Western Mineral Resources

U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 2006-1378
Version 1.0

Type Region of the Ione Formation (Eocene), Central California: Stratigraphy, Paleogeography, and Relation to Auriferous Gravels

By Scott Creely and Eric R. Force


photo of hill underlain by Ione rocks in background
Waters Peak outlier, an erosion remnant of the Ione Formation (“hard white sandstone”), has an elevation of 950 ft (290 m) and about 450 ft (135 m) of relief. View NE from Camanche Parkway North (from figure 37).


The middle Eocene Ione Formation extends over 200 miles (320 km) along the western edge of the Sierra Nevada. Our study was concentrated in the type region, 30 miles (48 km) along strike. There a bedrock ridge forms the seaward western side of the Ione depositional tract, defining a subbasin margin. The eastern limit of the type Ione is locally defined by high-angle faults.

Ione sediments were spread over Upper Mesozoic metamorphic and plutonic bedrock, fed by gold-bearing streams dissecting the western slope of the ancestral Sierra Nevada. By middle Eocene time, a tropical or subtropical climate prevailed, leading to deep chemical weathering (including laterization) and a distinctively mature mineral assemblage was fed to and generated within Ione deposits. The Ione is noted for its abundant kaolinitic clay, some of it coarsely crystalline; the clay is present as both detrital grains and authigenic cement. Quartz is abundant, mostly as angular grains. Heavy mineral fractions are dominated by altered ilmenite and zircon. Distribution of feldspar is irregular, both stratigraphically and areally.

Non-marine facies are most voluminous, and include conglomerates, especially at the base and along the eastern margins of the formation where they pass into Sierran “auriferous gravels.” Clays, grading into lignites, and gritty sands are also common facies. Both braided and meandering fluvial facies have been recognized.

Shallow marine waters flooded the basin probably twice. Tongues of sediment exhibiting a variety of estuarine to marine indicators are underlain and overlain by fluvial deposits. Marine body fossils are found at only a few localities, but burrows identified as Ophiomorpha and cf. Thalassinoides are abundant in many places. Other clues to marginal marine deposition are the occurrence of glauconite in one bed, typical relations of lagoonal to beach (locally heavy-mineral-rich) lithofacies, closed-basin three-dimensional morphology of basinal facies, and high sulfur content of some marginal coals.

The Ione has been said to be deltaic; however the two transgressional-regressional cycles we propose imply that only the regressional parts were deltaic. At other times, much of the type Ione would better be termed an intertidal estuary. Because the lower marine sequence was deposited against a paleobasin margin on the west, deltaic morphology was constrained, but apparently progradation was from north to south despite drainage into the basin from the east. Relations to the south are unclear due to the Stockton arch. The eastern margin of the type-Ione basin, and to some extent even its marine facies, are poorly constrained. A surface on Sierran bedrock to the east may have been stripped of some Ione basinal facies, leaving only coeval entrenched fluvial channel deposits.

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For questions about the content of this report, contact Eric Force.

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