The age of the Alvord Creek Formation of Steens Formation, southeastern Oregon, has been a center of controversy since Axelrod's 1944 paleobotanical assignment of a Lower Pliocene age to the tuffaceous leaf-bearing shales. This date varies from earlier determinations by Chaney and MacGinitie that the flora was Mascall (Upper Miocene) equivalent. However, it is more sharply contradicted by the report of a Middle Miocene (Barstovian) fauna in the apparently overlying Steens Basalt and by a 21.3 m.y. radiometric date obtained on a basalt flow 61 meters above the leaf-bearing beds.

Palynomorphs recovered from three exposures of the leaf-bearing beds show only a fair to low correspondence at the generic level with the megaflora previously reported by Axelrod and Wolfe. Several new taxa are encountered in the palynoflora including the gymnosperms Tsuga, ?Taxodium, Podocarpus, and Ephedra and the angiosperms Quercus, Ulmus, Corylus, Juglans, Fraxinus, and Nyssa. Pollen assigned to the undivided Taxaceae-Cupressaceae-Taxodiaceae group, Quercus and Abies dominate the assemblage; monolete and trilete spores are conspicuously rare.

The overall composition of the palynoflora lends support to Axelrod's Pliocene assignment. The abundance of Abies and other coniferous pollen combined with the lack of ferns and other typical Miocene taxa indicate a cool, dry climate such as is associated with the latest Tertiary. However, a tuff 15-20 cm above the leaf bed yielded a K/Ar date of 23.8 m.y.b.p., lowermost Miocene or even uppermost Oligocene.

Stratigraphic relationships in Steens Mountain are obscure and may be complicated by normal or thrust faults, as has been suggested by some structural geologists. There is also the possibility that the K/Ar date determined for the tuff overlying the leaf bearing shales is in error. Whatever the reason(s) for the discrepant age assignments, there is not now a satisfactory resolution to the problem of discordant dating of the Alvord Creek Formation by paleobotanical and radiometric methods.

LLU Discipline





Graduate School

First Advisor

Lanny H. Fisk

Second Advisor

Knut Andersson

Third Advisor

H. Paul Buchheim

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Geology; Stratigraphic -- Pliocene. Palynology -- Oregon -- Steens Mountain.

Subject - Local

Loma Linda University. Geological Sciences Program -- Dissertations.



Page Count

vi; 71

Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

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This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives