Middle to Upper Jurassic strata in the Paradox Basin and Central Colorado trough (CCT; southwestern United States) record a pronounced change in sediment dispersal from dominantly aeolian deposition with an Appalachian source (Entrada Sandstone) to dominantly fluvial deposition with a source in the Mogollon and/or Sevier orogenic highlands (Salt Wash Member of the Morrison Formation). An enigmatic abundance of Cambrian (ca. 527–519 Ma) grains at this provenance transition in the CCT at Escalante Canyon, Colorado, was recently suggested to reflect a local sediment source from the Ancestral Front Range, despite previous interpretations that local basement uplifts were largely buried by Middle to Late Jurassic time.
This study aims to delineate spatial and temporal patterns in provenance of these Jurassic sandstones containing Cambrian grains within the Paradox Basin and CCT using sandstone petrography, detrital zircon U-Pb geochronology, and detrital zircon trace elemental and rare-earth elemental (REE) geochemistry. We report 7887 new U-Pb detrital zircon analyses from 31 sandstone samples collected within seven transects in western Colorado and eastern Utah. Three clusters of zircon ages are consistently present (1.53–1.3 Ga, 1.3–0.9 Ga, and 500–300 Ma) that are interpreted to reflect sources associated with the Appalachian orogen in southeastern Laurentia (mid-continent, Grenville, Appalachian, and peri-Gondwanan terranes). Ca. 540–500 Ma zircon grains are anomalously abundant locally in the uppermost Entrada Sandstone and Wanakah Formation but are either lacking or present in small fractions in the overlying Salt Wash and Tidwell Members of the Morrison Formation. A comparison of zircon REE geochemistry between Cambrian detrital zircon and igneous zircon from potential sources shows that these 540–500 Ma detrital zircon are primarily magmatic. Although variability in both detrital and igneous REE concentrations precludes definitive identification of provenance, several considerations suggest that distal sources from the Cambrian granitic and rhyolitic provinces of the Southern Oklahoma aulacogen is also likely, in addition to a proximal source identified in the McClure Mountain syenite of the Wet Mountains, Colorado. The abundance of Cambrian grains in samples from the central CCT, particularly in the Entrada Sandstone and Wanakah Formation, suggests northwesterly sediment transport within the CCT, with sediment sourced from Ancestral Rocky Mountains uplifts of the southern Wet Mountains and/or Amarillo-Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma. The lack of Cambrian grains within the Paradox Basin suggests that the Uncompahgre uplift (southwestern Colorado) acted as a barrier to sediment transport from the CCT.