic volcanism in West Texas: Maar complex at Peña Mountain, Big Bend National Park

K. S. Befus, R. E. Hanson, T. M. Lehman, W. R. Griffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


A structurally complex succession of basaltic pyroclastic deposits produced from overlapping phreatomagmatic volcanoes occurs within Upper Cretaceous floodplain deposits in the Aguja Formation in Big Bend National Park, West Texas. Together with similar basaltic deposits recently documented elsewhere in the Aguja Formation, these rocks provide evidence for an episode of phreatomagmatic volcanism that predates onset of arc magmatism in the region in the Paleogene. At Peña Mountain, the pyroclastic deposits are ≥ 70 m thick and consist dominantly of tabular beds of lapillistone and lapilli tuff containing angular to fluidal pyroclasts of altered sideromelane intermixed with abundant accidental terrigenous detritus derived from underlying Aguja sediments. Tephra characteristics indicate derivation from phreatomagmatic explosions involving fine-scale interaction between magma and sediment in the shallow subsurface. Deposition occurred by pyroclastic fall and base-surge processes in near-vent settings; most base-surge deposits lack tractional sedimentary structures and are inferred to have formed by suspension sedimentation from rapidly decelerating surges. Complexly deformed pyroclastic strata beneath a distinct truncation surface within the succession record construction and collapse of an initial volcano, followed by a shift in the location of the conduit and excavation of another maar crater into Aguja strata nearby. Preserved portions of the margin of this second crater are defined by a zone of intense soft-sediment disruption of pyroclastic and nonvolcanic strata. U-Pb isotopic analyses of zircon grains from three basaltic bombs in the succession reveal the presence of abundant xenocrysts, in some cases with ages > 1.0 Ga. The youngest concordant analyses for all three samples yield a weighted mean age of 76.9 ± 1.2 Ma, consistent with the presence of Late Campanian vertebrate fossils in the upper Aguja Formation. We infer that the volcanism is related to the intraplate Balcones igneous province, which was emplaced in the same time frame in a marine setting farther east.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-264
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jun 10 2008


  • Aguja Formation
  • Balcones igneous province
  • Cretaceous volcanism
  • Trans-Pecos Texas
  • phreatomagmatism


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