The Montana-Yellowstone Geologic Field Guide Database
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Use this page to search our collection of educationally-useful geologic field guides and road logs in Montana and Yellowstone. You may search the database by entering a keyword to search or choosing one of the listed terms for geologic topic, geographic location, or geologic province.


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Quaternary Geology and Faulting of the Helena Valley, Montana part of MT Field Guides
This field trip will give the participants an overview of the Quaternary deposits and late Cenozoic faulting which have shaped the Helena valley. The Helena valley is a NW-trending graben surrounded by bedrock highlands. Most of the western half of the valley is a young alluvial plain formed of coalescing alluvial outwash fans issuing from drainages flowing towards Lake Helena. The western valley is ringed by older pediment surfaces sloping gently down from the valley margins. The eastern half of the valley is underlain primarily by later Tertiary silts, sands and gravels uplifted and segmented by normal faulting. Atop these Tertiary deposits along the southern valley margin, early Quaternary alluvial deposits are preserved as hilltop remnants of a formerly much larger deposit. Late Cenozoic faulting shaped the Helena valley, creating the modern topography and influencing sedimentation patterns; however, only a few faults show evidence of late Quaternary offsets.

Topics: Fossils, Resources, Surficial geology, Igneous rocks, Metamorphic rocks, Structures
Geographic Location: Southwest Montana
Geologic Province: Rocky Mountain Fold-Thrust Belt

Economic Geology of the Greater Helena Area: Helena to Montana Tunnels Mine, Lump Gulch, Grizzly Gulch, Fort Harrison and Marysville part of MT Field Guides
The Helena area has a long history of base- and precious-metal production from the Corbin-Wickes District on the south to the Marysville gold district northwest of the Capitol City. Gold has also been mined from the placers along Last Change Gulch now within the city limits. This field trip examinations the volcanic-hosted ore body at the recently opened Montana Tunnels mine south of Helena. From this mine, participants will travel north to Helena through an area of numerous inactive base- and precious-metals mines at the northern margin of the Boulder batholith and then onto the Marysville district northwest of Helena where the gold deposits are related to the Marysville stock.

Topics: Hydrology, Resources, Structures, Sedimentary rocks, Igneous rocks
Geographic Location: Southwest Montana
Geologic Province: Rocky Mountain Fold-Thrust Belt

Sapphire Deposits of the Missouri River Near Helena, Montana part of MT Field Guides
Sapphires occur with gold, both in terrace deposits along the Missouri River and in the active river channel. Both of these minerals have been recovered from these deposits beginning with recovery of gold in the latter part of the 1800's. More recently, up until the early 1940's, sapphires were also recovered from these operations for industrial uses. In recent years recovery of sapphires by recreationists for faceting into gem stones has become important. Five deposits open for fee digging will be visited during this field excursion. They are situated on the French, Eldorado, Spokane and Gruell's bars. Also, exposures of a sapphire-bearing andesite sill close to the Missouri River and considered a source for some of the sapphires found in the gravels will be examined.

Topics: Resources, Structures, Sedimentary rocks, Igneous rocks
Geographic Location: Southwest Montana
Geologic Province: Rocky Mountain Fold-Thrust Belt

The Middle Yellowstone Valley from Livingston to Gardiner, Montana: A Microcosm of Northern Rocky Mountain Geology part of MT Field Guides
The middle Yellowstone valley, between the Great Plains at Livingston and the edge of the Yellowstone volcanic plateau near Gardiner, is a complex palimpsest of lithology, structure, and surficial processes. It shares basement rocks with the continental interior, largely to the north and east; Paleozoic lithologies with the western interior, compressive tectonics with the Fold and Thrust Belt to the west; extension with the Basin and Range to the west and south; and Cenozoic volcanism and elements of its geomorphic evolution with much of the surrounding region. The geological exploration of this region serves as a microcosm of the evolution of the geological understanding of the American West.

Topics: Hydrology, Resources, Fossils, Environmental Geology, Hazards, Surficial geology, Sedimentary rocks, Igneous rocks, Structures, Metamorphic rocks
Geographic Location: Yellowstone National Park, Southwest Montana
Geologic Province: Central Rocky Mountains Foreland Province

Field Guide, Little Belt Mountains part of MT Field Guides
This field guide extends from Monarch to Utica across the northeastern portion of the Little Belt Mountains. The trip, via Hughesville, Yogo Peak and the Yogo sapphire mines, provides an overview of Laramide igneous activity in the Little Belt Mountains of central Montana. The mountains were formed as a large anticline in the Late Cretaceous to late Paleocene or earliest Eocene. The forceful intrusions in the Little Belt Mountains by felsic, hence viscous magmas, contrast sharply with the low-viscosity, basic, alkaline extrusives in the Highwood Mountains to the north.

Topics: Surficial geology, Resources, Fossils, Structures, Igneous rocks, Sedimentary rocks, Metamorphic rocks
Geographic Location: North-Central Montana
Geologic Province: Central Rocky Mountains Foreland Province

A Traverse Across the Northern Belt Basin From East Glacier Park, Montana to Bonners Ferry, Idaho part of MT Field Guides
This field guide examines differences between three segments of the Belt Basin along an east-west transect from East Glacier Park, Montana to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Each segment is characterized not only by its structural style, but also by the suite of Belt rocks that comprise it. The easternmost segment consists of the Lewis thrust plate and associated thrusts as far west as Columbia Falls, Montana where it is terminated by the Rocky Mountain trench. This segment contains eastern Belt facies including: Altyn, Appekunny, Grinnell and Helena (Siyeh), Snowslip, Shepard, Mount Shields and McNamara formations. Fine sediments in these rocks, probably derived from a western continental source terrane, were deposited adjacent to the stable North American craton, where they were mixed with smaller amounts of coarse sand derived from an inferred coarse sand sheet that mantled the crystalline craton. The central segment extends from the Rocky Mountain trench to the Libby thrust system. It is characterized by broad, open folds that expose Belt rocks of the central part of the basin, including a thick section of Prichard, Burke, Revett, St. Regis, Empire, Wallace and Helena formations. These rocks are composed mostly of argillite, carbonate and fine-grained quartzite. The western segment includes the Libby thrust and Leonia fault system. It extends as far west as the Purcell trench. Exposed in this area are rocks from the Prichard through the Missoula Group. Rocks of the Ravalli Group and the Wallace Formation contain more fine-to medium-grained quartzite than those of the central segment, reflecting a western source. However, the Missoula Group rocks are finer grained and more calcareous than those of the type area, indicating that late in the Middle Proterozoic the western source terrane probably subsided and that the basin center shifted westward.

Topics: Surficial geology, Structures, Fossils, Metamorphic rocks, Igneous rocks, Sedimentary rocks
Geographic Location: Northwest Montana
Geologic Province: Rocky Mountain Fold-Thrust Belt

Volcanism and Plutonism at Shallow Crustal Levels: The Elkhorn Mountains Volcanics and the Boulder Batholith, Southwestern Montana part of MT Field Guides
The Upper Cretaceous Elkhorn Mountains Volcanics (EMV) and Boulder batholith of southwestern Montana provide an example of a large-volume, epizonal, volcanic-plutonic complex whose deep level of erosion has exposed the cogenetic intrusive rocks while preserving sizeable portions of the volcanic field. Such a volcanic-plutonic association provides a unique opportunity for evaluation of many aspects of the evolution of a shallow-crustal magmatic system, such as geochemical relations of both the volcanic and plutonic rocks and the nature of intrusive-extrusive relationships at the present level of exposure.

Topics: Metamorphic rocks, Structures, Igneous rocks
Geographic Location: Southwest Montana
Geologic Province: Rocky Mountain Fold-Thrust Belt

A Traverse Across the Eastern Belt Basin From Neihart to Townsend, Montana part of MT Field Guides
This road log focuses on Precambrian (Proterozoic) sedimentary rock deposited in the Helena embayment of the eastern Belt basin. It also includes a general description of the geology between exposures of Proterozoic strata, briefly describing occurrences of Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks, Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, and Tertiary igneous rocks. A stratigraphic column is provided for refeference.

Topics: Surficial geology, Fossils, Structures, Igneous rocks, Sedimentary rocks, Metamorphic rocks
Geographic Location: Northwest Montana
Geologic Province: Rocky Mountain Fold-Thrust Belt

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the Middle Rocky Mountains part of MT Field Guides
This trip is designed to show participants the granite-cored Laramide (Late Cretaceous-earliest Eocene) mountain ranges in the middle Rocky Mountains, and their various stages of burial by Cenozoic deposits and subsequent Quaternary exhumation. Mountain-flank structures involving Precambrian, Paleozoic, and Mesozoic rocks, the classic Heart Mountain detachment fault complex, and the rootless overthrust mountain ranges of the Wyoming-Utah-Idaho thrust belt are traversed.

Topics: Hazards, Igneous rocks, Hydrology, Structures, Metamorphic rocks, Sedimentary rocks
Geographic Location: Yellowstone National Park
Geologic Province: Yellowstone Plateau

The Yellowstone Plateau-Island Park Region part of MT Field Guides
The Yellowstone Plateau, at the center of one of the Earth's largest volcanic fields, spans the continental divide between the Northern and Middle Rocky Mountains at an average elevation of about 2.400 m. The eruptions of the Yellowstone Plateau volcanic field, entirely postdating 2.5 Ma, were exceedingly voluminous but are only the surficial expression of the emplacement of a batholithic volume of rhyolitic magma to high crustal levels. Although the latest eruptions were about 70,000 years ago, an immense hydrothermal system and a variety of geophysical characteristics indicate the continued presence of an active shallow magma chamber.

Topics: Surficial geology, Structures, Igneous rocks, Sedimentary rocks
Geographic Location: Yellowstone National Park
Geologic Province: Yellowstone Plateau

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