Greater Yellowstone Area Eocene to Recent Hydrothermal Springs

The Gravelly Range spring deposits depicted in this photo are late Eocene (probably 34-36 million years in age).

Geologic field work is always fun, but especially so when it turns up something unexpected. Working on Eocene to Recent geology and vertebrate paleontology in the Gravelly Range, southwestern Montana promised to be enthralling because the volcanics, sedimentary units, and vertebrate fossils are at elevations of about 9,000 feet. But to come across extensive, unmapped calcareous spring deposits of probable Eocene age is topping off research efforts.

At this point, I’ll just say that our field team is still at work on the Tertiary spring deposits. We’ve found numerous leaf impressions including those of ginkgo, palm, metasequoia, Fagopsis (extinct member of Beech family), and alder – just to name a few. We’ve shown the plant assemblage collected to date to several paleobotanists, and, at least for age, their take is that the assemblage is probably latest Eocene in age, and bears many similarities to Florissant, Colorado fossil plant assemblages.

Palm frond impression from Gravelly Range spring deposit.
Ginkgo leaf impression from a Gravelly Range spring deposit.
Alnus cone from a Gravelly Range Spring deposit.

The spring deposits in the Gravelly Range are extensive, covering an area roughly 2 miles in length with deposits up to 120 feet in thickness. The springs are best characterized as travertine, although the spring systems’ edges contain clastic fluvial units and both the springs’ edges and pools have features such as plant impressions, root systems, and small travertine balls.

Gravelly Range Eocene spring deposit. Field backpacks in lower left corner for scale.

Because the Gravelly Range is so close to Yellowstone National Park, it is extremely interesting to compare its Eocene spring deposits to hydrothermal units at both the currently active Mammoth Hot Springs (which probably began its activity about 7,700 years ago), and to the fossil travertine found just north of Gardiner, Montana, that formed about 19.500 to 38,700 years ago (Fouke and Murphy, 2016: The Art of Yellowstone Science: Mammoth Hot Springs as a Window on the Universe).

The Gardiner travertine is fairly well exposed because it has been extensively quarried for several decades. Of interest for comparison are numerous plant impressions that occur within microterracettes. Fouke and Murphy (2016) suggest that these may be impressions of sage brush. A photo of the quarried wall with the plant impressions is shown below.

Plant impressions in Gardiner travertine. These impressions may be from sage brush. The travertine in this quarry face is estimated at about 30,000 years in age.

Other features in the Gardiner travertine, now partly covered by graffiti, include a quarry wall that shows terracettes and microterracettes that are outlined by darker lines within the travertine. These features are probably indicative of a proximal slope facies.

Gardiner travertine with its slope facies depicted well in smooth quarry face. The dark, irregular lines delineate terracettes and microterracettes.

Jumping forward in time to the extensive spring deposits of Mammoth Hot Springs (just within the northeast park boundary of Yellowstone National Park), is mind boggling. As in any comparison with rocks as old as Eocene to active deposition, one realizes how much detail is lost over time. But it is still worthwhile to try to compare spring features, so I’ll show a few photos of the Mammoth Hot Springs that may match up with various features of the fossil springs.

Branch and plant fragments in the process of becoming calcified at Mammoth Hot Springs – main terrace.
Calcified plant debris – Mammoth main terrace.
Terracettes – Mammoth main terrace, proximal slope facies.
Trees engulfed by prograding spring activity – Mammoth main terrace.
Travertine balls in small pond – Mammoth main terrace.

Suffice it to say, that the upcoming field season should be a good one, with more work to be done on the Gravelly Range spring deposits. And – it’s always fun to get a trip in to Yellowstone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tertiary Paleovalleys in the Laramie Mountains, Wyoming

The Laramie Mountains are part of the central Rocky Mountains in southeastern Wyoming. Archean and Proterozoic rocks form the bulk of the mountain range due to late Cretaceous–early Eocene (Laramide) basement-involved uplift. Hogbacks made of Paleozoic to Mesozoic age rocks flank much of the

The Laramie Mountains of southeastern Wyoming contain Proterozoic and Archean rocks that are now exposed by a late Cretaceous –early Eocene (Laramide) basement-involved uplift.
The Laramie Mountains of southeastern Wyoming contain Proterozoic and Archean rocks that are now exposed by a late Cretaceous–early Eocene (Laramide) basement-involved uplift. The Precambrian rocks are flanked by hogbacks of Paleozoic to Mesozoic age rocks as seen in the above photo.

Precambrian cored mountain areas. But what sets the Laramie Mountains apart from the adjoining Colorado Front Range and even the western Great Plains is that upper Eocene to Miocene strata are preserved within the Laramie Mountains and on its sides as paleovalley fill. The reasons for this unusual paleovalley fill preservation can probably be tied to the Laramie Mountains being much lower in elevation than the adjoining Colorado Front Range and that they were not glaciated during the Pleistocene.

I went on a field trip a few days ago specifically to look at the Laramie Mountains Tertiary paleovalleys. It was a really good trip. Emmett Evanoff led the trip and because he’s spent so much time working in the area, he had much info and insight on the paleovalleys. What follows are a few photos from the trip:

High Plains escarpment of Tertiary rocks on the eastern flank of the Laramie Mountains near Chugwater Creek. Eocene White River mudstone and siltstone, beds are capped by coarse sandstone beds. An overlying gravelly sandstone unit, probably of the upper Oligocene Arikaree Formation lies above the White River beds. The Miocene Ogallala Formation of stacked conglomerate sheets caps the entire section.
High Plains escarpment of Tertiary rocks on the eastern flank of the Laramie Mountains near Chugwater Creek. Eocene White River mudstone and siltstone beds are capped by coarse sandstone beds. An overlying gravelly sandstone unit, probably of the upper Oligocene Arikaree Formation lies above the White River beds. The Miocene Ogallala Formation containing stacked conglomerate sheets caps the entire section.
The walls to the Tertiary paleovalleys near Chugwater Creek are hogbacks of overturned rocks ranging from Pennsylvanian to Cretaceous in age.
The walls to the Tertiary paleovalleys near Chugwater Creek are hogbacks of overturned rocks ranging in age from Pennsylvanian to Cretaceous.
Daemonelix burrow in Arikareean strata. The burrow is a corkscrew shaped burrow made by the ground beaver Palaeocastor.
We found a Daemonelix burrow in Arikareean strata. The burrow is corkscrew shaped and was probably made by the ground beaver Palaeocastor.
foodtruck
Pat’s food truck was a welcome sight during the field trip. As she said – good food and good rocks – what’s better than that?

 

Large boulders occur at the base of White River Formation in the Toltec Tertiary paleovalley. The Toltec paleovalley is on the west side of the Laramie Mountains where basal Tertiary strata are exposed at and close to the range margins.
Large boulders occur at the base of the White River Formation in the Toltec Tertiary paleovalley. The Toltec paleovalley is on the west side of the Laramie Mountains where basal Tertiary strata are exposed at and close to the range margins.
Polished boulders of Precambrian granite are found in the Garrett paleovalley which now lies in the drainage area of the North Laramie River. Wyoming is known for wind and these boulders certainly attest to that.
Polished boulders of Precambrian granite are found in the Garrett paleovalley which now lies in the drainage area of the North Laramie River. Wyoming is well known for wind and these boulders certainly attest to that.