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ABSTRACT

The Lower Jurassic Aztec Sandstone is an aeolian-deposited quartzose sandstone that represents the western margin of the southerly-migrating Navajo-Nugget sand sea (or erg). Vertical and lateral facies relations suggest that the erg margin encroached upon volcanic highlands, alluvial fan, wadi and sabkha environments.

In southern Nevada, 700 m thick facies successions record the arrival of the Aztec sand sea. Initial erg sedimentation in the Valley of Fire consists of lenticular or tongue-shaped aeolian sand bodies interstratified with fluvially-deposited coarse sandstone and mudstone. Above, evaporite-rich fine sandstone and mudstone are overlain by thick, cross-stratified aeolian sandstone that shows an upsection increase in set thickness. The lithofacies succession represents aeolian sand sheets and small dunes that migrated over a siliciclastic sabkha traversed by ephemeral wadis. These deposits were ultimately buried by large dunes and draas of the erg. In the Spring Mountains, a similar facies succession also contains thin, lenticular volcaniclastic conglomerate and sandstone. These sediments represent the distal margin of an alluvial fan complex sourced from the west.

Thin aeolian sequences are interbedded with volcanic flow rocks, ash-flow tuffs, debris flows, and fluvial deposits in the Mojave Desert of southern California. These aeolian strata represent erg migration up the eastern flanks of a magmatic arc. The westward diminution of aeolian-deposited units may reflect incomplete erg migration, thin accumulation of aeolian sediment succeptible to erosion, and stratigraphic dilution by arc-derived sediment.

A two-part division of the Aztec erg is suggested by lithofacies associations, the size and geometry of aeolian cross-strata, and sediment dispersal data. The leading or downwind margin of the erg, here termed the fore-erg, is represented by a 10–100 m thick succession of isolated pods, lenses, and tongues of aeolian-deposited sediment encased in fluvial and sabkha deposits. Continued sand-sea migration brought large dunes and draas of the erg interior into the study area; these 150–500 m thick central-erg sediments buried the fore-erg deposits. The trailing, upwind margin of the erg is represented by back-erg deposits in northern Utah and Wyoming.