The timing of deformation within and adjacent to the Helena salient of west-central Montana is poorly constrained relative to other segments of the Sevier fold-and-thrust belt. This study presents low-temperature thermochronology data from the Little Belt Mountains, a basement-cored Laramide uplift that is juxtaposed with the leading edge of the salient. We analyzed eight samples of Paleoproterozoic basement for apatite fission-track (AFT) and zircon (U-Th)/He (ZHe) thermochronology. Four samples yielded AFT ages ranging from ca. 80 Ma to 73 Ma and associated long, unimodal confined track lengths, indicating rapid cooling and exhumation of Little Belt Mountains basement during the Late Cretaceous. The other four samples are characterized by younger AFT ages (ca. 55 Ma), which suggest a combination of prolonged residence in the apatite partial annealing zone and postexhumation magmatic reheating. In total, 20 new ZHe dates range from ca. 236 Ma to 28 Ma and show a correlation between date and effective uranium. Forward model results for ZHe data are consistent with upper-crustal residence during the Proterozoic followed by Phanerozoic burial and rapid Late Cretaceous cooling. Cross sections across the Little Belt Mountains display the geometry of the Volcano Valley fault zone, an array of down-to-the-south Proterozoic normal faults that profoundly influenced the development of the Cordilleran thrust belt. Our new constraints from the Little Belt Mountains when integrated with published kinematic constraints from the Helena salient reveal significant out-of-sequence deformation in this portion of the thrust belt between ca. 80 Ma and 55 Ma. A kinematic model is proposed that involves Late Cretaceous (ca. 80 Ma) exploitation of rheologically incompetent units at the base of the Belt Supergroup within the Helena Embayment, facilitating early exhumation in the Little Belt Mountains. Our new data and synthesis are consistent with previous interpretations in which an inherited stratigraphic and structural architecture of Proterozoic ancestry was the predominant control on the development of the Helena salient during Cretaceous−early Eocene time.

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