Hidden gold mines and stone forests of Northern Peru

Intro: While Chile may be well-endowed in giant copper mines, Peru has a more golden-flavour to its country-side. After my travels in Chile we flew to the northern Peruvian region of Cajamarca. The main town is also called Cajamarca (which is the place where they killed the last Inca). From here it was off to the golden hills where hidden over 3,000 metres above sea level are some of the richest gold deposits in the world, plus some neat anthropogenic geological formations (i.e. canals carved into stone from the pre-Inca Cajamarca culture)

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

At the Tantahuatay gold mine near Cajamarca, Northern Peru

Science Spiel: Gold and Stone (Geology, Ore Deposit Geology)

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Location of gold deposits near Cajamarca, Peru

Peru is divided into roughly three geographic regions; these are known quite well to local Peruvians as the Highlands, Coast and Jungle. While all three regions host their own treasures, the golden gems are hidden more-or-less in the Highlands. Like with Chile, the Peru Highlands are part of the long Andean Cordillera. This is a parallel range of mountains at the western edge of South America, related to the great compressive forces along the margin due to the subduction of the oceanic Nazca plate under the continental South American plate. Areas of flat slab subduction and crustal thickening has uplifted regions to over 4,000 m above sea level (Benavides-Caceres, 1996).

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Sunrise over the Highlands in the Cajamarca region of Northern Peru

Within the Cajamarca region of northern Peru lies the countries most mineralized belt. There are at least 14 known porphyry copper-gold deposits and 19 epithermal gold-silver deposits, all within ~60 km north of Cajamarca (Gustafson et al., 2004)! This is known as the Yanacocha Epithermal Gold Belt (named after the largest gold deposit in Peru, Yanacocha). Gold deposits in this region as largely classified as epithermal; a term used to call certain types of gold deposits that formed in settings that were < 1 km deep and were subjected to < 250 °C hot fluids (Buchanan, 1981; Heald, 1987; White and Hedenquist, 1990; Corbett and Leach, 1998).

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Yanacocha gold mine – Cajamarca region in Northern Peru

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Gold in drillcore from the La Zanja gold mine – Cajamarca region, Northern Peru

The gold mines I visited in Peru were La Zanja, Yanacocha and Tantahuatay, and these are all classified as a sub-set of epithermal deposits known as “high-sulfidation” epithermal deposits. Sub-classfications to the epithermal deposits are based on specific paramenters of the hot fluids (e.g. acidic, oxidation state, etc.) which precipitate certain mineral assemblages (e.g. enargite and alunite; White and Hedenquist, 1990). The Cajamarca region is of particularly interest because not only does it host these large epithermal deposit, but they are spatial and temporally associated and overprinting porphyry copper-gold deposits (e.g. The Andes, copper mines and volcanoes of Chile), sometimes resulting in odd wormy dissolution textures known as “gusano” texture. It is not entirely understood why the gold deposits are here and how they formed, but a common feature is their occurrence on a northeast-striking 30 – 40 km wide, 200 km long belt known as the Chicama-Yanacocha structural corridor (Quiroz, 1997). The intersection with the northeast structures and the Andean parallel and trans-Andean structures (i.e. faults sub-parallel and perpendicular to the Andes) are thought to have localized these giant gold deposits (Vidal et al., 1997; Longo, 2000).

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Wormy “gusano” texture (i.e. ?pyrophyllite, ?diaspore? and? alunite in quartz-altered matrix) from the Yanacocha gold mine – Peru

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Water canals carved into volcanic rock at Cumbemayo – Cajamarca, Peru

And finally, when my field course on gold deposits of Peru was over, I spent some extra time checking out a place nearby Cajamarca, known locally as the “Stone Forest” or “Cumbemayo”. This is a site of volcanic breccias (i.e. ignimbrites) that have been cooled and weathered in such a way (i.e. column jointing) that they now resemble beautiful pillars and trees. What’s also unique about these rocks are the numerous and undulating carved canals. Canals were made by the 2,000 year old pre-Inca culture of the Cajamarca people in order to funnel and divert water to the nearby towns.

 

 

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Peru, Channels, Stone Forest, Cumbre de Mayo, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, culture

Cumbemayo “Stone Forest” in the Cajamarca region, Northern Peru

Final Thoughts: The long (~ 3 hour) drive to and from the gold mines really put into perspective not only the beauty of the Peruvian highlights, but also how well it can hide these large gold deposits. As I mentioned initially, most of these sites are over 4,000 m above sea level, and unless you know where to look and what to look for they can easily be missed. Who know how many more large gold deposits underlie the rugged highlands of Cajamarca? I guess that’s what us exploration geologists are for!

-Stephanie

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Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Golden hill of the Tantahuatay gold mine near Cajamarca, Northern Peru

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Peru, Channels, Stone Forest, Cumbre de Mayo, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, culture

Cumbemayo “Stone Forest” in the Cajamarca region, Northern Peru

 

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Quartz-tourmaline-pyrite-molybdenite-cemented breccia in drill-core at the La Zanja gold mine – Northern Peru

 

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Stairs to the top of the town of Cajamarca – Northern Peru

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Cajamarca, Peru (burning of the last Inca)

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Drill-core shed at the La Zanja gold deposit – Cajamarca region in Northern Peru

Peru, South America, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, gold, copper, gold mine, porphyry, epithermal, low sulfidation, high sulfidation, sulphidation, deposit, large, ore, metals, Northern Peru, Andes, Cajamarca, mountains, cu porphyry, copper belts, epithermal belts, Tantahuatay, Yanacocha, La Zanja, enargite, alunite, covellite, clay, gusano, pyrophyllite, chalcopyrite, bornite, electrum, tourmaline, quartz, minas, mines

Gold in drillcore from the La Zanja gold mine – Cajamarca region, Northern Peru

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Boiling mud, hot pools and Hobbits; Geothermal systems in Taupo, New Zealand

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, waiotapo, TVZ, silica sinter, sinter, extremophiles, champagne pool, silica sinter, geothermal region, boiling mudIntro: Continuing on from my first post on The Volcanoes of Taupo, this one will focus all about the hot, dangerous and ever changing geothermal systems of the Taupo Volcanic Zone. As I was saying before, the link between volcanoes, geothermal systems, and precious metal formation is quite strong, as most gold deposits are formed via the interaction of hot hydrothermal fluids with their surrounding rocks.

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Location of geothermal systems and volcanoes in Taupo Volcanic Zone, north island, New Zealand (Simmons and Brown 2007)

Thus making our way through the active Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ) in North Island, New Zealand was a fantastic opportunity to see some of the processes in action that contribute to mineral deposits and drive geothermal energy. With my last post talking about the broad tectonics and overview of the TVZ, this one will focus a little closer on more of the unique and bizarre features associated with geothermal systems. And of course, once again another Lord of the Rings mention has to be made… though not quite in the TVZ, Hobbiton is a short drive away and a chance to see one of the most detailed, preserved movie sets out there.

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Boiling Mud at Orakei Korako Geothermal Pools, New Zealand

Science Spiel: Hot Waters – Cool Rocks – Bad Smells (Geology, Geochemistry, Geothermal)

Geothermal systems are regions where a nearby magmatic heat source has caused the surrounding rocks and circulating waters to be heated to higher temperatures. Hydrothermal (hot-water) convection is driven by the difference in the hot, rising column of water with the surrounding cool water. Hot springs, geyser, mud pools, and fumaroles (gas vents) are the surface expression of these geothermal systems. While the waters circulate through the ground, it incorporates magmatic volatiles such as H2O, HCl, CO2, H2S, and SO2 that gives the waters unique physical and chemical characteristics (Bibby et al., 1995). Therefore, to three vital requirements for geothermal activity are water, heat, and permeability to the surface.

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, orakei korako

Boiling geothermal waters at Orakei Korako Geothermal Pools, New Zealand

The Taupo Volcanic Zone has around 20 known geothermal systems (Bibby et el., 1995). Though similar features can be seen in most, each ones hosts unique features.

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, orakei korako, TVZ, resistivity

Image of active geothermal systems in the Taupo Volcanic zone (electrical conductivity at shallow depth, <500m, used as a proxy for their footprint). Yellow underlies = systems discussed in blog post. (from Rowland & Simmons 2012, Modified from Bibby et al., 1995).

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, orakei korako, TVZ, silica sinter, sinter, bacteria, extremophiles

Hot bacterica extremophiles at Orakei Korako Geothermal Pools, New Zealand

Orakei Korako, also known as “The Hidden Valley”, was our first stop and is most notable for its series of silica sinters. Sinter is a precipitate of amorphous silica (SiO2) from cooling geothermal waters, and at Orakei Korako it imposingly cements old fault scraps, leaving the “stair step” appearance. Other elements or compounds incorporated into the sinter, as well as algal and bacterial growth like conophyton, are responsible for the departure from the usually white colour of silica sinter.

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Stair-step terraces at Orakei Korako Geothermal System are the result of silica sinter precipitating on fault scraps

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, orakei korako, TVZ, silica sinter, sinter, bacteria, extremophiles

Silica sinter at Orakei Korako Geothermal Pools, New Zealand

Next up was Waiotapu, one of the largest geothermal systems in New Zealand where much of the activity is centred on 900 year old explosion craters. Waiotapu has an extensive variety of the different types of bizarre geothermal features. Acid-sulphate waters dissolve the overlying rocks, crating collapse craters like Devil’s Home.

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Devil’s Home collapse crater at Wai-O-Tapo, New Zealand

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, waiotapo, TVZ, silica sinter, sinter, extremophiles, champagne poolWaiotapu has many large alkaline springs, like the famous Champagne Pool; a neutral Cl filled hydrothermal explosion crater. The orange rim around Champagne pool is sinter from outflow and this has been tested to contain abnormally high amount of Au, Sb, As, Ag, Hg, among others, making this a compelling analogy to a modern gold/precious metal deposit (Giggenbach et al 1995).

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, waiotapo, TVZ, silica sinter, sinter, extremophiles, champagne pool

Champagne Pool orange silica sinter rim at Wai-o-tapu, New Zealand

Finally, the last geothermal area we visited was the Waimangu volcanic valley. Youthful and unique, Waimangu is the world only known geothermal field to have formed in historical times from an eruption on June 10th 1886. It is beautifully maintained as a natural, eco-tourism park. A highlight is “frying pan lake” (you can guess where the name came from…)

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, waimangu, TVZ, silica sinter, sinter, extremophiles, frying pan lake

Frying Pan Lake at Waimangu Geothermal Volcanic Valley, New Zealand

There are (mainly) two types of geothermal water that differ from surface waters due to the hot chemical interactions with rocks on their way to the surface. These are weakly alkaline, chloride water (rich in Na and Cl), and the acidic sulphate water (due to the trapped underground water going through chemical reactions and boiling, which leads to the oxidation of hydrogen sulphide to sulphuric acid). Frying Pan Lake is quite odd as it consists of an unusual mix of the two acid-sulfate-chlorite waters with a pH <2.5.

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, waimangu, TVZ, silica sinter, sinter, extremophiles, frying pan lake, neutral chloride waters

Neutral chloride waters of Frying Pan Lake at Waimangu Geothermal Volcanic Valley, New Zealand

Further along the trail, but still hydraulically connected to Frying Pan Lake, is Inferno Crater. As a site of an old eruption through the flank of an ancient rhyolite dome, Inferno Crater has a distinctive horseshoe form and a brilliant blue colour that’s due to its shallow depth (30m) and fine suspended silica particles (Houghton 1982).

New Zealand, volcano, volcanoes, Taupo volcanic zone, taupo, geology, adventure, travel, stratovolcano, volcanology, field trip, geothermal, hot springs, mud pools, geysers, energy, boiling, gold deposit, metals, epithermal, waimangu, TVZ, silica sinter, sinter, extremophiles, frying pan lake, neutral chloride waters, blue water, suspended silica, Inferno crater

Suspended silica gives the brilliant blue colour of Inferno Crater at Waimangu Geothermal System, New Zealand

Final Thoughts:

Now that I’ve gone through the major geothermal sites, it really goes to show how diverse, bizarre and alien the Taupo Volcanic Region can be. Anyone who gets the chance to go to New Zealand should relish the opportunity to immerse themselves in this active, true geological wonder. It is well worth putting up with the rotten egg smell!

And wait, to finish off as I promised, I had to make a necessary stop just a hour north-west of Rotorua, and visit the meticulously  preserved Hobbiton set from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Now, rather than me just writing about all the different scene and sets I saw, instead, enjoy all these pictures and embrace the nerdy-ness like I did.

Until next time New Zealand… Cheers!

Stephanie

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Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand

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Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand

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The Green Dragon at Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand

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The Green Dragon at Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand

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View of the Wind Mill in Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand

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Sam’s Home at Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand

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Party decorations at Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand

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A Hobbit Hole at Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand

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In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit…

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Bilbo and Frodo’s home of Bag End at Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand

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