Extension in Death Valley is usually interpreted as a combination of low-angle Basin and Range–style extension and strike slip associated with the developing Pacific-North America plate boundary in western North America, with these two tectonic regimes operating synchronously in Death Valley. Examination of structural, stratigraphic, and timing relationships in the region suggests that this interpretation needs revision. Evolution of Death Valley is best described as a two-stage process. In the first stage, lasting from ca. 18 to 5 Ma, low-angle Basin and Range extension transported allochthons consisting of Late Proterozoic through Early Paleozoic miogeoclinal section along detachment surfaces that, as extension continued, were exhumed from mid-lower crustal levels to the surface. Near the end of this extensional phase and lasting until ca. 3 Ma, deposition of a thick sequence of volcanics, clastics, and some lacustrine carbonates signaled a period of relative tectonic quiescence, with sediments in some areas covering the exhumed detachment surfaces. At ca. 3 Ma, initiation of the East California Shear Zone started development of the present-day topographic depression of Death Valley, formed as a pull-apart basin associated with this strike slip. Faulting broke the older, inactive, Basin and Range detachment surfaces, with high-angle transtensional faulting along the Black Mountains front. The Black Mountains were elevated as a result of footwall uplift, with the well-known turtleback structures being megamullions along these bounding faults. These megamullions are similar to those seen at oceanic spreading centers. The Panamint Range has previously been interpreted as an extensional allochthon, with the entire range transported from on top of or east of the Black Mountains. A new interpretation presented here is that the range is a large core complex similar to the core complex at Tucki Mountain, at the northern end of the range. The Basin and Range extensional detachment tracks over the top of the range, with extensional allochthons perched on the eastern flanks of the range. This modified model for evolution of Death Valley suggests a strong link between timing and style of deformation in the basin with the developing Pacific-North America plate boundary, particularly eastward propagation of this boundary.
- Received 11 February 2010.
- Revision received 3 August 2010.
- Accepted 4 August 2010.
- © 2011 Geological Society of America