Several late Cenozoic low-angle normal, or detachment, faults on the western flank of the Black Mountains are each characterized by the following, in descending structural order: (1) a hanging wall of upper Tertiary to Quaternary sedimentary and volcanic strata that displays little evidence for fault-related damage other than widely spaced planar or listric normal faults; (2) a sharp, planar, and locally striated principal slip plane forming the lower boundary of the hanging wall; (3) an upper zone—zone I—of very fine grained, fault-generated rocks composed dominantly of gouge; (4) a lower zone—zone II—of coarser-grained fault rocks consisting chiefly of foliated breccia; and (5) a variably damaged footwall, consisting of partly mylonitic Precambrian units or Tertiary plutonic rocks, that has been exhumed from depths of 10–12 km since late Miocene time. The fault rocks, which were mostly derived from the footwalls, preserve evidence for cataclastic and particulate flow. Fault rocks contain authigenic minerals but lack the cyclically deformed, mineral-filled syntectonic veins that are abundant in some other late Cenozoic high-angle and strike-slip faults.
Meso- and microscale fabrics in zones I and II indicate that finite shear strains increase progressively upward, toward the principal slip plane. In a conceptual kinematic model of a shear box, displacements of the hanging wall produced a shearing flow in the fault rocks below. Some of the slip on the principal slip plane was also partitioned into localized slip on discrete sliding surfaces in zones I and II. Since 770 ka, during the latest stages of incremental deformation in the brittle shear zones, distributed flow in the fault rocks alternated with slip that was chiefly localized on the principal slip planes. In this respect, the detachment faults differ from inactive segments of the San Andreas system, along which displacements were progressively and irreversibly localized onto a single principal slip surface. The strain gradients and corresponding changes in grain size in the shear zones resemble those in mylonitic shear zones except in their symmetry. Strain gradients in the Black Mountains are notably asymmetric: they are present only below the principal slip planes, not above.