New low-temperature thermochronology and geochronology data from Upper Jurassic–Upper Cretaceous strata from the North American Cordilleran foreland basin in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota document rapid exhumation rates of the adjacent Cordilleran orogenic belt to the west. Both zircon (U-Th-[Sm])/He (zircon He) and apatite fission track (AFT) thermochronology were applied to proximal and distal synorogenic deposits in order to identify a thermochronometer suitable to record source exhumation during the North America Cordilleran orogeny. AFT lag times from Upper Jurassic–Upper Cretaceous deposits are 0–5 m.y. and indicate a relatively steady-state to slightly increasing exhumation rate between 118 Ma and 66 Ma. These lag-time measurements are consistent with active shortening and rapid exhumation rates of ∼0.9–>1 km/m.y. of the North American Cordillera throughout the Cretaceous.
Double dating of the detrital AFT samples was performed on apatites with young AFT cooling ages, in order to test whether or not the young cooling ages represent a signal related to exhumation rather than volcanic activity. Maximum depositional ages using detrital zircon U-Pb geochronology match existing ages on basin stratigraphy. This study indicates that AFT is the most effective thermochronometer to resolve source exhumation from Lower to Upper Cretaceous foreland stratigraphy in the central Cordilleran foreland, and indicates that source material was exhumed from 4 to 5 km depths but was never buried more than a few kilometers (<4 km) since Cretaceous time. Zircon He dates indicate that the orogenic hinterland could not have been exhumed from depths >8–9 km. Double dating of apatites (with AFT and U-Pb) shows that volcanic contamination is a significant issue that can, however, be addressed by double dating.