Geological Landscapes of the Death Valley region

From Miller, Marli Bryant, 2005, Geological Landscapes of the Death Valley region: in J.P. Calzia editor, Fifty Years of Death Valley Research - A volume in honor of  Lauren A. Wright and Bennie Troxel, Earth-Science Reviews, Elsevier, v. 73, p. 17-30.  For a pdf of the article, click here.

Death Valley's location and climate make it one of the most dramatic geological landscapes on Earth.  The region lies near the western edge of cratonic North America, which means that it contains a record of plate boundary effects that date back to the Proterozoic.  These effects include rifting and the development of the passive margin during the Late Proterozoic, crustal shortening and Sierra Nevada magmatism largely during the Mesozoic, and crustal extension and magmatism during the Late Cenozoic.  Because crustal extension continues today, the region also showcases spectacular landforms that relate to active mountain-building.

When combined with this geology, Death Valley's harsh climate makes it unique.  As the hottest and driest area in North America, both its geological record and landforms are unusually visible to geologists and non-geologists alike.  It is for this reason that the national park overflows with geology field trips during the spring months, and many visitors gain a deeper understanding of Earth processes.

The authors of this volume represent several hundred years of collective experience working on the geology of the Death Valley region.  Lauren Wright and Bennie Troxel alone have logged more than one hundred years.  It is easy to see why so many geologists keep coming back: traveling through this landscape is like walking through a beautifully illustrated geology textbook, only better.  The following photographs attempt to portray some pages of that textbook, but like all photographs, they fall well short of an actual visit.

Each photograph is keyed to a number on the accompanying geologic map.  Those photographs that portray crustal extension or modern landforms appear in the first section while those that illustrate the older geologic history appear in the second section.

Click on each photo for a larger view plus text.

Geology of Death Valley National Park

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