The lower Pliocene Bouse Formation in the lower Colorado River Valley (southwestern USA) consists of basal marl and dense tufa overlain by siltstone and fine sandstone. It is locally overlain by and interbedded with sands derived from the Colorado River. We briefly review 87Sr/86Sr analyses of Bouse carbonates and shells and carbonate and gypsum of similar age east of Las Vegas that indicate that all of these strata are isotopically similar to modern Colorado River water. We also review and add new data that are consistent with a step in Bouse Formation maximum elevations from 330 m south of Topock Gorge to 555 m to the north. New geochemical data from glass shards in a volcanic ash bed within the Bouse Formation, and from an ash bed within similar deposits in Bristol Basin west of the Colorado River Valley, indicate correlation of the two ash beds and coeval submergence of both areas. The tuff bed is identified as the 4.83 Ma Lawlor Tuff derived from the San Francisco Bay region. We conclude, as have some others, that the Bouse Formation was deposited in lakes produced by first-arriving Colorado River water that entered closed basins inherited from Basin and Range extension, and estimate that first arrival of river water occurred ca. 4.9 Ma. If this interpretation is correct, addition of Bristol Basin to the Blythe Basin inundation area means that river discharge was sufficient to fill and spill a lake with an area of ∼10,000 km2. For spillover to occur, evaporation rates must have been significantly less in early Pliocene time than modern rates of ∼2–4 m/yr, and/or Colorado River discharge was significantly greater than the current ∼15 km3/yr. In this lacustrine interpretation, evaporation rates were sufficient to concentrate salts to levels that were hospitable to some marine organisms presumably introduced by birds.
- Received 1 January 2013.
- Revision received 24 March 2013.
- Accepted 27 March 2013.
- © 2013 Geological Society of America