Paleozoic sedimentary rocks in a wide area of the northern Sangre de Cristo Range show effects of heating during Tertiary time. Heating is tentatively interpreted as a response to burial during Laramide folding and thrusting and also to high heat flow during Rio Grande rifting.
The regional extent of heating is shown by the distribution of low-grade metamorphic minerals, altered conodonts, and reset fission-track ages throughout much of the study area. Alteration of conodonts to a conodont alteration index (CAI) of 4.0 suggests that temperatures reached ∼200 °C in the central part of the area. Temperatures may have reached 300 °C beneath Laramide thrusts on the west side of the range, where conodonts were altered to a CAI of 5.0, and where chloritoid and andalusite are found in sedimentary rocks of Pennsylvanian age. The lowest temperatures that were determined by conodont alteration (CAI = 1.0–2.0, <50–70 °C) are along the east side of the range, where rocks were evidently never buried deeply. Contact metamorphism was restricted to wall rocks of a few isolated stocks; near dikes and sills, it was not significant.
Fission-track ages of apatite across a section of the range show that rocks cooled abruptly below 120 °C, the blocking temperature for apatite, ∼19 Ma ago. Cooling was probably in response to rapid uplift and erosion of the northern Sangre de Cristo Range during early Rio Grande rifting.