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Searles Valley is an arid, closed basin lying 70 km east of the south end of the Sierra Nevada, California. It is bounded on the east and northeast by the Slate Range, on the west by the Argus Range and Spangler Hills, and on the south by the Lava Mountains; Searles (dry) Lake occupies the north-central part of the valley. During those parts of late Pliocene and Pleistocene time when precipitation and runoff from the east side of the Sierra Nevada into the Owens River were much greater than at present, a chain of as many as five large lakes was created, of which Searles Lake was third. The stratigraphic record left in Searles Valley when that lake expanded, contracted, or desiccated, is fully revealed by cores from beneath the surface of Searles (dry) Lake and partly recorded by sediments cropping out around the edge of the valley. The subsurface record is described elsewhere. This volume includes six geologic maps (scales: 1:50,000 and 1:10,000) and a text that describes the outcrop record, most of which represents sedimentation since 150 ka. Although this outcrop record is discontinuous, it provides evidence indicating the lake's water depths during each expansion, which the subsurface record does not. Maximum-depth lakes rose to the 2,280-ft (695 m) contour, the level of the spillway that led overflowing waters to Panamint Valley; that spillway is about 660 ft (200 m) above the present dry-lake surface.
Several rock units of Tertiary and early Quaternary ages crop out in Searles Valley. Siltstone and sandstone of Tertiary age, mostly lacustrine in nature and locally deformed to near-vertical dips, are exposed in the southern part of the valley, as is the younger(?) upper Miocene Bedrock Spring Formation. Unnamed, mostly mafic volcanic rocks of probable Miocene or Pliocene age are exposed along the north and south edges of the basin. Slightly deformed lacustrine sandstones are mapped in the central-southwestern and southern parts of the study area.
The Christmas Canyon Formation and deposits mapped as older gravel and older tufa are extensively exposed over much of the basin floor. The older gravel unit and the gravel facies of the Christmas Canyon Formation are boulder alluvial gravels; parts of these units are probably correlative. The lacustrine facies of the Christmas Canyon Formation includes the Lava Creek ash, which is dated at 0.64 Ma; the older tufa deposits may be equivalent in age to those sediments.
Most of this study concerns sediments of the newly described Searles Lake Formation, whose deposition spanned the period between about 150 ka and 2 ka. Most of this formation is lacustrine in origin, but it includes interbedded alluvium. To extract as much geologic detail as possible, criteria were developed that permitted (1) intrabasin correlation of some thin outcrop units representative of only a few thousand years (or less), (2) identification of unconformities produced by subaerial erosion, (3) identification of unconformities produced by sublacustrine erosion, and (4) correlation of outcrop units with subsurface units.
The Searles Lake Formation is divided into seven main units, many of which are subdivided on the five larger scale geologic maps. Units A (oldest), B, C, and D are dominantly lacustrine in origin. The Pleistocene-Holocene boundary is placed at the top of unit C. In areas that were a kilometer or more from shore at the time of deposition, deposits of units A,B, and C consist of fine, highly calcareous sand, silt, or clay; nearer to shore they consist of well-sorted coarse sand and gravel. Unit A has been locally subdivided into as many as four subunits, unit B into six subunits, and unit C into six subunits. The finer facies of units A, B, and C contain such high percentages of Caco3 that they are best described as marl. Sediments of unit C, and to a lesser extent those of unit B, are laminated with light- to white-colored layers of aragonite, calcite, or dolomite(?) that may repre
Additional Publication Details
USGS Numbered Series
Late Cenozoic Geology and Lacustrine History of Searles Valley, Inyo and San Bernardino Counties, California