St. George, Utah — Today I met Jerry Harris, Professor of Geology at Dixie State University in St. George. He was very friendly, generous and knowledgeable, guiding me to two fantastic Carmel outcrops I would not have approached on my own. Shown above is one complete section of the Carmel Formation in the Dammeron Valley. The reddish rocks in the lower right are the underlying Temple Cap Formation; the top of the ridge is the end of the Carmel here — it is unconformably overlain by the Iron Springs Formation (Upper Cretaceous). This is an extensive exposure perfect for exploring.
A curious unit within the lower few meters of the Carmel is this bedded gypsum deposit. It represents a significant accumulation of evaporite minerals, and thus the evaporation of a lot of seawater in an enclosed basin.
The Carmel limestones show normal (but restricted) seawater and lots of evidence of high energy. These carbonate crossbeds are almost herringbone.
This is a view west from the top of the Dammeron Valley section. In the distant left you can see the familiar Square Top Mountain and pointy Jackson Peak. On the right is the majestic Veyo Volcano. The Gunlock exposures are just a few kilometers away, but no outcrops connect them to the Dammeron Valley.
Jerry Harris also showed me large exposures of the Carmel Formation in Diamond Valley, a few kilometers south of the Dammeron Valley location. It is not picturesque, but there is plenty of Carmel under that sagebrush. The excavation for that water tower turned out to be especially good for shelly fossils, so Jerry took me there right way.
The most common fossil is the pectenid bivalve Camptonectes. It has calcitic valves, so they are well preserved, unlike the numerous aragonite-shelled mollusks in the Carmel that are seen only as ghostly molds.
To my delight, some of the bivalves at this locality are encrusted by small cyclostome bryozoan colonies. Jurassic bryozoans are very rare in North America. In fact, Paul Taylor and I have described most of them from the Carmel! (Taylor, P.D. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Middle Jurassic bryozoans from the Carmel Formation of southwestern Utah. Journal of Paleontology 73: 816-830.) The exquisite bryozoan colonies above are as good as any we’ve found before. A thorough study of all the Carmel sclerobionts is worth pursuing.
Here’s a simple Google Maps image of my three main areas of study north of St. George. 1 = Gunlock, 2 = Dammeron Valley, 3 = Diamond Valley. Curiously, the most fossiliferous part of the Carmel Formation (the upper unit of the Co-op Creek Limestone Member) differs significantly between Gunlock on the west and the two valleys on the east, even though they are only a few kilometers apart. The Gunlock area has oyster balls and hardgrounds, which are absent in the east. The trace fossils are also more abundant and diverse in Gunlock than in the other two sections. Shelly fossils, though, appear to be more common in the east. It will be fun to sort out these facies differences in more detail.
Finally, I wanted to include an image of the cinder cone and lava flows at the entrance to Diamond Valley. They are within Snow Canyon State Park and have been dated at an astonishingly young age of 32,000 years.
Great day, great scouting trip. Thanks again to Jerry Harris and Andrew Milner!