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Geology of the National Parks - Death Valley


Mesozoic Death Valley

None of our field trip stops visit Mesozoic rocks, so we've included this overview of Death Valley's Mesozoic world.

The Earth Shook, the Sea Withdrew

During Late Paleozoic and Mesozoic time (225 - 65 million years ago), the Death Valley landscape changed dramatically. To the west, the collision of tectonic plates changed the quiet, sea-covered continental margin into a zone erupting volcanoes, uplifting mountains, and intense compression.
A deep trench formed when the oceanic Pacific plate began to sink (subduct) beneath the more buoyant continental rock of the North America plate. A chain of volcanoes rose through the continental crust parallel to the deep trench. Thousands of feet of lavas erupted, pushing the ocean over 200 miles to the west. The Death Valley region was no longer coastal real estate, as it had been for the previous billion years.


The Skidoo townsite in 1906
Skidoo townsite in 1906.

Most of the volcanic activity was centered just to the west of Death Valley. The deep magma chambers feeding the volcanoes eventually cooled and solidified, forming the granitic rocks now exposed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A few of these granitic bodies intruded Death Valley's Cottonwood Mountains, but these rocks are not easily accessible.

One of the small granitic plutons emplaced near the end of the Mesozoic Era created one of the more profitable precious metal deposits in Death Valley. Skidoo was one of the rough-and-tumble towns that sprang up near the Death Valley region gold deposits.

Death Valley itself was a broad, mountainous region during this time. While some of the Mesozoic rocks that formed in Death Valley are preserved, most were eroded as the region uplifted. None of our field trip stops visit rocks of this age, but if you would like to learn more about this exciting period in Death Valley history click here.

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