A unique chert-argillite breccia—a breccia with an argillite matrix, in which nearly all the fragments are chert—underlies an area of at least 60 sq mi in the southern Klamath Mountains of California. Rocks of this composition have not been reported previously, in the Klamath Mountains or elsewhere, but in northwestern Trinity County they make up a large part of the western Paleozoic and Triassic belt. The remainder of the belt consists of northerly trending sinuous zones of two other principal lithologies: radiolarian chert, rhythmically interbedded with slate or phyllite, crops out in three zones in the eastern, central, and western parts of the area; and massive metabasalt and metadiabase intruded by gabbro and serpentinite occur in a zone about 3 mi wide in the eastern part of the area.
Although the predominance of chert fragments makes the chert-argillite breccia apparently unique, rocks that are generally similar, consisting of angular to subangular clasts in a pelitic matrix, have been studied in many localities. Field relations and petrographic features of the chert-argillite breccia—specifically the angularity of clasts, absence of a sandy matrix, preservation of Radiolaria in both chert clasts and pelitic matrix, presence of contorted flow laminae in the matrix, large size of some of the exotic blocks, close association with chert, pillow lava, and limestone, absence of stretching or slickensiding of clasts, and overall dimensions of the unit measurable in miles—variously preclude origin of the rock as a normal sedimentary conglomerate, a tectonic breccia, a tillite, or a subaerial mudflow, but include features common to numerous submarine-slide deposits. We interpret the chert-argillite breccia as the result of uplift and subsequent sliding of a thick deposit of inter-layered chert and pelitic ooze. Brittle fracturing of the chert and mobilization of water-saturated ooze produced the observed features.
Fossiliferous limestone blocks within the slide-breccia indicate that it is no older than Silurian or Devonian, and it predates Jurassic metamorphism and plutonism. The relation of the breccia to a major northwest-trending fault zone, and to serpentinite within this zone, suggests that the formation of the breccia was generally synchronous with the faulting and ultramafic intrusion. Rocks of the central metamorphic belt, east of the mapped area, were metamorphosed during a Devonian orogeny, and we suggest that the submarine slide-breccia was formed as a frontal effect of the same orogeny.