Paleomagnetic data have been obtained from Miocene intrusions, including crosscutting mafic and felsic dikes, and Proterozoic crystalline rocks to evaluate deformation during Miocene and younger extension and unroofing of the Black Mountains, Death Valley, California. Synrift intrusions contain a well-defined and, at the site level, well-grouped magnetization, interpreted to be of dual polarity, the in situ direction of which is discordant in declination and inclination with an expected late Cenozoic reference direction. The oldest of these intrusions (11.6 ± 0.2 Ma) gives a magnetite-dominated remanent magnetization of high coercivity and high laboratory unblocking temperatures (about 550 to 580 °C) that is interpreted to predate unroofing from midcrustal depths. In situ site mean directions of this magnetization are directed toward the west and west-northwest with moderate to shallow positive (down) and negative (up) inclinations. The variation in direction of magnetization, particularly inclination, with site locality around the turtleback structures along the western flank of the Black Mountains, is interpreted to result from folding of the intrusion after remanence acquisition.
Younger intrusions (≤8.7 Ma) generally give magnetizations with inclinations similar to expected Miocene values. Two populations of in situ site means are identified: one with southwest declination and negative inclination; the other with northward declination and positive inclination.
A preferred interpretation for footwall deformation involves, from oldest to youngest: (1) southwest-side down tilting of the entire range block of some 20° to 40° to possibly 70° and, at least locally, folding of the crystalline rocks, on a trend parallel to the Death Valley turtlebacks, between 11.6 and 8.7 Ma; (2) progressive east-to-west footwall unroofing between 8.7 and ca. 6.5 Ma; and (3) clockwise rotation (50° to 80°) of much of the Black Mountains after the core detached from stable terrane to the west. We interpret late rotation of the Black Mountains as oroflexure related to right-lateral shear along the Death Valley fault zone.