Death Valley National Monument

How Was the Valley Formed?

Structural studies of Death Valley are incomplete, but it is known that Death Valley and the bordering mountain ranges owe their existence primarily to dislocation of the earth's crust and not, like the Grand Canyon, to stream erosion. It is also evident that the region has undergone many periods of profound disturbance, including both folding and faulting, from earliest to most recent times. Long periods of erosion have intervened between successive disturbances.

The steep scarp of the Black Mountains that borders the deepest part of Death Valley on the east, and makes the major line of faulting upon which Death Valley has sunk, has been deeply battered by erosion but it is still perhaps the freshest and most spectacular feature of its kinds in the United States. It is here called the Death Valley fault. It is not a simple, continuous rectilinear break but is rather a complex zone of discontinuous roughtly parallel faults, each of which follows the base of the range for a short distance and then runs into the range at an angle and dies out. Hence the pattern of the mountain front is irregular in detail. A good place to see one of these faults is about 3 miles north of Bad Water. Here Tertiary beds form the hanging wall through a vertical distance of many hundreds of feet, but the foot wall is seen to be continuous with the sloping gneiss surface, which therefore represents the fault plane upon which the Tertiary beds have been dropped toward Death Valley. The Death Valley fault zone, of which the one just described is a member, resembles other faults that border valleys in the region but is on a larger scale. Its nearest counterpart is the fault bordering Panamint Valley on the east.

An interesting fault borders Furnace Creek on the north and separates the Paleozoic rocks of the Funeral Mountains from the Tertiary beds of the Furnace Creek area. This is called the Furnace Creek fault. It has not been studied enough to disclose its character, but there is some evidence that it is a thrust fault, unlike the Death Valley fault, which is normal; that horizontal as well as vertical movement has taken place upon it; and that it is older than the Death Valley fault.

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