The Eastern California shear zone (ECSZ; southwestern USA) accommodates ~20%–25% of Pacific–North America relative plate motion east of the San Andreas fault, yet little is known about its early tectonic evolution. This paper presents a detailed stratigraphic and structural analysis of the uppermost Miocene to lower Pliocene Bouse Formation in the southern Blythe Basin, lower Colorado River valley, where gently dipping and faulted strata provide a record of deformation in the paleo-ECSZ. In the western Trigo Mountains, splaying strands of the Lost Trigo fault zone include a west-dipping normal fault that cuts the Bouse Formation and a steeply NE-dipping oblique dextral-normal fault where an anomalously thick (~140 m) section of Bouse Formation siliciclastic deposits filled a local fault-controlled depocenter. Systematic basinward thickening and stratal wedge geometries in the western Trigo and southeastern Palo Verde Mountains, on opposite sides of the Colorado River valley, record basinward tilting during deposition of the Bouse Formation. We conclude that the southern Blythe Basin formed as a broad transtensional sag basin in a diffuse releasing stepover between the dextral Laguna fault system in the south and the Cibola and Big Maria fault zones in the north. A palinspastic reconstruction at 5 Ma shows that the southern Blythe Basin was part of a diffuse regional network of linked right-step­ping dextral, normal, and oblique-slip faults related to Pacific–North America plate boundary dextral shear. Diffuse transtensional strain linked northward to the Stateline fault system, eastern Garlock fault, and Walker Lane, and southward to the Gulf of California shear zone, which initiated ca. 7–9 Ma, implying a similar age of inception for the paleo-ECSZ.

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