A study of extension, volcanism, and sedimentation in the middle Eocene Panther Creek half graben in central Idaho shows that it formed rapidly during an episode of voluminous volcanism. The east-southeast–tilted Panther Creek half graben developed across the northeast edge of the largest cauldron complex of the Challis volcanic field and along the northeast-trending Trans-Challis fault zone. Two normal fault systems bound the east side of the half graben. One fault system strikes northeast, parallel to the Trans-Challis fault zone, and the other strikes north to northwest. The geometry of the basin-fill deposits shows that movement on these two normal fault systems was synchronous and that both faults controlled the development of the Panther Creek half graben. Strikes of the synextension volcanic and sedimentary rocks are similar throughout the half graben, whereas dips decrease incrementally upsection from as much as 60° to less than 10°. Previous K-Ar dates and a new 40Ar/39Ar plateau date from the youngest widespread tuff in the basin suggest that most of basin formation spanned 3 m.y. between about 47.7 Ma and 44.5 Ma. As much as 6.5 km of volcanic and sedimentary rocks were deposited during that time. Although rates of extension and subsidence were very high, intense volcanic activity continually filled the basin with ash-flow tuffs, outpacing subsidence and sedimentation, until the end of basin development.
After the abrupt end of Challis volcanism, locally derived pebble to boulder conglomerate and massive, reworked ash accumulated in the half graben. These sedimentary rocks make up a small part of the basin fill in the Panther Creek half graben and were derived mainly from Proterozoic metasedimentary rocks uplifted in the footwall of the basin. The east-southeast tilt of the sedimentary rocks, their provenance and coarse grain size, and the presence of a gravity slide block derived from tilted volcanic rocks in the hanging wall attest to continued tectonism during conglomerate deposition. Provenance data from the sedimentary rocks imply that the highland in the footwall of the Panther Creek half graben was never thickly blanketed by synextension volcanic rocks, despite intense volcanic activity. Analysis of the Panther Creek half graben and other intra-arc rift basins supports previous interpretations that relative rates of volcanism and subsidence control the proportion of volcanic rocks deposited in intra-arc rifts.