Epithermal vein and carbonate replacement mineralization related to caldera development, Cunningham Gulch, Silverton, Colorado
Epithermal vein and carbonate replacement deposits in Cunningham Gulch are located within the western San Juan Tertiary volcanic field in southwestern Colorado. The Pride of the West epithermal vein system is hosted within the intracaldera facies of the Sapinero Mesa Tuff, a voluminous ash-flow tuff that erupted from and resulted in the formation of the San Juan Caldera at 28 mybp. The Pride of the West vein system is developed along a radial fracture formed during resurgence of the San Juan Caldera prior to eruption of the Crystal Lake Tuff (27.5 mybp). This eruption led to the concomitant collapse of the Silverton Caldera, nested within the larger San Juan Caldera. The Pride of the West, Osceola, and Little Fanny mines are positioned near the intersection of the Pride radial fracture system and the buried structural margin of the San Juan Caldera, suggesting that ore concentration was controlled by this structural setting. Large limestone blocks of the Mississippian Leadville Formation are incorporated into the intracaldera fill volcanics in the mine area. These blocks appear to have been engulfed within mudflow breccias of the Tertiary San Juan Formation (32.1 mybp). They were then emplaced in their present structural position within a caldera-collapse breccia which caved from the oversteepened margin of the San Juan Caldera. Regional propylitic alteration of the hosting volcanics to a chlorite-calcite-pyrite assemblage preceded vein-associated alteration and mineralization. The veins are enveloped by a narrow phyllic alteration assemblage of quartz, sericite, illite, kaolinite, and pyrite. The veins are comprised of sphalerite, galena, chalcopyrite, pyrite, hematite, magnetite, quartz, pyroxmangite, calcite, and minor barite. Substantial bodies of replacement ore are present where the vein structures intersect the limestone blocks; the mineral assemblages of the replacement deposits are identical to those of the feeding vein structures. Commonly, replacement textures are spectacular concentrations, especially the "zebra ore" which primarily consists of regularly spaced, alternating bands of sulfides and quartz. These "zebra" laminations are stratigraphically controlled and appear to represent replacement of a depositional or diagenetic fabric. Main ore-stage mineralization began with widespread deposition of quartz with or without pyrite, followed by sphalerite, chalcopyrite, and galena. Post ore-stage brecciation and silicification events are evident and were followed by deposition of calcite and minor barite during the waning stages of the hydrothermal system. The distributions of Fe, Mn, Pb, and Ca suggest a lateral component of fluid flow from northwest the southeast, away from the structural margin of the Silverton Caldera. Fluid inclusion data from both vein and replacement-type sphalerite and quartz indicate that mineral deposition occurred over a range of 200 to 312°C (mean 243°C) from solutions containing 1 to 5% total salts. The high base metal to precious metal content of the ore, the phyllic alteration assemblage, and the temperature and composition of the ore-forming fluid indicate that the mine workings are within the lower portion of a fossil geothermal system.