ABSTRACT

The frontal thrust belt in the Lima area of southwestern Montana consists of blind (nonsurfacing) thrusts of the Lima thrust system beneath the Lima anticline and the Tendoy thrust sheet to the west. The Tendoy sheet involves Mississippian through Cretaceous rocks of the southwest-plunging nose of the Mesozoic Blacktail-Snowcrest uplift that are thrust higher (northeast) onto the uplift. The front of the Tendoy sheet west of Lima locally has been warped by later compressive deformation which also involved synorogenic conglomerates of the structurally underlying Beaverhead Formation. To the north, recent extension faulting locally has dropped the front of the Tendoy sheet beneath Quaternary gravels. Rocks of the exposed Tendoy sheet have never been deeply buried, based on vitrinite reflectance of ≤0.6%, conodont CAI (color alteration index) values that are uniformly 1, and on supporting organic geochemical data from Paleozoic rocks from the Tendoy thrust sheet. Directly above and west of the Tendoy sheet lie formerly more deeply buried rocks of the Medicine Lodge thrust system. Their greater burial depth is indicated by higher conodont CAI values. West-dipping post-Paleocene extension faults truncate much of the rear part of the Tendoy sheet and also separate the Medicine Lodge sheet from thrust sheets of the Beaverhead Range still farther west.

The Laramide Blacktail-Snowcrest uplift east of the frontal thrust belt is asymmetric. Its southeast, steeper limb is exposed along the Snowcrest Range. This limb extends southwestward in the complexly deformed Snowcrest structural terrane. Northwest-dipping thrusts on this limb involve basement rocks and probably merge with depth into a major sub-Snowcrest Range thrust. This major thrust borders and is chiefly responsible for the Blacktail-Snowcrest uplift and adjacent Ruby synclinorium to the southeast. Uniform conodont CAI values of 1 from both the southeast and northwest flanks of the Blacktail-Snowcrest uplift indicate that no thick cover of Upper Cretaceous or younger rocks extended over the flanks of the uplift. During Mississippian through Permian time, the area of later Laramide uplift underwent more rapid subsidence than the area of the Laramide Ruby syncline and the Centennial basin to the southeast. The inferred sub-Snowcrest Range thrust fault apparently represents a reactivated zone of basement weakness.

The intersection of thrust-belt and foreland trends, similar to the Uinta uplift area to the south, probably formed a number of structural traps for hydrocarbons which have not yet been tested. Potential petroleum source beds and reservoir rocks are both present in southwest Montana. However, remnants of Tertiary lava flows through much of the area, Tertiary to recent basin-and-range faulting, and supermaturity with respect to oil of Permian and older rocks in the western Centennial uplift area are additional factors which must be considered in any estimate of hydrocarbon potential of the Cordilleran overthrust belt and adjacent foreland in extreme southwestern Montana.

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