The Eureka Quartzite is a sheet-like quartzarenite up to 200-m thick that was deposited on the eastern shelf of the Cordilleran miogeocline from Canada to California. It is the only sandstone lithosome from the Middle Cambrian through Devonian succession in the Great Basin and is remarkable in its purity of detrital and authigenic quartz, scarcity of bedding, and heterogeneity of both grain packing and quartz cement abundance. Sand sources ranged from the Peace River Arch in Canada to the Transcontinental Arch in mid-continental North America. The Eureka represents a third-order regressive–transgressive stratigraphic sequence, although whether the regression formed in response to eustasy or epirogenic uplift of western North America is unresolved.
The near absence of detrital clay, body fossils, and subaerial features in addition to the presence of herringbone cross-beds indicate that the Eureka was deposited in intertidal and shallow subtidal environments except for minor eolian deposits. Bioturbation destroyed most primary stratification, although discrete burrows are rare. Textural features of quartz (superb roundness, bean grain shape, crescentic impact scars) indicate a prolonged episode of eolian abrasion prior to marine deposition.
Regionally the detrital composition is 99.5 percent detrital monocrystalline quartz, 0.5 percent K-feldspar and carbonate allochems, and a trace of heavy minerals. From 2 percent to 4 percent feldspar and carbonate allochems that were initially present have been replaced by quartz during burial. The chief authigenic phases are quartz overgrowths with minor calcite (now dolomite) and illite. Spheroidal and amoeboid calcite-cemented concretions up to 3 cm in diameter formed at shallow burial depths, but all carbonate in the concretions has been leached in outcrop. The heterogeneity of grain compaction and amount of quartz cement resulted in beds that range from semifriable to sedimentary quartzites in the same outcrop. Compaction by the combination of grain rearrangement, pressure dissolution, and grain fracturing generated anomalously low intergranular volumes that average 14 percent in Nevada and 21 percent in Utah.
The normal evolution of microquartz overgrowths (<10 μm) to meso and macroquartz overgrowths (>10 μm) during cementation was retarded; consequently, microquartz and mesoquartz cement (80 percent) dominate over macroquartz (20 percent), and they are the only cements in the least-cemented beds and laminations. Illite co-precipitated with microquartz and impeded quartz cementation by coating quartz crystal faces. Despite reaching temperatures >135° C for ∼100 million years, much of the Eureka, especially in Utah, remains incompletely cemented and retains porosity of ∼2 percent. The chief cause of cement heterogeneity appears to be authigenic illite abundance. Pressure dissolution of quartz at shale beds and clay drapes that formed stylolites was the most likely major source of silica for quartz cement.
Invasion by hydrocarbons and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) resulted in the reduction of iron in hematite grain coats on quartz grains, a remnant of their eolian dune formation, the bleaching of beds, and the generation of pyrite (now hematite). The abundance of iron that now resides in pyrite/hematite suggests that red beds were once widespread. Outcrop and near-outcrop processes generated Liesegang bands of iron oxide, desert varnish, “pockmarks” where carbonate cement in centimeter-scale concretions dissolved, hematite pseudomorphs of pyrite, and minor opal cement.