Widespread base- and precious-metal anomalies, oxidized sulfide veins, silicified calcareous shales and carbonates, and altered porphyry intrusions occur in the northeastern Sulphur Spring Range, Nevada, 80 km south of important gold deposits in the Carlin trend. The small historic mines and prospects in the area are spatially and perhaps genetically related to a suite of variably altered dikes, small lava flows, silicic domes, and related pyroclastic rocks. New major- and trace-element data and U-Pb zircon ages show that the East Sulphur Spring volcanic suite is Eo-Oligocene in age (36–31 Ma) and ranges in composition from high MgO-basaltic andesite to peraluminous rhyolite. The major- and trace-element compositions of the volcanic rocks are characteristic of continental margin subduction zone magmas and form a high-K, calc-alkaline suite with low Fe/Mg ratios. In addition, the rocks have negative Nb and Ti anomalies and elevated Ba, K, and Pb on normalized trace-element diagrams. Crustal melting is indicated by the eruption of a peraluminous garnet-bearing ignimbrite and as a component in hybridized andesite.
The nature of this suite and its potential for mineralization is elucidated via comparisons to other Eocene age volcanic rocks associated with much larger gold and copper deposits in the Great Basin. The East Sulphur Spring suite is more similar to Eocene igneous rocks found along and near the Carlin trend than it is to those erupted while the Bingham porphyry copper deposit developed 300 km farther to the east. For example, the East Sulphur Spring suite and the Eocene magmatic rocks along the Carlin trend are less alkaline than the Bingham suite and lack its unusual enrichment of Cr, Ni, and Ba in intermediate composition rocks (58–68 wt% silica). Nonetheless, the Bingham and East Sulphur Spring volcanic suites both preserve evidence of mixing that created intermediate compositions. For example, an andesite has obvious mineral disequilibrium with plagioclase, biotite, clinopyroxene, orthopyroxene, olivine, and amphibole coexisting with extensively resorbed megacrysts of quartz, K-feldspar, and garnet—indicative of mixing basaltic andesite or andesite and largely crystallized garnet-bearing rhyolite. On the other hand, we found no evidence for mixing with a mafic alkaline magma like that in the Bingham Canyon magma-ore system.
We conclude that: (1) an unusual tectonic setting prevailed during the Eocene and Oligocene of the western United States that promoted the production of oxidized mafic magma in an arclike setting, but far inland as a result of the rollback of the Farallon slab; (2) the mafic magmas intruded or erupted separately, or mixed with more silicic magma generated by fractional crystallization and assimilation of crustal materials; and (3) these mafic magmas may have delivered significant amounts of sulfur and chalcophile metals to upper crustal magma chambers and eventually to Paleogene ore deposits in the eastern Great Basin.