Enigmatic Red Beds Exposed at Point of Rocks, Cimarron National Grassland, Morton County, Kansas: Chronostratigraphic Constraints from Uranium-Lead Dating of Detrital Zircons, Jon J. Smith, Brian F. Platt, Greg A. Ludvigson, Robert S. Sawin, Craig P. Marshall, and Alison Olcott-Marshall
Point of Rocks, a high-relief bluff overlooking the Cimarron River valley in Morton County, Kansas, is capped by distinct white beds of Neogene Ogallala Formation calcrete that overlie red beds of shale, siltstone, and sandstone. These unfossiliferous red beds are currently assigned to the Jurassic System; however, their age has long been debated due to a lack of marker beds, index fossils, and nearby correlative outcrops. As a result, geologists over the years have assigned the rocks to systems ranging from the Permian to the Cretaceous. In this study, four stratigraphic sections were measured in the red beds and three bulk samples were collected to determine the uranium-lead age distributions of detrital zircon (DZ) populations. Red-bed strata composed of fissile shale and sandstone are interpreted as alluvial overbank deposits, while dominantly trough cross-bedded and planar-laminated sandstones are interpreted as tidally influenced fluvial deposits. Detrital zircon age peaks can be grouped into at least seven subpopulations with a youngest single zircon age of 263.8 ± 12.1 Ma, a more conservative age of 293.0 ± 6.95 Ma based on the youngest grouping of three grain ages overlapping at 2σ, and a complete absence of Mesozoic age zircons. In addition, copper oxides along partings and fractures suggest that the red beds once hosted copper sulfides, a common constituent of regional Permian-Triassic red beds. The DZ data--in conjunction with the identification of the Permian Day Creek Dolomite marker bed in logs of nearby drilling tests--strongly suggest that the enigmatic red beds cropping out at the base of Point of Rocks should be assigned to the Guadalupian Big Basin Formation, the uppermost Permian unit in Kansas.