Late paleozoic tectonics and paleogeography of the ancestral Front Range: Structural, stratigraphic, and sedimentologic evidence from the Fountain Formation (Manitou Springs, Colorado)

Dustin E. Sweet, Gerilyn S. Soreghan

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Sedimentologic, stratigraphic, and structural data indicate that the Fountain Formation at Manitou Springs consists of three tectonostratigraphic units, herein termed the lower, middle, and upper Fountain Formation. Both the lower and middle Fountain Formation were deposited in a fan-delta setting adjacent to the active ancestral Ute Pass fault. The lower is thin and predominantly characterized by depositional stability as recorded by abundant well-developed, deeply rooted paleosols. The middle Fountain Formation reflects fan progradation and highland rejuvenation as a result of increased activity of the ancestral Ute Pass fault. This activity was likely the result of a basinward splay of the ancestral Ute Pass fault with reverse dip-slip motion as indicated by (1) exhumation of the lower Paleozoic Sawatch Formation and (2) fault-parallel folding. The upper Fountain Formation reflects deposition in a NW-SE-trending, braided-river system and appears to postdate movement on the ancestral Ute Pass fault. Lithostratigraphic correlation allows for a Latest Pennsylvanian-Early Permian age for the upper Fountain Formation, thus constraining cessation of the ancestral Ute Pass fault to Middle to Late Pennsylvanian time. The Fountain Formation was deposited within a NW-SE-oriented structural trough (i.e., Woodland Park trough) that separated the ancestral Front Range into a northern block (i.e., ancestral Front Range block) and a southern block (i.e., Ute Pass uplift). The Woodland Park trough was bounded on its southern margin by the ancestral Ute Pass fault, which was active throughout deposition of the lower two Fountain tectonostratigraphic units, during which time sediments were shed northward across the ancestral Ute Pass fault into a marine environment. By the time of deposition of the upper Fountain Formation, movement on the ancestral Ute Pass fault had ceased or dramatically decreased. During this time, the Fountain Formation records predominantly axially oriented, braided-stream deposition. Comparison of the timing and kinematic history of the ancestral Ute Pass fault with other documented reverse and strike-slip faults of the ancestral Rocky Mountains suggests that: (1) cessation of faulting within the ancestral Rocky Mountains displays a slight east-to-west younging, but the crude age resolution of adjacent basin fill also allows for the possibility of relatively synchronous cessation of faulting, and (2) kinematics of all faults examined are consistent with a NE-SW-oriented maximum horizontal compressional stress field. These inferences contrast with the proposed Laurentian-Gondwanan diach ro nous closure models for the ancestral Rocky Mountains, which require rotation of the maximum horizontal stress orientation through time and pronounced east-to-west younging of faulting. Rotation of the horizontal stress field may be recorded in multistage, kinematic histories of faults, but multiple faults require study to assess this model. Age constraints on post-tectonic units of the ancestral Rocky Mountains, such as the upper Fountain Formation tectonostratigraphic unit defined herein, are poor and further refinement would greatly aid understanding of the kinematic timing and tectonic driving force of these ancient mountains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-594
Number of pages20
JournalBulletin of the Geological Society of America
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2010


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