Abstract

Two newly identified middle Eocene paleovalleys (≥ 100 km long) preserved on top of the southwest Montana reentrant of the Cordilleran fold-and-thrust belt indicate long-lived longitudinal flow across the thrust belt and resolve a long-standing debate about the source of the voluminous quartzite debris in the Upper Cretaceous to lower Tertiary Divide, Harebell, and Pinyon conglomerates of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Geologic mapping, stratigraphic, provenance, and geochronologic studies revealed that Eocene volcanic and sedimentary rocks in the paleovalleys are as thick as 2 km, onlap preexisting bedrock, and interfinger with well-rounded conglomerate derived from formations exposed only to the west. The middle Eocene paleovalleys are the youngest expression of a major paleoriver system that transported sediment toward the foreland during the Sevier orogeny. An Eocene subcrop map shows that the headwaters of the Eocene paleovalleys coincided with structural culminations in the thrust belt that supplied sediment to the Divide conglomerate of the Upper Cretaceous to lower Tertiary Beaverhead Group. Ultimately, the Lemhi Pass and Hawley Creek paleovalleys provided several thousand cubic kilometers of quartzite debris to the Pinyon and Harebell conglomerates of northwest Wyoming 200–350 km away, and formed the northwest half of a giant longitudinal drainage system. Sevier contraction, not the rising Idaho batholith, first uplifted vast culminations beneath the headwaters of this river system.

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