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Stratigraphic and geomorphic analyses reveal that the regional drainage basin of the modern Amargosa River formed via multistage linkage of formerly isolated basins in a diachronous series of integration events between late Miocene and latest Pleistocene–Holocene time. The 275-km-long Amargosa River system drains generally southward across a large (15,540 km2) watershed in southwestern Nevada and eastern California to its terminus in central Death Valley. This drainage basin is divided into four major subbasins along the main channel and several minor subbasins on tributaries; these subbasins contain features, including central valley lowlands surrounded by highlands that form external divides or internal paleodivides, which suggest relict individual physiographic-hydrologic basins. From north to south, the main subbasins along the main channel are: (1) an upper headwaters subbasin, which is deeply incised into mostly Tertiary sediments and volcanic rocks; (2) an unincised low-gradient section within the Amargosa Desert; (3) a mostly incised section centered on Tecopa Valley and tributary drainages; and (4) a west- to northwest-oriented mostly aggrading lower section along the axis of southern Death Valley. Adjoining subbasins are hydrologically linked by interconnecting narrows or canyon reaches that are variably incised into formerly continuous paleodivides. The most important linkages along the main channel include: (1) the Beatty narrows, which developed across a Tertiary bedrock paleodivide between the upper and Amargosa Desert subbasins during a latest Miocene–early Pliocene to middle Pleistocene interval (ca. 4–0.5 Ma); (2) the Eagle Mountain narrows, which cut into a mostly alluvial paleodivide between the Amargosa Desert and Tecopa subbasins in middle to late Pleistocene (ca. 150–100 ka) time; and (3) the Amargosa Canyon, which formed in late middle Pleistocene (ca. 200–140 ka) time through a breached, actively uplifting paleodivide between the Tecopa and southern Death Valley subbasins. Collectively, the interconnecting reaches represent discrete integration events that incrementally produced the modern drainage basin starting near Beatty sometime after 4 Ma and ending in the Salt Creek tributary in the latest Pleistocene to Holocene (post–30 ka). Potential mechanisms for drainage integration across paleodivides include basin overtopping from sedimentary infilling above paleodivide elevations, paleolake spillover, groundwater sapping, and (or) headward erosion of dissecting channels in lower-altitude subbasins. These processes are complexly influenced by fluvial responses to factors such as climatic change, local base-level differences across divides, and (or) tectonic activity (the latter only recognized in Amargosa Canyon).

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