Quartzite is a hard, metamorphic rock which was originally sandstone. Through heating and pressure usually related to tectonic compression within orogenic belts, the original quartz sand grains and quartz silica cement were fused into one. Pure quartzite is usually white to grey. Quartzites often occur in various shades of pink and red due to varying amounts of iron oxide. Other colors are due to impurities of minor amounts of other minerals.
Orthoquartzite is a very pure quartz sandstone composed of usually well rounded quartz grains cemented by silica. Orthoquartzite is often 99% SiO2 with only very minor amounts of iron oxide and trace resistant minerals such as zircon, rutile and magnetite. Although few fossils are normally present the original texture and sedimentary structures are preserved.
In true metamorphic quartzite, also called meta-quartzite, the individual quartz grains have recrystalized along with the former cementing material to form an interlocking mosaic of quartz crystals. Minor amounts of former cementing materials, iron oxide, carbonate and clay, are often recrystalized and have migrated under the pressure to form streaks and lenses within the quartzite. Virtually all original textures and structure have usually been erased by the metamorphism.
Quartzite is very resistant to chemical weathering and often forms ridges and resistant hilltops. The nearly pure silica content of the rock provides little to form soil from and therefor the quartzite ridges are often bare or covered only with a very thin soil and little vegetation.
Because of its hardness (about 7 on Mohs’ scale of mineral hardness), crushed quartzite is often used as railway ballast. In the United States, formations of quartzite can be found in eastern South Dakota, southwest Minnesota, and as resistant ridges in the Appalachians and other mountain regions. The town of Quartzite in western Arizona derives its name from the quartzites in the nearby mountains.