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Geology of the National Parks - Death Valley


Death Valley geology field trip

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Dante's View

Basin and Range Province - The Rise and Fall of Death Valley's Mountain Ranges and valleys

Shaded relief map
Shaded relief map. Click to enlarge. The Basin and Range province is outlined in red. Notice the landscape resembling an army of caterpillars marching north within the Basin and Range province.

Dante's View provides a spectacular look at Death Valley's remarkable scenery. From this vantage point you can view distant 11049 ft. Telescope Peak to Badwater, the lowest point (-282 ft.) in the Western Hemisphere. This difference in elevation is a staggering 11,331 feet (3455 m) — the greatest topographic relief in the conterminous U.S.. This striking topography is a product of Death Valley's very active tectonics.

A slice through the highest and lowest points in Death Valley National Park A slice through the highest and lowest points in Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is the lowest "basin" of the Basin and Range Province.

Death Valley National Park lies in one of the youngest and most active parts of the Basin and Range province. The term "Basin and Range" is taken from the unique character of this province's landscape. Here, steep, elongate mountain ranges alternate with flat, dry, desert valleys in a pattern that extends from eastern California to central Utah, and from southern Idaho into the state of Sonora in Mexico.

Dante's view
Photo by Marli Miller

Stretched to the breaking point

The forces that created this distinctive topography begin deep beneath the Earth's surface. Tension created by movements of Earth's tectonic plates have stretched the rocky crust Basin and Range province to the breaking point. The entire region has been pulled apart, fracturing the crust and creating large faults. Along these roughly north-south-trending faults mountains have uplifted and valleys down-dropped, producing the distinctive alternating pattern of linear mountain ranges and valleys of the Basin and Range province. Dante's View is a perfect place to see the results of Death Valley's very active fault system. The steep mountain face on which you are standing rose up along the
Death Valley cross-section showing faults
The deep Death Valley basin is filled with sediment (light yellow) eroded from the surrounding mountains. Black lines show some of the major faults that created this magnificent scenery.
Basin and Range faulting in time
geologic time scale
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