- UW Department of Geology and Geophysics
The northwest-striking, northeast-directed Piney Creek thrust on the northeastern flank of the Bighorn Mountains in north-central Wyoming is traditionally interpreted as abruptly terminated on the northwest by the transverse Granite Ridge fault zone (new name). The structure of the mountain front north of this fault generally has been described as an unfaulted monocline. However, seismic-reflection, gravity, and borehole data, and the requirement of reasonable shortening balance along the mountain front indicate subsurface continuity of the (buried) Piney Creek thrust northward from the Granite Ridge fault zone—perhaps to the Tongue River lineament near the Montana border.
Based on these subsurface data, the Granite Ridge fault is described here as a true tear fault confined to the hanging wall of an uninterrupted, ∼30°-dipping Piney Creek thrust, segmenting hanging-wall thrust displacement between the Piney Creek block on the south and Walker Mountain block on the north. Slip on the Granite Ridge tear fault is expressed at the surface along the eastern margin of the Bighorn Mountains, west of Story, Wyoming, as a resequent fault-line scarp with ∼2000 ft (600 m) of relief, and with ∼3.3 mi (∼5.3 km) of left separation of steeply dipping, Paleozoic rocks. Based on measurement between piercing points produced by the lines of intersection of the steeply, east-dipping Cambrian-Precambrian unconformity with the Piney Creek thrust surface along either side of the Granite Ridge tear fault, a (reverse) left-oblique slip of ∼15,000 ft (∼4500 m) is measured on this tear fault zone. Thus, 30,000 ft (9100 m) of net slip on the Piney Creek thrust in the Piney Creek block decreases to 15,000 ft (4500 m) of net slip in the Walker Mountain block, and slip on the thrust further declines northward. The described Granite Ridge tear fault–Piney Creek thrust geometry may provide a useful model in the investigation of similar fault-offset mountain fronts within the Laramide foreland province of the Middle Rocky Mountains.