Detailed stratigraphy and isotopic dating of stratigraphic sections in the Colorado River extensional corridor support a regional correlation of highly faulted Tertiary stratigraphic sequences and provide a chronologic framework for interpreting the evolution of low-angle normal (detachment) faults. On the basis of this correlation, we define six tilting domains in the upper plate of the Whipple, Chemehuevi, and Rawhide detachment faults and identify three discrete episodes of detachment faulting that began in the early Miocene and ended in middle Miocene time. Episodes of rapid detachment faulting are indicated by extreme tilting of upper-plate fault blocks and overlying Miocene sequences, fanning dips of basinal deposits, and angular unconformities that represent short time gaps in the accumulation of syntectonic sequences.

During the first episode of detachment faulting at about 20 Ma, the upper plate segmented to form the domains. Basin subsidence and extreme tilting of upper-plate fault blocks and syntectonic deposits characterized the eastern Topock, Crossman, Aubrey, Parker Dam, and Buckskin-Rawhide domains, whereas the western Mopah domain was the site of abundant volcanic activity but no basins or tilting. A second episode of extension at about 18 Ma produced extreme tilts in the Buckskin-Rawhide domain but upper-plate blocks in the Mopah domain tilted moderately. A third regionwide faulting episode between 14 and 12 Ma was due to localized uplift of middle and lower crust and eventual exposure of the detachment faults and their footwalls. The upper-plate fault blocks responded passively to localized slip on the detachment faults. Rapid extension began on the Whipple-Chemehuevi detachment fault at 20 Ma and had shifted southward to the Buckskin-Rawhide detachment fault by 18 Ma; volcanic activity also shifted southward to the Buckskin-Rawhide domain at this time. The southward shift of rapid extension and volcanism probably represents buildup and release of strain at localized sites in the lower plate. Otherwise, stratigraphic and structural relations indicate that the locations of upper-plate basins, faulting and tilting of upper-plate blocks, and position of the breakaway zone remained stable throughout the major phases of extension.

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