Geology - Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is the hottest, driest, lowest spot in North America. The average rainfall is less than 2 inches per year. The desert environment is a great place to study geology. Here in the desert the geology is rarely obscured by the green stuff that covers the interesting rock formations in so many other areas. See the geology section on the Directory page.

This site describes camping, hiking and wildflowers from a trip to Death Valley National Park in March 2005.

Map of Death Valley National Park

Points of geological interest:
Ubehebe Crater was formed by a steam explosion.
Sand Dunes were formed by wind moving up and down the valley.
Mosaic Canyon was formed from marble and conglomerate rocks..
Golden Canyon rocks were formed from lake bottom sediments.
Badwater is the lowest spot in North America.

geology points of interest map

Profiles of the Local Geology

An east-to-west geological cross-section through the highest and lowest points in Death Valley National Park. Telescope Peak is the high point at 11,049 feet elevation. Badwater is the low point at 282 feet below sea level. 

cross-section of Death Valley geology

During the last ice age there were some large lakes in Death Valley, Panamint Valley and the other valleys in the region. Lake Manley was almost completely evaporated by 2000 years ago. A small pool at Badwater is all that remains of Lake Manley.

ancient lakes of Death Valley

Geology of Death Valley. Sediments (light yellow) that were eroded from the surrounding mountains cover the floor of the valley.

cross-section of Death Valley geology

canyon wall at Badwater

Sea Level

This provides another interesting perspective on the local geology. The white spot at the top left in the photo is a sign on the cliff wall marking the elevation at sea level. This is 282 feet above the valley floor here at Badwater. BTP3270101cs.jpg

This cliff at the base of the Black Mountains is made up of some of the oldest rocks in Death Valley. These 1.7 billion-year-old rocks are the remnants of some ancient volcanic mountains.

alluvial fan

Alluvial Fans

Erosion of the mountains produces sand and gravel (= alluvium).  Rain flushes the alluvium out of the little canyons in the mountains onto the floor of the big valley.

alluvial fan

"Alluvial fans" are formed when the alluvium leaves the mouth of a little canyon and spreads out onto the floor of the big valley.

alluvial fan

The great displays of spring wildflowers at Death Valley National Park grow on these alluvial fans. They are raised up above the level of the toxic salt pans on the bottom of the valley floor.