The Solitario is a large, combination laccolith and caldera (herein termed “laccocaldera”), with a 16-km-diameter dome over which developed a 6×2 km caldera. This laccocaldera underwent a complex sequence of predoming sill, laccolith, and dike intrusion and concurrent volcanism; doming with emplacement of a main laccolith; ash-flow eruption and caldera collapse; intracaldera sedimentation and volcanism; and late intrusion. Detailed geologic mapping and 40Ar/39Ar dating reveal that the Solitario evolved over an interval of approximately 1 m.y. in three distinct pulses at 36.0, 35.4, and 35.0 Ma. The size, duration, and episodicity of Solitario magmatism are more typical of large ash-flow calderas than of most previously described laccoliths.
Small volumes of magma intruded as abundant rhyolitic to trachytic sills and small laccoliths and extruded as lavas and tuffs during the first pulse at 36.0 Ma. Emplacement of the main laccolith, doming, ash-flow eruption, and caldera collapse occurred at 35.4 Ma during the most voluminous pulse. A complex sequence of debris-flow and debris-avalanche deposits, megabreccia, trachyte lava, and minor ash-flow tuff subsequently filled the caldera. The final magmatic pulse at 35.0 Ma consisted of several small laccoliths or stocks and numerous dikes in caldera fill and along the ring fracture. Solitario rocks appear to be part of a broadly cogenetic, metaluminous suite.
Peralkaline rhyolite lava domes were emplaced north and west of the Solitario at approximately 35.4 Ma, contemporaneous with laccolith emplacement and the main pulse in the Solitario. The spatial and temporal relation along with sparse geochemical data suggest that the peralkaline rhyolites are crustal melts related to the magmatic-thermal flux represented by the main pulse of Solitario magmatism.
Current models of laccolith emplacement and evolution suggest a continuum from initial sill emplacement through growth of the main laccolith. Although the Solitario laccocaldera followed this sequence of events, our field and 40Ar/39Ar data demonstrate that it developed through repeated, episodic magma injections, separated by 0.4 to 0.6 m.y. intervals of little or no activity. This evolution requires a deep, long-lived magma source, well below the main laccolith.
Laccoliths are commonly thought to be small, shallow features that are not representative of major, silicic magmatic systems such as calderas and batholiths. In contrast, we suggest that magma chambers beneath many ash-flow calderas are tabular, floored intrusions, including laccoliths. Evidence for this conclusion includes the following: (1) many large plutons are recognized to be laccoliths or at least tabular, (2) the Solitario and several larger calderas are known to have developed over laccoliths, and (3) magma chambers beneath calderas, which are as much as 80 km in diameter, cannot be as deep as they are wide or some would extend into the upper mantle. The Solitario formed during a tectonically neutral period following Laramide deformation and preceding Basin and Range extension. Therefore, space for the main laccolith was made by uplift of its roof and possibly subsidence of the floor, not by concurrent faulting. Laccolith-type injection is probably a common way that space is made for magma bodies of appreciable areal extent in the upper crust.