Soft-sediment deformational structures associated with paleoseismicity (e.g., planar clastic dikes) exist within Upper Cretaceous Mesaverde Group strata in the Laramide Elk Basin anticline, northern Bighorn Basin (Wyoming, USA). Retrodeformation of the Elk Basin anticline to a horizontal Mesaverde Group position indicates that all basement offset is removed and that clastic dikes exhibit a dominant northeast trend. The trend of clastic dikes corresponds to the interpreted northeast-southwest direction of early Laramide layer-parallel shortening, suggesting that the development of clastic dikes recorded initiation of basement deformation and Laramide tectonism. To determine the timing of clastic dike development, we present zircon U-Pb geochronology from the stratigraphically lowest sand-source bed generating upwardly injected clastic dikes and a volcanic bentonite bed (Ardmore bentonite) above the stratigraphic interval containing clastic dikes. Weighted mean ages bracket clastic dike development between 82.4 and 78.0 Ma. Our results imply initiation of basement deformation ~8–15 m.y. prior than other estimates in the Bighorn Basin. Therefore, we interpret the development of clastic dikes in the Elk Basin anticline to represent an initial phase of Laramide tectonism associated with an applied end load stress transmitted from the southwestern North American plate margin in response to the collision of the conjugate Shatsky Rise oceanic plateau ca. 90–85 Ma. Results demonstrate how sedimentary responses in the foreland can be used to understand tectonic processes at plate boundaries and provide spatial-temporal parameters for models of Laramide deformation.

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