The Thomas Range and northern Drum Mountains have a history of volcanism, faulting, and mineralization that began about 42 m.y. (million years) ago. Volcanic activity and mineralization in the area can be divided into three stages according to the time-related occurrence of rock types, trace-element associations, and chemical composition of mineral deposits. Compositions of volcanic rocks changed abruptly from rhyodacite-quartz latite (42-39 m.y. ago) to rhyolite (38-32 m.y. ago) to alkali rhyolite (21 and 6-7 m.y. ago); these stages correspond to periods of chalcophile and siderophile metal mineralization, no mineralization(?), and lithophile metal mineralization, respectively. Angular unconformities record episodes of cauldron collapse and block faulting between the stages of volcanic activity and mineralization. The youngest angular unconformity formed between 21 and 7 m.y. ago during basin-and-range faulting.
Early rhyodacite-quartz latite volcanism from composite volcanoes and fissures produced flows, breccias, and ash-flow tuff of the Drum Mountains Rhyodacite and Mt. Laird Tuff. Eruption of the Mt. Laird Tuff about 39 m.y. ago from an area north of Joy townsite was accompanied by collapse of the Thomas caldera. Part of the roof of the magma chamber did not collapse, or the magma was resurgent, as is indicated by porphyry dikes and plugs in the Drum Mountains. Chalcophile and siderophile metal mineralization, resulting in deposits of copper, gold, and manganese, accompanied early volcanism.
Te middle stage of volcanic activity was characterized by explosive eruption of rhyolitic ash-flow tuffs and collapse of the Dugway Valley cauldron. Eruption of the Joy Tuff 38 m.y. ago was accompanied by subsidence of this cauldron and was followed by collapse and sliding of Paleozoic rocks from the west wall of the cauldron. Landslides in The Dell were covered by the Dell Tuff, erupted 32 m.y. ago from an unknown source to the east. An ash flow of the Needles Range(?) Formation was erupted 30-31 m.y. ago from an unknown source. Mineralization probably did not occur during the rhyolitic stage of volcanism.
The last stage of volcanism was contemporaneous with basin-and-range faulting and was characterized by explosive eruption of ash and pumice, forming stratified tuff, and by quiet eruption of alkali rhyolite as viscous flows and domes. The first episode of alkali rhyolite volcanism deposited the beryllium tuff and porphyritic rhyolite members of the Spor Mountain Formation 21 m.y. ago. After a period of block faulting, the stratified tuff and alkali rhyolite of the Topaz Mountain Rhyolite were erupted 6-7 m.y. ago along faults and fault intersections. Erosion of Spor Mountain, as well as explosive eruptions through dolomite, provided abundant dolomite detritus to the beryllium tuff member. The alkali rhyolite of both formations is fluorine rich, as is evident from abundant topaz, and contains anomalous amounts of lithophile metals. Alkali rhyolite volcanism was accompanied by lithophile metal mineralization which deposited fluorite, beryllium, and uranium.
The structure of the area is dominated by the Thomas caldera and the younger Dugway Valley cauldron, which is nested within the Thomas caldera; the Thomas caldera is surrounded by a rim of Paleozoic rocks at Spor Mountain and Paleozoic to Precambrian rocks in the Drum Mountains. The Joy fault and Dell fault system mark the ring-fracture zone of the Thomas caldera. These structural features began to form about 39 m.y. ago during eruption of the Mt. Laird Tuff and caldera subsidence. The Dugway Valley cauldron sank along a series of steplike normal faults southeast of Topaz Mountain in response to collapse of the magma chamber of the Joy Tuff. Caldera structure was modified by block faulting between 21 and 7 m.y. ago, the time of widespread extensional faulting in the Basin and Range Province. Vents erupted alkali rhyolite 6-7 m.y. ago along basin-and-range faults.