Altered volcanic ash beds in the Middle Jurassic Temple Cap and Carmel Formations in southwestern Utah record a pulse of active arc-related volcanism between 166 and 171 Ma. A second pulse between 148 and 155 Ma has previously been documented in the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation. Volcanic and volcaniclastic rocks of these same ages have also been identified closer to or within the arc in California in the Inyo Mountains, the Cowhole Mountains, the Palen Mountains, and the central Mojave Desert. The upper part of the volcaniclastic Mount Wrightson Formation and the strata of Cobre Ridge in southern Arizona are ca. 170 Ma in age and appear to be time correlative with the Middle Jurassic formations in southwestern Utah.
The altered ash beds found in the Temple Cap and Carmel Formations typically contain phenocrysts of sanidine, quartz, biotite, apatite, zircon, and titanite. Plagioclase was likely present originally in all of the ashes, but was removed by alteration and is now found only in the Temple Cap red beds. Quartz and sanidine are absent in two crystal-poor ash beds that contain two pyroxenes, hornblende, and biotite. Although major and trace element concentrations in the ash beds have been substantially modified, compositions of relict phenocrysts reveal that the magmas were calc-alkaline rhyolites to andesites. Two-pyroxene, two-feldspar, biotite, and biotite-apatite thermometers suggest that crystallization occurred at temperatures ranging from 740 to 910 °C. Hornblende geobarometry yields pressures of 1–2 kilobars for the two ash beds that contain the appropriate buffer assemblage. The mafic silicates all have moderately high Mg/Fe ratios. This fact, combined with the presence of hornblende, biotite, and titanite, suggests that the phenocrysts crystallized at high oxygen fugacities similar to those of the granites of the batholiths of California. The ash probably erupted from a low-lying arc cut by strike-slip faults in what is now southern California and western Nevada.
Major Jurassic unconformities occur near or within the ash-bearing formations in southwestern Utah. Laser-fusion single-crystal 40Ar/39Ar measurements have defined the ages of the unconformities and the associated volcanism. The age of the J-1 unconformity, found at the base of the Temple Cap Formation in southwestern Utah, is older than ca. 170.5 Ma. The J-2 unconformity, which lies between the Temple Cap and Carmel Formations, formed between ca. 169 and 168 Ma. The origin of these unconformities is still unclear, but may be related to the Middle Jurassic pulse of magmatism and the oblique plate convergence along the western margin of North America. The age range of ash beds in the Carmel Formation between 166.3 and 168.0 ± ∼0.5 Ma is consistent with a Bajocian-Bathonian boundary of ca. 166 Ma.