The Cuale mining district, situated in the Cordillera Madre del Sur, ~30 km southeast of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, comprises a number of small, polymetallic Pb, Zn, Cu, volcanogenic massive sulfide deposits (VMS), and vein and stockwork-hosted deposits with low-sulfidation epithermal characteristics. Massive sulfide mineralization contains high Ag ± Au grades when compared to similar deposits in western Mexico. The massive sulfide bodies are hosted by an interbedded rhyolitic volcanic and volcaniclastic succession, herein termed the Cuale volcanic sequence. Regionally, the Cuale volcanic sequence is part of the Zihuatanejo subterrane belonging to the Guerrero terrane, which is interpreted to be a complex Mesozoic accreted arc terrane hosting the majority of VMS deposits in Mexico.
The rocks of the Cuale volcanic sequence are not metamorphosed and are only weakly deformed but exhibit intense chlorite, sericite, and quartz hydrothermal alteration. Three stratigraphic units are identified within the Cuale volcanic sequence: (1) a more than 400-m-thick footwall unit of quartz and plagioclase phyric rhyolite flows, related hyaloclastites, and subordinate heterolithic volcaniclastic breccias; (2) an ore horizon characterized by sedimentary rocks ranging from volcaniclastic conglomerates to black shales, as well as aphyric to quartz and plagioclase phyric rhyolite; and (3) late intrusions composed of quartz and plagioclase phyric rhyolite and subordinate andesitic dikes intruding all units. The sedimentary rocks of the ore horizon are intercalated with rhyolite tuff horizons, some of which exhibit welding or accretionary lapilli that are interpreted as evidence for shallow submarine or subaerial deposition.
The rhyolites of the Cuale volcanic sequence are calc-alkaline with only limited compositional variations. However, the trace element signatures reveal a weak trend from the footwall rhyolites, which are characterized by low Zr/Y (1–1.9) and low chondrite normalized La/Yb ratios (9 of 11 samples between 1.24 and 3.3), to slightly higher values in the ore horizon and late intrusive phase (Zr/Y = 1.6–7.6 and chondrite normalized La/Yb ratios between 2.25 and 15). This compositional evolution can be explained by slightly decreasing degrees of partial melting related to a transition from amphibole-free assemblages for the footwall to amphibole-bearing assemblages in the residuum for the ore horizon and intrusive rhyolites. This interpretation is supported by the observed volcanic stratigraphy and indicates increasing pressure at the site of melt generation as the volcanic edifice was built.
Zircons from five samples of the Cuale volcanic sequence have been dated by the U-Pb method, using isotope dilution thermal ionization mass spectrometry (ID-TIMS). Although some samples show evidence of a minor inherited Pb component, an age range of 157.2 ± 0.5 to 154.0 ± 0.9 Ma has been established. Cuale represents the oldest dated VMS camp in western Mexico as other VMS districts of western Mexico are between 151.3 and 138 Ma.
Two styles of mineralization are recognized: volcanogenic massive sulfide mineralization (VMS) and late low-sulfidation epithermal vein and stockwork mineralization characterized by high Au (1.89 ppm) and Zn (2.35%) but low Cu (0.2%) contents. The VMS mineralization is contained in more than 15 small orebodies, which exhibit a range of mineralization styles. Orebodies interpreted as proximal are characterized by stockwork vein networks with high Au and Cu contents, underlying massive pyrite bodies, which grade laterally and vertically into sphalerite- and galena-rich massive sulfide ore. Stockwork mineralization is locally hosted by aphyric rhyolite. More distal orebodies, rich in Pb, Zn, and Ag, are hosted by black shale and locally exhibit laminated or brecciated sedimentary textures in the galena-sphalerite-pyrite ore. The sedimentary textures observed in some massive sulfide orebodies suggest that the sulfide has been transported and deposited in anoxic basins adjacent to the rhyolite domes. Some of the more significant orebodies show evidence of both distal sedimentary ore textures and proximal features indicated by intense quartz-sericite-pyrite alteration in the immediate footwall.