High-precision 40Ar/39Ar isotopic ages obtained from Cenozoic volcanic rocks and subvolcanic intrusions document the age of initiation and the temporal evolution of extensional and strike-slip faulting in the western Basin and Range Province. In the northern Wassuk Range, faulting began between ca. 26 and 24.7 Ma; both normal and strike-slip faults are bracketed between 23.1 and 22.2 Ma, and between 15 and 14 Ma. These ages document inception of the Ancestral Walker Lane, a northwest-trending zone of right-transtensional faulting in western Nevada that separated extending crust on the east from the unextended Sierra Nevada block on the west at lat 39°N. We speculate that the southwesterly migrating, episodic Oligocene–early Miocene, east-west extensional faulting in the Basin and Range thinned and weakened the crust, allowing right-slip faults to develop in the Walker Lane in response to San Andreas right-shear in California.
Southwest of the Walker Lane there was no faulting prior to 15 Ma. Here, in the Yerington district, andesitic magmatism began at ca. 15 Ma and was followed by >150% east-west extension along closely spaced (1–2 km) normal faults with up to 4 km of offset each (Proffett, 1977). These faults tilted older Cenozoic rocks 35°–40°W. Our new 40Ar/39Ar ages substantially revise earlier K-Ar ages of the timing of extension and establish that andesite lava flows cut by normal faults are 13.8–15 Ma, and that these faults are intruded by 12.6–13.0 Ma dacites. Rapid extension is thus bracketed to a 0.7–1.7 m.y. interval at 95% confidence, indicating local, east-west strain rates of 2–4 × 10−14/s (5–10 mm/yr). Following this period, lower rates of extension prevailed near Yerington along more widely spaced normal oblique-slip faults that localized clastic sedimentation of the Wassuk Group between 11 and 8 Ma. These faults and sedimentary rocks are more abundant southwest of Yerington in a belt parallel to the Walker Lane in previously little-extended crust. From 7 Ma to present, normal right-oblique slip faults with a lower rate of extension than the previous two periods produced the modern ranges near Yerington and extend 100 km southwest of the Walker Lane, which continues to be the locus of strike-slip faulting. Thus, since 15 Ma the margin of the Basin and Range has moved progressively 100 km west creating the broad Walker Lane belt and lower strain rates near Yerington.