Landslide deposits are common in basin fill of tectonically active areas, including the Basin and Range province of western North America. However, interpreting and reconstructing ancient landsliding events from these deposits is challenging, but can be aided by detailed field analysis. Remnants of the Blue Diamond landslide breccia are exposed capping hills and ridges in the foothills of the eastern Spring Mountains near Blue Diamond, Nevada, USA. Uncertainties surrounding the origin and emplacement of the ancestral Blue Diamond landslide have emerged based on the disparate distribution of landslide outcrops. Therefore, in this study we used detailed sedimentological data and observations to interpret a two-phase emplacement history for the Blue Diamond landslide.
Sedimentological observations are consistent with Blue Diamond landslide breccia emplacement as a rock avalanche. The presence of clastic dikes and flame structures and negligible incorporation of bedrock substrate material suggest that runout occurred over a saturated substrate. Flow transformation into a debris avalanche is ruled out because clast-count data show that debris entrainment was not sufficient to act as the sole mechanism behind the excessive mobility experienced by the Blue Diamond landslide. Instead, we propose that the excessive mobility was driven by flow entrainment of large Aztec Sandstone boulders and interaction with a saturated runout path substrate that caused a reduced basal frictional resistance, enabling initial emplacement onto Blue Diamond Hill. We therefore suggest that the Blue Diamond landslide was derived from a source area about 8.5 km northwest of the Blue Diamond townsite and flowed into the Blue Diamond Hill site where it was emplaced onto Moenkopi Formation atop the hill during the Miocene. Due to loading by this new overburden, incompetent gypsum horizons failed in the upper Kaibab Formation stratigraphically below the Moenkopi Formation. These failed gypsum horizons then served as a compound landslide rupture surface, transporting the overlying Moenkopi Formation and landslide breccia. This secondary emplacement likely ceased by late Miocene to Pliocene time.