Structural and topographic relief along the eastern margin of the Rio Grande rift, northern New Mexico, provides a remarkable cross-section through the 26-Ma Questa caldera and cogenetic volcanic and plutonic rocks of the Latir field. Exposed levels increase in depth from mid-Tertiary depositional surfaces in northern parts of the igneous complex to plutonic rocks originally at 3–5 km depths in the S. Erosional remnants of an ash-flow sheet of weakly peralkaline rhyolite (Amalia Tuff) and andesitic to dacitic precursor lavas, disrupted by rift-related faults, are preserved as far as 45 km beyond their sources at the Questa caldera. Broadly comagmatic 26 Ma batholithic granitic rocks, exposed over an area of 20 by 35 km, range from mesozonal granodiorite to epizonal porphyritic granite and aplite; shallower and more silicic phases are mostly within the caldera. Compositionally and texturally distinct granites define resurgent intrusions within the caldera and discontinuous ring dikes along its margins; a batholithic mass of granodiorite extends 20 km S of the caldera and locally grades vertically to granite below its flat-lying roof. A negative Bouguer gravity anomaly (15–20 mgal), which encloses exposed granitic rocks and coincides with boundaries of the Questa caldera, defines boundaries of the shallow batholith, emplaced low in the volcanic sequence and in underlying Precambrian rocks. Palaeomagnetic pole positions indicate that successively crystallised granitic plutons cooled through Curie temperatures during the time of caldera formation, initial regional extension, and rotational tilting of the volcanic rocks. Isotopic ages for most intrusions are indistinguishable from the volcanic rocks. These relations indicate that the batholithic complex broadly represents the source magma for the volcanic rocks, into which the Questa caldera collapsed, and that the magma was largely liquid during regional tectonic disruption.
Volcanic and plutonic magmas (1) changed from early high-K calc-alkaline to alkalic prior to caldera eruptions; (2) differentiated to a weakly peralkaline rhyolite and equivalent acmiteartvedsonite granite cap (underlain by calc-alkaline granite) when the caldera formed at 26·5 Ma; then (3) reverted to calc-alkaline compositions. Concentrations of alkalis and minor elements such as Rb, Th, U, Nb, Zr, and Y reached maxima at the caldera stage. The volcanic rocks constitute intermittently quenched samples of upper parts of Questa magma bodies at early stages of crystallisation; in contrast, the comagmatic granitic rocks preserve an integrated record of protracted crystallisation of the magmatic residue as eruptions diminished. Multiple differentiation processes were active during evolution of the Questa magmatic system: crystal fractionation, replenishment by mantle and lower crustal melts of varying chemical and isotopic character, mixing of evolved with more primitive magmas, upper crustal assimilation, and perhaps volatile-transfer processes. As a result, an evolving batholithic cluster of coalesced magma chambers generated diverse assemblages of broadly cogenetic rocks within a few million years. Evolution of the Questa magmatic system and similar high-level Tertiary granitic batholiths nearby in the southern Rocky Mountains provides broad insights into magmatic processes in continental regions such as the overall shapes of batholiths, time and compositional relations between cogenetic volcanic and plutonic rocks, density equilibration of magmas with country rocks, and thermal evolution of continental crust.