Cambrian sandstones of the western United States and northern Mexico record deposition above a major unconformity on the rift margin of Laurentia. Detrital zircon ages from the Cambrian-Ordovician Bliss Sandstone in southern New Mexico are used to test models for the influence and significance of the Transcontinental Arch during the early Paleozoic. We obtained U-Pb zircon ages of basement rocks to test potential local source rocks in New Mexico. An orthogneiss in the Florida Mountains has an age of 1627 ± 18 Ma (all errors 2σ). The San Diego Mountain granite underlying the Bliss Sandstone is ∼1400 Ma. A rapakivi granite in the Little Hatchet Mountains has a U-Pb Concordia age of 1077 ± 4 Ma, coeval with the Pikes Peak granite and several granites in Sonora, Mexico. Three samples of the Florida Mountains granite underlying the Bliss Sandstone yield an average age of 510 ± 5 Ma; this is a rare and distinctive age of magmatism in western Laurentia. Zircons with these ages can be used as tracers for understanding transportation paths of sediment. The Bliss Sandstone was studied from eight localities in southern New Mexico; one overlies the Cambrian Florida Mountains granite, and three lie to the west. The sandstones are quartzarenite, subarkose, and arkose. The most abundant detrital zircon population included Grenville ages with a main peak at 1250 Ma. Other significant peaks are at 1465 Ma, 1625 Ma, 1710 Ma, and 1850 Ma, and these populations generally decrease in abundance with increasing age. Only five Archean zircons (out of 845) were discovered. Cambrian detrital zircons are present in the Florida Mountains Bliss Sandstone locality, directly overlying the Cambrian granite. They are also present in two localities 60–80 km southwest and northwest of the Florida Mountains. Maximum depositional ages from sandstones with Cambrian zircons range from 509 ± 7 Ma to 504 ± 12 Ma, overlapping with the age of the Florida Mountains granite. The four localities east of the Florida Mountains did not have any Cambrian detrital zircons. We interpret these data as indicating that the Cambrian intrusions of the Oklahoma-Colorado rift were not a source for the Cambrian zircons in the Bliss Sandstone. The Tapeats Sandstone in the Grand Canyon does not have Cambrian zircons and has a minor Grenville peak at 1070 Ma (Gehrels et al., 2011), significantly younger than the 1250 Ma Grenville peak in the Bliss Sandstone. We interpret these differences as being related to different source areas on opposite sides of the Transcontinental Arch. The differences in the specific ages of Cambrian plutons between the Oklahoma rift and the Florida Mountains granite can be used to test depositional models for other Cambrian sandstones of the southwest U.S. and in Mexico, where the presence of Cambrian zircons in the Caborca Block has implications for the Mojave-Sonora megashear hypothesis.
- Received 18 December 2011.
- Revision received 30 April 2012.
- Accepted 17 May 2012.
- © 2012 Geological Society of America