Structural Geology of Extension, Compression, and Strike-Slip in Clastic and Carbonate-Rich Systems

Course Details

What better place to study structural geology than a desert where it is all exposed! This field course offers participants a chance to study extensional deformation in the Muddy Mountains just east of Las Vegas as well as contractional deformation from the Sevier Orogeny in the Spring Mountains just west of Las Vegas. Complexity within these systems results in both strike-slip and inversion to occur along fault blocks making this study area the full package. 

The Valley of Fire displays incredible fracture patterns at the reservoir scale while preserving the sequence of deformation from initial development of shear fracturing up to larger faults. Participants will be able to put their finger on an early shear zone consisting of small fractures and then just a short hike away, be able to stand on kilometer long faults from that same system. We will discuss the evolution of these types of fracture systems and how they play a role in reservoir compartmentalization. We will also discuss fault linkage in a strike-slip system and look at structural models to predict zones of contraction and tension. 

A regional thrust sheet overrode the Muddy Mountains during the Sevier Orogeny which then became sliced up during Basin and Range extension leaving behind several unique klippes, or remnant thrust sheets. Participants will be able to see these klippes up close and understand how multiple tectonics events shaped the region. We will also look at the impact of mechanical stratigraphy on larger faults and how the damage zone associated with the faults may differ depending on if the host rock is carbonate or clastic-rich. Precambrian rift faults resulted in pre-existing discontinuities for later deformation leading to both inversion and strike-slip faulting in the Muddy Mountains during Basin and Range extension.  

In the Spring Mountains participants will conduct a field exercise mapping lateral changes in thrust fault geometries, as well as observe the complex structure of a relay ramp in a contractional system. We will also view the infamous Keystone Thrust Fault in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and look at an exposed large footwall syncline. 

Large scale regional extension has led to the exposure of the brittle-plastic transition in a metamorphic core complex where participants can observe crustal rocks in a day trip to Death Valley. Here we will hike to three or four adjacent canyons, each showing different levels of the crust. And on the way out of the Valley we will stop on a large relay ramp of the Furnace Creek Fault.  

Who Should Attend

• Geologists
• Geophysicists
• Petrophysicists
• Engineers

This course is meant for those making structural interpretations in seismic data, constructing regional tectonic models, and working in systems that underwent multiple tectonic events. Events include rift faulting, fold and thrust belts, and strike-slip systems that develop within these types of systems. Structural models can be crucial for exploration and development. This course will provide participants with multiple models and analogues that can be applied back at the office. 

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    Course Outline

    Day 1

    • You will be arriving the day before the course starts in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. The next morning, we will begin with a safety briefing, orientation to the field area and an introduction to structural geology.
    • We will begin the field trip with a drive to the Valley of Fire where we will analyze reservoir scale fracturing in the Jurassic Aztec Sandstone alongside strike-slip faulting.
    • After lunch we will observe different fracture sets and types related to multiple events, followed by analyzing the architecture of strike-slip faults at the outcrop scale.

    Day 2

    • We will look at extensional faulting in carbonate-rich rocks, as well as at multiple scales. 
    • Participants will construct regional scale cross sections based on satellite imagery, outcrop, and geologic models.
    • After lunch we will hike and analyze a large strike-slip fault that developed in an extensional regime and discuss how this occurred. 
    • Viewing of a large pop-up structure along a regional strike-slip fault system

    Day 3

    • We will start by hiking along a dry riverbed to observe a fractured reservoir in the damage zone of a larger extensional fault
    • View and discuss fault propagation folding
    • We will analyze extensional release faults in response to a larger normal fault and also look at relay ramps
    • Smaller-scale strike-slip faults will be observed along an erosional wall in response to interactions between a larger system 

    Day 4

    • Morning lecture on Death Valley and fold and thrust belts, then drive to Death Valley
    • Turtleback structures and rocks of the brittle-plastic crustal transition
    • Hike into three to four adjacent canyons and view the changes in rock composition representing different layers of the crust 
    • Stop at a large relay ramp of the Furnace Creek Fault

    Day 5

    • Drive to west side of Spring Mountains and conduct a field exercise on mapping backthrusts and lateral changes in thrust faults
    • Stop at recumbent Z fold structure representing a relay ramp on a compressional system
    • Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area hiking and viewing the Keystone Thrust Fault and footwall syncline

    We will be dropping you off at Las Vegas Airport for an evening departure.

    This field trip runs during the last week of October every year. The cost of the field trip is $4500 and this includes tuition, course manual and exercise materials, 5 nights hotel stay, breakfasts-lunches-dinners, snacks and drinks in the field, transportation, fuel, and national parks passes.

    With the current US administration, our clients are finding it more and more difficult and time-consuming to acquire a US visa. if you intend on going on this trip we strongly urge applying for a US visa with our letter of invitation no later than June 2021.


    Our location

    Our headquarters are twenty minutes away from downtown Denver and half an hour from the largest core facility in the United States. Or field office in Ouray allows us quick access to world-class outcrops in Utah and New Mexico.