The Pinto shear zone is one of several Late Cretaceous shear zones within the eastern fringe of the Mesozoic magmatic arc of the southwest Cordilleran orogen that developed synchronous with continued plate convergence and backarc shortening. We demonstrate an extensional origin for the shear zone by describing the shear-zone geometry and kinematics, hanging wall deformation style, progressive changes in deformation temperature, and differences in hanging wall and footwall thermal histories. Deformation is constrained between ???74 and 68 Ma by 40Ar/39Ar thermochronology of the exhumed footwall, including multi-diffusion domain modeling of K-feldspar. We discount the interpretations, applied in other areas of the Mojave Desert region, that widespread Late Cretaceous cooling results from refrigeration due to subduction of a shallowly dipping Laramide slab or to erosional denudation, and suggest alternatively that post-intrusion cooling and exhumation by extensional structures are recorded. Widespread crustal melting and magmatism followed by extension and cooling in the Late Cretaceous are most consistent with production of a low-viscosity lower crust during anatexis and/or delamination of mantle lithosphere at the onset of Laramide shallow subduction. ?? 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.