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Two models have been proposed to explain continental crust generation in accretionary orogens. One model suggests that accretionary orogens are formed by the successive collision of juvenile arcs. The second model invokes tectonic switching, which is the repeated cycles of slab rollback and extensional backarc basin formation followed by basin collapse caused by collision, shallow subduction, and/or increased convergence rate. The northern Colorado Front Range, specifically in and around the Big Thompson, Rist, and Poudre Canyons, offers excellent exposures of Paleoproterozoic rocks to test which accretionary model best explains crust generation for a portion of the Yavapai Province.

In this contribution we have two goals: The first is to provide a field-trip guide that augments Mahan et al.’s (2013) field guide, which uses many stops that have become inaccessible or have changed because of catastrophic flooding that occurred in September 2013. This more current guide focuses on a variety of mostly Paleoproterozoic rocks within what some call the Poudre Basin. These rocks include clastic metasedimentary rocks, amphibolite, the Big Thompson Canyon tonalite suite, the northern Front Range granodiorite, granitic pegmatites, and Mesoproterozoic Silver Plume granite. The second goal is to present and synthesize new and existing geochemistry, geochronology, and isotopic data, and then discuss the origins, age, deformation, and metamorphism of these rocks in the context of the proposed tectonic models.

These data were synthesized into the following tectonic model for the Poudre Basin. At ca. 1780 Ma, the juvenile Green Mountain arc, located today along the Colorado-Wyoming border, formed and extended shortly thereafter during slab rollback, resulting in the extensional backarc Poudre basin between the diverging arc fragments. Sedimentation within the basin began at inception and continued to ca. 1735 Ma when basin rocks were intruded by the Big Thompson Canyon tonalite suite and the northern Front Range granodiorite, all of which were subsequently metamorphosed and deformed at ca. 1725 Ma. Felsic magmatism and deformation within the basin were perhaps driven by the northward shallow subduction of an oceanic plateau or seamount. This suggests that following accretion of the Green Mountain Arc, tectonic switching explains formation and collapse of the Poudre Basin and creation of some of northern Colorado’s crust.

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