Rocky Mountain (56th Annual) and Cordilleran (100th Annual) Joint Meeting (May 3–5, 2004)

Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 11:40 AM


HOWARD, Keith A., U.S. Geol Survey, Menlo Park, CA 94025 and FENTON, Cassandra R., U.S. Geol Survey, 1675 W. Anklam Rd, Tucson, AZ 85745,

Pleistocene intracanyon basalt flows that dammed the Boise River, Idaho offer comparisons to those that dammed the more powerful Colorado River in Grand Canyon. In both canyons, olivine basalts erupted several times from vents near canyon rims, and flowed down steep canyon walls into the rivers and onto thick gravel beds. The multiple lava dams in Grand Canyon exhibit many stratigraphic complexities as compared to the simpler stratigraphic structure of the dams built on the Boise River, best exemplified by the Steamboat Rock Basalt and the Smith Prairie Basalt on the Boise River’s south fork. These two dams were each constructed to heights of 150 m from multiple flow units of basalt, which flowed tens of kilometers downstream while building lava deltas into the growing reservoirs on the dam’s upstream faces. Paleowater levels in the lava deltas, where lava flowed into rising reservoir waters behind the dams on the Boise River, are easily recognized as passage zones where topsets of subaerial pahoehoe pass abruptly downward into upstream-dipping foresets of pillows and hyaloclastite. Successive flow units entering a rising reservoir resulted in an asymmetric dam, much longer on the downstream face, and cored by massive subaerial basalt that interfingered upstream with a series of upstream-thickening wedges of pillow basalt. Grand Canyon lava dams also show evidence of upstream deltas where lava interacted with dammed water (described by Hamblin), but coarse hydroclastitc breccia dominates over pillows and foreset-bedded hyaloclastite; the deltaic structures are complex. Whereas several dams in the Grand Canyon failed catastrophically to produce outburst floods (described by Fenton and colleagues), the dams on the Boise River were incised gradually. Their long downstream lengths contributed stability. The long flows and abundant pillows relative to breccias suggest fluidity of the lavas, and suggest rates of eruption and lava flow that were high relative to the discharge of the river that they entered. The Colorado’s discharge is twenty times that of the Boise River South Fork.