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Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey was only five years old when its director, John Wesley Powell, approved Captain Clarence Dutton’s plan for one field season on Mount Taylor and the Zuni Plateau (Fig. 1). Dutton’s description of west-central New Mexico, published in 1885 as part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s 6th Annual Report, has become a geologic classic, not only for its lucid literary style but also because it laid the foundation of basic geologic concepts. In his account of erosion and uplift, the reader can discern the germ of ideas that would lead Dutton within four years, to the principle of isostasy. In a discussion of mountain building, he contrasted compressional fold belts, such as the Alps and Appalachians, with mountains of western interior North America, in which vertical uplift and rifting had been the principal forces. Finally, he pondered the significance of the great volcanic fields that nearly encircle the Colorado Plateau.

In the Mount Taylor-Zuni area, Dutton recorded a history of volcanism from late Tertiary to late prehistoric time. Basalt predominates; the youngest lavas issued from cones that are still well preserved, and the lava flowed down modern valleys. Older lavas cap mesas (in general, the higher the mesa, the older the cap; see Fig. 2), 2), and many of their vents have been reduced to volcanic necks. There are dozens of small basalt volcanoes in various stages of preservation as well as one large central volcano (Mt. Taylor, elevation 11,389 ft; 3472 m)

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