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The geometry of Laramide foreland uplifts near the basement-cover interface provides a critical test of models for basement-involved foreland structures. Limits and controls on basement folding are well defined by deflections of the basement-cover unconformity in the northeastern Front Range of Colorado, Rattlesnake Mountain anticline of northern Wyoming, and northern Teton Range of northwestern Wyoming.

Where basement overlies sedimentary strata on a single reverse fault, basement folding is largely limited to the area within 1 km of the fault. In this area, distributed high-angle faulting bends the unconformity in the hanging-wall basement tip up to 20° toward the fault. Folding of the hanging-wall tip increases with progressive fault slip and decreased fault dip. Smaller structures commonly show little basement folding, contradicting the fold then fault sequence predicted by the fold-thrust structural model. The footwall basement is either undeformed or bent downward by hanging-wall loading, with upward folding limited to the fault’s narrow zone of cataclastic flow.

Where fault splays break the basement into one or more fault-bounded wedges, overlying strata form more open folds without necessitating penetrative basement folding. The hanging-wall basement commonly shows little folding because the weak basement tip, defined by the main fault and the hanging-wall unconformity, is often left behind in the footwall as a subthrust wedge, filling the gap between the flexed sedimentary strata and the footwall basement block.

The downward-narrowing zones of deformation with their variably curved fold surfaces and heterogeneous strain are consistent with fault-propagation folding by distributed shear in a triangular shear zone (trishear). Heterogeneous trishear models predict either extensive basement folding in the hanging wall (footwall-fixed trishear) or no basement folding in the hanging wall (hanging-wall–fixed trishear). These trishear modes form a continuum of basement behavior, with the strength of the hanging-wall basement tip controlling the shear-zone location and the extent of basement deformation. Structures with lower angle thrusts show more basement folding because their basement tips are narrowly tapered and weak, fixing the triangular shear zones with respect to the footwall. Structures with higher angle reverse faults show less basement folding because their basement tips are blunt and stronger, fixing the triangular shear zones with respect to the hanging wall.

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