Thorium and rare earth minerals in the Powderhorn district, Gunnison County, Colorado

Trace Elements Investigations 353
This report concerns work done on behalf of the Division of Raw Materials of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
By:  and 



Thorium has been found since 1949 in at least 33 deposits in an area 6 miles wide and 20 miles long in the Powderhorn district, Gunnison County, Colo. The district is composed largely of pre-Jurassic metamorphic and igneous rocks, which are chiefly if not entirely pre-Cambrian in age. The metamorphic and igneous rocks are overlain by sandstone of the Morrison formation of Jurassic age, and by volcanic rocks of the Alboroto group and Hinsdale formation of Miocene and Pliocene (?) age, respectively.

The thorium deposits occur in or near alkalic igneous rocks in which such elements as titanium, rare earths, barium, strontium, and niobium occur in greater-than-average amounts. The greatest mass of the alkalic igneous rocks the Iron Hill composite stoc,- occupies an area of 12 square miles in the southeastern part of the district. The age of the thorium deposits, like that of the alkalic igneous rocks, is not known other than pre-Jurassic.

The thorium veins and mineralized shear zones range from a few inches to 18 feet in thickness and from a few feet to 3,500 feet in length. The veins are composed of calcite,.dolomite, siderite, ankerite, quartz, barite, pyrite, sphalerite, galena, goethite,. apatite, alkali feldspar, and many other minerals. The thorium occurs at least partly in thorite or hydrothorite. Sparse xenotime has been tentatively identified in one deposit. Several minerals containing rare earths of the cerium group as major constituents are found in carbonate veins near Iron Hill. Bastnaesite has been identified by X-ray methods, and cerite and synchisite are probably present also.The fluorapatite in some veins and in parts of the carbonate rock mass that occupies 2 square miles in the central part of the Iron Hill complex contains rare earths of the cerium group, generally in amounts of a fraction of a percent of the rock.

The radioactivity of the deposits appears to be due almost entirely to thorium and its daughter products The ThO2 content of selected highgrade samples from the Little Johnnie vein is as much as 4 percent. The ThO2 content of the veins is generally less than 1 percent, however, and is only 0.05 to 0.1 percent in many of the veins studied.

The little Johnnie vein, which was mapped in detail, can be traced discontinuously for a distance of more than 3,500 feet. The thoriumbearing material occurs as irregular veinlets and thin films introduced into the fault zone. The mineralized shear zone ranges from less than 6 inches to 5 feet in thickness. Near its west end the vein is broken by many faults in a zone that marks the edge of a roughly circular fault block, 11/2.miles in diameter, that has dropped 1,000 feet or more since the deposition of Miocene volcanic-rocks that now floor the Milkranch basin.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Thorium and rare earth minerals in the Powderhorn district, Gunnison County, Colorado
Series title Trace Elements Investigations
Series number 353
DOI 10.3133/tei353
Year Published 1954
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Description Report: 58 p.; 2 Plates: 20.93 x 11.91 inches and 9.29 x 11.96 inches
Country United States
State Colorado
County Gunnison County
Other Geospatial Powderhorn District
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details