Geologic mapping in southern Death Valley, California, demonstrates Mesozoic contractional structures overprinted by two phases of Neogene extension and contemporaneous strike-slip deformation. The Mesozoic folding is most evident in the middle unit of the Noonday Formation, and these folds are cut by a complex array of Neogene faults. The oldest identified Neogene faults primarily displace Neoproterozoic units as young as the Johnnie Formation. However, in the northernmost portion of the map area, they displace rocks as young as the Stirling Quartzite. Such faults are seen in the northern Ibex Hills and consist of currently low- to moderate-angle, E-NE– dipping normal faults, which are folded about a SW-NE–trending axis. We interpret these low-angle faults as the product of an early, NE-SW extension related to kinematically similar deformation recognized to the south of the study area. The folding of the faults postdates at least some of the extension, indicating a component of syn-extensional shortening that is probably strike-slip related. Approximately EW-striking sinistral faults are mapped in the northern Saddlepeak Hills. However, these faults are kinematically incompatible with the folding of the low-angle faults, suggesting that folding is related to the younger, NW-SE extension seen in the Death Valley region. Other faults in the map area include NW- and NE-striking, high-angle normal faults that crosscut the currently low-angle faults. Also, a major N-S–striking, oblique-slip fault bounds the eastern flank of the Ibex Hills with slickenlines showing rakes of <30°, which together with the map pattern, suggests dextral-oblique movement along the east front of the range.
The exact timing of the normal faulting in the map area is hampered by the lack of geochronology in the region. However, based on the map relationships, we find that the older extensional phase predates an angular unconformity between a volcanic and/or sedimentary succession assumed to be 12–14 Ma based on correlations to dated rocks in the Owlshead Mountains and overlying rock-avalanche deposits with associated sedimentary rocks that we correlate to deposits in the Amargosa Chaos to the north, dated at 11–10 Ma.
The mechanism behind the folding of the northern Ibex Hills, including the low- angle faults, is not entirely clear. However, transcurrent systems have been proposed to explain extension-parallel folding in many extensional terranes, and the geometry of the Ibex Hills is consistent with these models. Collectively, the field data support an old hypothesis by Troxel et al. (1992) that an early period of SW-NE extension is prominent in the southern Death Valley region. The younger NW-SE extension has been well documented just to the north in the Black Mountains, but the potential role of this earlier extension is unknown given the complexity of the younger deformation. In any case, the recognition of earlier SW-NE extension in the up-dip position of the Black Mountains detachment system indicates important questions remain on how that system should be reconstructed.
Collectively, our observations provide insight into the stratigraphy of the Ibex Pass basin and its relationship to the extensional history of the region. It also highlights the role of transcurrent deformation in an area that has transitioned from extension to transtension.