Open-File Report 2006-1259

Published 2006
Online Only

Geology and Mineral Deposits of the Snow Camp-Saxapahaw Area, Central North Carolina

By Robert G. Schmidt,1 Pablo Gumiel,2 and Alba Payás3

1U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Va.
2Instituto Geológico y Minero de España, Madrid, Spain
3Servei Geológic de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain


The Snow Camp-Saxapahaw study area, in the Carolina slate belt in the Southeastern United States, is notable for large zones of high-sulfidation alteration in arc-related metavolcanic rocks. The area has potential for additional significant pyrophyllite and related aluminosilicate refractory mineral deposits and may have potential for small- to medium-size gold deposits also associated with the high-sulfidation hydrothermal systems.

The Carolina slate belt is an elongate zone of mostly low-grade metamorphic rocks of Neoproterozoic to early Paleozoic age that extends from northeastern Georgia to southern Virginia. It is dominated by volcanic rocks but locally consists of fine-grained epiclastic sedimentary rocks. Plutons and subvolcanic bodies have intruded the rocks of the Carolina slate belt in many places and have been important in controlling the metamorphism and in localizing hydrothermal alteration.

The Snow Camp-Saxapahaw area is mostly underlain by volcanic and volcaniclastic rocks and lesser amounts of intrusive shallow plutons. The volcanic rocks range in composition from basalt to rhyolite; however andesites, dacites, and rhyodacites are the most abundant. The intrusive bodies are largely granite and quartz monzonite; gabbroic bodies also are common. It was possible to establish the relative ages of only part of these rocks.

Two northeast-trending fault zones and fractures divide the map area into three structural blocks; the central block was tilted down to the southwest to form a grabenlike structure. Most of the hydrothermally altered rocks and all of the intensely altered zones are confined to the downdropped block, which we think may have been calderalike in origin. A major volcanic unit, the Reedy Branch Tuff, is limited to the southwestern part of the graben and may be the youngest volcanic rock in the area. Layered rocks record one or more strong folding events, but the diversity of rock types, lack of recognizable stratigraphic markers, and uneven distribution of outcrops prevented comprehensive structural studies.

Except for a few late plutons and dikes, all of the rocks of the area have been metamorphosed in middle to upper greenschist facies, and contact aureoles were recognized around some of the plutons. Several relatively small bodies of granitic rock contain plagioclase grains in which primary oscillatory zoning was unaffected by metamorphism. These were interpreted to be post-metamorphic.

We think that there were three separate stages of hydrothermal alteration in the complex volcanic terrane in the area. The oldest, an area of at least 8.5 square miles (22 square kilometers), was subjected to an intense hydrothermal alteration, ranging from peripheral zones of quartz-sericite-paragonite through a patchy marginal zone of pyrophyllite, andalusite, and other high-alumina minerals, to almost totally silicified core zones. The second event resulted in large areas of weak to moderate sericitic and propylitic alteration recognizable only in the Reedy Branch Tuff. The last event was related to post-metamorphic plutons.

All of the pyrophyllite-andalusite deposits and perhaps most of the gold and silver mineralization can be related to the first period of hydrothermal alteration. The subsequent metamorphism did not produce significant changes in mineral species in the zones of most intense hydrothermal alteration. Gold- and silver-bearing sulfide minerals in fracture zones along the southeastern margin of the graben may also have been deposited during this earliest alteration stage. No metallic mineralization appears to have occurred during the second event. A group of molybdenum-bearing greisenlike bodies formed during the emplacement of the youngest plutons during the post-metamorphic event. One gold-bearing sulfide zone occurs in the exocontact of one such porphyritic stock.

Significant amounts of pyrophyllite-andalusite-bearing rock have been extracted from the Snow Camp Mine and from several smaller pits. There may be other undiscovered deposits in this area. Small gold mines were operated here in the nineteenth century and probably in the early decades of the twentieth century, but we found records of production and descriptions in the geologic literature of only smaller prospects. No mines were being operated here during our study. There may be other exploitable deposits near and in the siliceous core zones of intense high-sulfidation alteration and in fracture zones along the southeastern side of the graben structure. Evaluation of the gold potential was based on the results of stream-sediment sampling, on the analyses of sulfide-bearing rock from shear zones, on the mining history of the area, and on comparisons with districts having similar geology.


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