The Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, USA, contain an unusual combination of thick- and thin-skinned contractional structures involving both basement and cover rocks in the Laramide Rocky Mountain foreland. These structures are truncated by down-faulted extensional basins to the east and west. Together with synorogenic sediments, these structures preserve a record of the rise of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains, the Laramide orogeny, and Rio Grande rifting. Laramide structures within the mountains provide clues to processes that link the three events and to necessary conditions for thin-skinned and thick-skinned contractional structures to form together in continental interiors.

To examine the full variety of structural styles, a portion of the northern Sangre de Cristo fold-and-thrust belt in Colorado was described and interpreted using geologic maps and structural cross-sections. Stratigraphic relations of the Ancestral Rocky Mountain highlands and basin fill were reconstructed from existing maps. These relations allow identification of faults inherited from the Ancestral Rocky Mountains, differentiation of thrust sheets, and in some cases, estimation of the magnitude of displacement. To examine relations between Laramide thrusts and Rio Grande rifting, kinematic data were collected from a thrust fault adjacent to rift faults.

Three thrust fault styles were recognized: thin-skinned basement, thin- skinned cover rocks, and thick-skinned basement. Thin-skinned thrusts arising from a hinterland beneath the present San Luis Valley carried sheets of Proterozoic basement rocks northeast over a Laramide foreland. These basement thrusts are interpreted to be faults of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains that reactivated during the Laramide orogeny. The Laramide foreland consists of thin-skinned thrusts and folds in sedimentary cover rocks as young as 49 Ma. Both thin-skinned thrusts in basement and cover rocks are bounded by thick-skinned basement thrusts that moved intermittently throughout the Laramide orogeny.

We infer that thin-skinned thrusts form in continental interiors where deformation is focused in weak strata of thick basin fill and in fluid-reaction weakened preexisting faults in basement rocks. Both conditions are met in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Basement thrusts adjacent to the San Luis Valley contain evidence of plastic contractional microstructures overprinted by extensional microstructures that may record the transition from Laramide contraction to Rio Grande extension of the crust.

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