Volcanic rocks of late Tertiary age, aggregating about 17,000 ft, accumulated on a surface of low relief cut on Precambrian rocks in the Basin and Range province south of Lake Mead, in Nevada and Arizona. They consist mostly of lava and flow breccia of intermediate composition with minor ash-flow tuff, bedded tuff, and lava of rhyolitic composition.
The last of three main phases of volcanism was accompanied by widespread epizonal plutonism and intense faulting. All or parts of six similarly but separately fault-deformed structural units are recognized in a 92-sq-mi mapped area. The structural units are highly distended by a system of closely spaced north-to northwest-striking shingling normal faults (many of which are low angle) that displace younger over older rocks in a west to west-southwest direction. Cumulative amounts of distension approximate the breadth of the structural units and are as much as 20,000 ft, whereas cumulative vertical displacements are much less and in some places are minimal. The structural units are floored at or near the present level of exposure by complex low-angle zones of detachment or décollement into which the numerous shingling normal faults merge. Where the units abut along their strike, they are separated by complex zones of transcurrent faults that appear to merge with the detachment structures and thus mark the ultimate limits of the structural units. Displacement on the detachment structures has the same sense as, but in some places is much greater than, that of the cumulative offset on the shingling faults, thus indicating low-angle movement of the structural units as platelike or lobate masses. These relationships indicate remarkably thin-skinned, large-scale, fault-related tectonism of a type which is present in a broad belt south of Lake Mead and in numerous other areas in the Basin and Range province.
The best exposed structural units exhibit a serial eastward progression from broad areas of steeply dipping strata, low-angle faults, and deep denudation to gently dipping strata, high-angle faults, and little denudation. Reverse-drag flexing, a volume-compensating mechanism for movement on concave-upward faults, is inferred to have produced the gentle to moderate dips of the strata, whereas the nearly vertical dips in the western parts of the units probably resulted from a combination of reverse-drag flexing and rotation related to uplift. Evidence of compression-related folding is absent.
The extreme distension is viewed as a surficial feature of a crustal belt that was subjected to a brief episode of tensional rifting. Rifting at subjacent levels along the belt was compensated for by emplacement of plutons. The surficial rocks were stretched and thinned over the plutons.