Neogene (Miocene–Pliocene) sedimentary rocks of the northeastern Sierra Nevada were deposited in small basins that formed in response to volcanic and tectonic activity along the eastern margin of the Sierra. These strata record an early phase (ca. 11–10 Ma) of extension and rapid sedimentation of boulder conglomerates and debrites deposited on alluvial fans, followed by fluvio-lacustrine sedimentation and nearby volcanic arc activity but tectonic quiescence, until ~ 2.6 Ma. The fossil record in these rocks documents a warmer, wetter climate featuring large mammals and lacking the Sierran orographic rain shadow that dominates climate today on the eastern edge of the Sierra. This record of a general lack of paleo-relief across the eastern margin of the Sierra Nevada is consistent with evidence presented elsewhere that there was not a significant topographic barrier between the Pacific Ocean and the interior of the continent east of the Sierra before ~ 2.6 Ma. However, these sediments do not record an integrated drainage system either to the east into the Great Basin like the modern Truckee River, or to the west across the Sierra like the ancestral Feather and Yuba rivers. The Neogene Reno-Verdi basin was one of several, scattered endorheic (i.e., internally drained) basins occupying this part of the Cascade intra-arc and back-arc area.