Earth Structure and Deformation: Field Trip 2016

It was a nice and sunny Saturday when we started our journey on I-10 going west of Houston. We crossed Pleistocene and thin Pliocene rocks until we were near the Little Low Miocene Hills of Columbus, a very small strip. Finally, we arrived at our first stop where lower Cretaceous rocks onlap onto basement rocks. We noticed that Oligocene rocks were missing.


Day 1:

Walnut Formation Road Cut (Stop 1)

Location N 030.29947 W 097.82767

Elevation: 297 m

At this stop, we saw Glenrose basement rock overlain by Walnut Formation (110 Ma). The lithology of the Walnut Formation is a lime mud marl (limestone), and the beds seen are horizontal and fissile. The beds contain fossils and some of the fossils found include the famous Devil’s toenail (exogyra), oyster, snails and warm burrows. The worm burrows are indicative of a depositional environment with ubiquitous bioturbation. Since it was quiet enough for worms to burrow and mud to be deposited, we speculated that the depositional environment was lagoonal. If this is the case, it could be an indicator of paleo sea level.
There is an enigma surrounding the Walnut formation. If it was formed close to sea level, how is it that the elevation is now 297 m today? The question of when and how the Llano Uplift (part of the Edwards Plateau) occurred is still a mystery in geology. Some researchers have pinned it to Oligocene time. As far as how it occurred, several theories exist: (1) magmatic underplating from ultramafic intrusions along the Balcones Escarpment; (2) a flexural response from forebulge to the coastal basin; and (3) Jurassic salt moving to the surface, causing Cretaceous rocks to slide and creating offset.







Transition from Glen Rose to Walnut Formation moving upwards. Glen Rose has harder, regular bedding, where Walnut has muddy Cretaceous limestone.





Close-up of the Walnut Formation. Contains visible shelled organisms and exhibits diffuse bedding.




Ellenberger Group, Honeycut Formation (Stop 2)

Location: N 030.553777 W 098.26020

Elevation: 246 m

The Honeycut Formation is Ordovician in age. About 100 m of limestone has been eroded here in comparison to the Walnut Formation, and this is reflective of the erosional window of the Llano Uplift. The formation is highly laminated and contains bacterial mats (stromatolites which grow on tidal flats). There might also be some stylolites although it is not certain. Barnett Shale, which is Mississippian-Devonian in age, can also be seen at this outcrop, but it is very thin.
In West Texas, the Ellenberger limestone is a major carbonates reservoir where it was exposed, karsted, faulted, and later sealed. The faults here are related to the Ouachita orogeny (which is younger than 300 Ma) and analogous to the Alleghanian orogeny of North America. Although the Honeycut marble is the downthrown side of the fault while the granite is upthrown side, the granite appears to be eroding faster than the marble. The result of this is a reverse topography instead of what we would expect from faulting.






Stromatolite in the Honeycut Formation.





Backbone Ridge (Stop 5)

Location: N 030.64519 W 098.41574

Elevation: 289 m

The Cambrian rocks are beneath the Town Mountain Granite, so we should have been in a graben (central downdrop block), but instead we were standing at a local high point. This is another instance of inverted topography due to erosion of the granite which has relatively low resistance. At this stop, we were standing on normal fault with two more faults running perpendicular in the Cambrian rocks before us. The Lion Mountain green sandstone across the road was formed by worm droppings in an anoxic environment, creating a mineral called glauconite. The sandstone is pelletal in texture and contains white lenses that we identified as trilobite hash. There are little muscovites on the surface of the trilobite deposits suggesting past metamorphism. Underlying the Lion Mountain is the upper Hickory Sandstone containing iron oolites, indicating a ferriferous depositional environment. Above the dark green sandstone we observed a color change to whitish-green and a compositional change to coarser grains containing more quartz. This is indicative of the depositional environment moving inland up the strata with the upper rock likely deposited in a shoreface to backshore setting. The whitish-green then transitions upward into a pink and green rock. The presence of herringbone bedding within this upper section signifies a tidal phase, perhaps an offshore to lagoonal environment. Overall the Lion Mountain Sandstone is less resistant than the overlying strata. Within the whole body we found an oxidized strike slip fault with mellow plunge in the slickenlines.










Predominately strike-slip fault (with some thrusting) in Lion Mountain Sandstone. Directionality indicated by slickenlines on red Fe-stained parts of glauconite on right side of fault.




Students looking at the Lion Mountain Sandstone.


Valley Spring Gneiss and Granite, Inks Lake State Park (Trip 6 PC Guide Stop 3)

Location: N 030.74855 W 098.35748

Elevation: 278 m

Here we saw heavily deformed quartzofeldspathic gneiss among other schists and gneiss. Up to four generations of folds and five associated foliations were able to be identified, all of which except the last were penetrative and seen through the whole area. Granitic dikes and intrusions were present and responsible for local metamorphism.







Granitic dike cutting through the Valley Spring Gneiss.









Distinct F3 fold in the Valley Spring Gneiss.


Valley Spring Gneiss (Trip 6 PC Guide Stop 2)

Location: N 030.75404 W 098.67634

Elevation: 281 m

For our last stop on Day 1, we examined a synform in the Valley Spring Gneiss by the Llano River. We measured the attitudes for several mineral foliations, plotted them on a stereonet, and attempted to match the data to our observations. At another spot by the river, we observed a Valley Spring pluton dated approximately 1250 Ma with a dynamothermal overprint dated 119 Ma. We noted that there was not much foliation in the country rock. The texture of the rock suggests that it was not highly metamorphosed.










Old Valley Spring pluton by the Llano River.



Day 2:

Highway 71 Outcrop (Mosher Day 1 Stop 4)

Location: N 030. 63010 W 098.52912

Elevation: 296 m

At this stop we observed the graphitic Packsaddle Schist. Lightened zones indicate the graphite was volatilized during intrusion, oxidizing the rock along the boundary and bleaching it. Overall the schist is blue in color with white folded quartz veins. It is fairly resistive and contains S1 and S2 folds. Little knots of quartz represent the old fold axis of the formation, and the initial folds appeared to be very ductile. We measured the trends and plunges of various foliations. The folds are typically isoclinal with some shearing, and the plunges of the fold axes range from steep to shallow. Within the schist we observed some vestige of the sedimentary protolith, a dark shale stacked atop a light sand. We noted sheaf folds and contemporaneous multi-directional folding, unique kinematic indicators for shear. The timing of the main assembly of the schist dates to 1140 Ma, predating the intrusion of the Town Mountain Granite. These schists are roughly the same grade as the gneiss we saw the previous day; both were metamorphosed at the amphibolite facies.

Some trends and plunges of fold axes:

  1. N50ºW, 43º
  2. N20ºW, 34º
  3. N40ºW, 15º
  4. N55ºW, 31º
  5. N15ºW, 39º
  6. N60ºW, 12º







Packsaddle Schist containing graphitic layers (dark banding) and folded quartz veins (white).



Cordierite (Added Stop)

Location: N 030.53540 W 098.44107

Elevation: 282 m

The next roadcut we stopped at was notable because of the presence of cement-like cordierite nodules which statically overprint the rock’s foliation. Cordierite is characteristic of high temperature, low pressure contact metamorphism associated with later stage plutonism. It contains no clear crystal structure and is only visible in thin section. Since the cordierite overprints foliation but exhibits none itself, we know that this stage of plutonism postdates folding. The Packsaddle rock here is more schist-like than what we saw at the last stop; the protolith is less obvious.






Packsaddle Schist with cordierite indicated by the weathering pattern. The cordierite is more resistant than the schist.



White Creek Ford (Mosher Day 1 Optional Stop 3)

Location: N 030.45692 W 098.482931

Elevation: 255 m

At this stop, we had an opportunity to see a rock specific to Texas, llanite. Llanite typically has blue quartz phenocrysts and K-feldspar. We saw some of these diagnostic characterics in the rocks surrounding the llanite dike that cut through the area. This dike is dated at 1098 Ma and indicative of late-stage rhyolitic igneous activity. Due to the lack of metamorphic overprint, the area is estimated to be at least 20 million years younger than the Town Mountain Granite not far from there. Further, the surrounding rocks had an aphanitic texture due to being injected into the mix at a shallower depth. They had to formed near the surface to avoid crystal growth and develop this texture.

An interesting feature we observed in this area included veins that were folded. First, in order for the veins to be formed, the rocks had to exhibit brittle behavior by cracking, and then later on exhibit ductile behavior for the veins to then be folded. This brought up the transition between brittle and ductile behavior which can occur due to changes in temperature, overburden pressure, or strain rate. The boudinage of the veins also indicated flow after formation. We also saw some crenulation folding that indicates a later extensional event due to its lack of offset from the main formation.







Classic “boudinage” feature.




Sandy Creek Shear Zone (Mosher Day 1 Stop 3a)

Location: N 030.54169 W 098.56100

Elevation: 292 m

The Sandy Creek Shear Zone is home to unique rocks that were crushed at high pressure and low temperature. We inferred these conditions from the crushed rock grains that lack evidence of recrystallization. At this stop we could also see another rock very specific to Texas, the Town Mountain Granite. This felsic granite appears to have orthoclase, hornblende, K-feldspar, quartz, and mica. The granite owes its pink color to abundant K-spar. In some places, the rock looks very “beat up” in that it has discrete fractures and seems to have undergone violent deformation at temperatures much lower than the solidus of the rock. Very little of the protolith was left untouched. The granite has been sheared but not recrystallized due to its location at shallow depths in the crust.

This formation brought up the brittle vs. ductile deformation question again when we observed that the sheared granite was brecciated to a fine-grained texture. Does the cataclastic but cohesive nature of the rock mean that there was some sort of cataclastic flow? This formation was a prime example of the blurred and ill-defined boundary between brittle and ductile deformation and could perhaps represent some sort of boundary condition between these two categories. The fact that there are mylonites half a kilometer down the road from this formation and its relative location indicates that the Sandy Creek Shear Zone is a point of contact between the Coal Creek and Packsaddle domains.









Brecciated sheared granite exhibiting cataclastic flow.




Augen Gneiss (Mosher Day 1 Stop 3b)


Location: N 030.54169 W 098.56100

Elevation: 292 m

The gneiss here is similar in lithology to the rock at the Sandy Creek Shear Zone. Unlike the previous stop, this rock has been recrystallized after flowing. High-temperature ductile flow and partial melting occurred. This outcrop is a mylonite, meaning that grain size was reduced by plastic deformation during recrystallization. Minerals more resistant to grain size reduction, such as orthoclase feldspar, were rolled during deformation, resulting in clear mineral lineations and classic augen gneiss eye-like feldspar features. These rocks were clearly hotter than at the previous site, yet sit topographically higher, indicating that they likely did not undergo contemporaneous deformation.








Augen gneiss outcrop with mineral lineations lying on a foliation plane.





Red Mountain Ranch (Mosher Day 1 Stop 3c)

Location: N 030.51822 W 098.55237

Elevation: 312 m

Here the cataclastic flow and mylonite from the previous two stops (4 and 5 respectively) are interwoven. This leads us to believe that the two different flow features at their respective sites must represent the early and late stage of the same shear zone. Additionally, this locality is near the transition into the Packsaddle Schist, sitting at the base of the Coal Creek domain.









Interwoven cataclastic flow and mylonite.




Serpentinite Quarry (Mosher Day 1 Stop 2)

Location: N 030.47915 W 098. 63175

Elevation: 332 m

The serpentinite seen at the quarry here is a 6 km long section of the Coal Creek Domain. Derived from ultramafic, low crustal rocks, the serpentinite records a complex history of multiple instances of metamorphism, serpentinization, and deformation. It is thought that the serpentinite was deposited originally as a olivine-rich harzburgite and was subsequently serpentinized during tectonic emplacement. Following emplacement, the unit underwent regional deformation and metamorphism during which it was de-serpentinized. Finally, as granites were emplaced in the area, associated metamorphism anthophyllite grew and, as temperatures fell, serpentinization happened again due to hot water from the granite.







Serpentinite quarry at the final stop.

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