The Kern River ash (KRA) bed is a prominent tephra layer separating the K and G sands in the upper part of the Kern River Formation, a major petroleum-bearing formation in the southern San Joaquin Valley (SSJV) of California. The minimum age of the Kern River Formation was based on the tentative major-element correlation with the Bishop Tuff, a 0.759??0.002 Ma volcanic tephra layer erupted from the Long Valley Caldera. We report a 6.12??0.05 Ma 40Ar/39Ar date for the KRA, updated major-element correlations, trace-element correlations of the KRA and geochemically similar tephra, and a 6.0??0.2 Ma 40Ar/39Ar age for a tephra layer from the Volcano Hills/Silver Peak eruptive center in Nevada. Both major and trace-element correlations show that despite the similarity to the Bishop Tuff, the KRA correlates most closely with tephra from the Volcano Hills/Silver Peak eruptive center. This geochemical correlation is supported by the radiometric dates which are consistent with a correlation of the KRA to the Volcano Hills/Silver Peak center but not to the Bishop Tuff. The 6.12??0.05 Ma age for the KRA and the 6.0??0.2 Ma age for the tephra layer from the Volcano Hills/Silver Peak eruptive center suggest that the upper age of the Kern River Formation is over 5 Ma older than previously thought. Re-interpreted stratigraphy of the SSJV based on the new, significantly older age for the Kern River Formation opens up new opportunities for petroleum exploration in the SSJV and places better constraints on the tectonostratigraphic development of the SSJV. ?? 2007 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA.