Death Valley National Park is one of many units within the National Park service established because of its underlying geologic theme. Death Valley NP is renowned world-wide for its exposed, complex, unique tectonics and diverse geologic resources. Contained within its boundaries is a diverse rock record stretching throughout most of geologic time. From 1.8 billion-year-old metamorphic rocks exposed in the Black mountains, to recent playa sediments deposited in the valley basins, Death Valley possesses a superb geologic record. Paramount to understanding Death Valley’s geology is realizing that it is an ongoing dynamic process. Wind, water, and plate tectonics are still hard at work shaping the park on a day-to-day basis.
Death Valley is currently building a rock collection of the park’s stratigraphy. The following list of geologic formations and corresponding ages represents what has been collected in the park and are available for viewing at our curatorial facility. 41 formations are listed with a number correlating them to the original reference used to describe and locate them. Based on research, 61 formations are known to exist in the park. Those missing 20 formations have not yet been added to our Stratigraphy Collection. It should be noted that 3 formations have been given unofficial names: Warm Spring Granite, Skidoo Granite, and Strozzi’s Ranch Rhyolite.
Please keep in mind that collecting rocks within Death Valley is illegal without a permit!
1 Alluvial fan and lacustrine deposits
Holocene - Pleistocene
a. Lacustrine and alluvial fan deposits found throughout the valley surface. A partial mastodon tusk has been reportedly found in the sedimentary deposits of Lake Rogers.
b. Holocene+Pleistocene= Fan gravel; silt and salt on floor of playa, less than 100 feet thick. No fossils. Fan gravel; silt and salt buried under floor of playa; perhaps 2,000 feet thick.]
2 Playa Salt Deposits
Typically located at the end-depositional sites in basin interiors.
3 Lake Manly Deposits
Mostly loose shingled pebble-size gravel; little sand or silt; few cobbles. Occur in small bars and embankments; locally cemented with lime carbonate caliche.
4 Mormon Point Formation
Early + Middle Pleistocene
Ash beds, conglomerate, marl beds, mudstone, tephra beds.
5 Funeral Formation
a. *2 Members* cemented fan gravel exposed at: Furnace Creek, Artist Drive, Mormon Point, and Emigrant Wash. No fossils found.
b. Cemented fan gravel with interbedded basaltic lavas, gravels cut by veins of calcite (Mexican onyx); perhaps 1000 feet thick. Diatoms, pollen.
6 Nova Formation
Pliocene (3.3 – 3.5 Ma)
Conglomerate, equivalent to the Funeral Formation?
7 Warm Spring Granite
Late Miocene (12 Ma)
8 Copper Canyon Formation
Contains basalt, alluvial and lacustrine deposits and vertebrate trace fossils in the lacustrine strata (e.g. camel, horse, bird, carnivore)
9 Furnace Creek Formation
a. * 4 Members* Diatoms and plants give the Miocene age. The remains of a lateral leaf lobe Lyonothamnus mohavensis has been reported from the upper section of this formation. Stromatolites occur at several localities within the limestone deposits.
b. Cemented gravel, silty and saliferous playa deposits; various salts, especially borates, more than 5,000 feet thick. Scarce fossils.
10 Timber Mountain Group
Metaluminous ash-flows and associated rocks derived from the Timber Mountain caldera complex at 11.6-11.4 Ma.
11 Artist Drive Formation
a. *5 informal divisions* – diatoms have been found
b. Cemented gravel; playa deposits, much volcanic debris, perhaps 5,000 feet thick. Scarce fossils.
12 Titus Canyon
a. Consists of conglomerates, sandstones, calcareous mudstones, algal limestones, and tuffaceous sandstones, fossil mammals include Protitanops, Mesohippus, Colodon, Teletaceras, Protoreodon, Pambromylus, and Leptomeryx found in red calcareous mudstone in the lower section of this formation. Fundulus and Cyprinodon osteichthyes fish and a number of turtle scutes and rodent teeth and skull have been found.
b. Cemented gravel; mostly stream deposits; 3,000 feet thick. Vertebrates, titanotheres, etc.
13 Strozzi’s Ranch Rhyolite "Tr"
Mostly resistant, gray, white, and tan, rhyolitic lava flows and volcanic domes, and subordinate ashflow and airfall tuff. Includes many rhyolite and lesser trachyte and comendite masses, many of them associated with calderas.
Eocene and Paleocene
Granitic intrusions and volcanics, not known to be represented by sedimentary deposits.
14 Skidoo Granite
Cretaceous (67 Ma, 87 Ma)
Generally classified as a quartz monzonite porphyry but in the area of Skidoo, it is mostly gneissic but in part porphyritic and has fluidal structures with dark phenocrysts of biotite.
15 Hall Canyon Pluton
Medium grained leucocratic granodiorite consisting of sodic plagioclase, quartz, microcline, and muscovite; locally, a minor amount of biotite and a trace of garnet are observed. In Wildrose Canyon, unit contains abundant microcline, and dominant rock type is granite.
16 Hunter Mountain Pluton
Jurassic (134 Ma, 156 Ma, 178 Ma, 182 Ma)
Hornblende quartz monzonite with variations.
17 Butte Valley Formation
Exposed in Butte Valley 1 mile south of this area; 8,000 feet of metasediments and volcanics. Ammonites, smooth-shelled brachiopods, belemnites, and hexacorals.
18 Owens Valley Formation
Contains limestone, siltstone, and shale units with the fusilinids Schwagerina and Pseudoschwagerina, solitary corals, bryozoans, and gastropods.
19 Keeler Canyon Formation
An alternating bluish-gray limestone and thin light-gray bands of marble with fusilinids and crinoid columnals in the upper section. The middle section contains bryozoans and some brachiopods, while the lower section has no fossils.
20 Bird Spring Formation
There is a Conglomerate Member, an Upper Limestone Member, a Shale Member, and a Lower Limestone Member. The Lower Limestone Member was collected and is described as predominantly limestone of intermediate grays, in 1- to 3-foot beds, much of it containing silt, sand, or siliceous pebbles; interstratified with shale, partly carbonaceous; small, dark-gray spheroidal chert nodules in limestone near base. Widely distributed fusilinids.
21 Rest Spring Shale
a. A siltstone/shale formation that is exposed in the northern part of Panamint Range in the Tucki Mountain Region. A poorly preserved brachiopod assemblage has been found.
b. Mostly shale, some limestone, abundant spherical chert nodules. Thickness uncertain because of faulting; estimate 750 feet. No fossils.
22 Perdido Formation
*2 Members* Lower member is limestone and upper member is siltstone. The lower section contains Early Mississippian coral and the cephalopod Cravenoceras. A hapsiphyllid tetracoral, Triplophyllites was collected immediately south of Rest Spring. Foraminifera and crinoid columns have also been reported from this formation. Several thin limestone layers near the top of the formation at Quartz Spring are fossiliferous. Goniatite coquina beds, formed chiefly of the cephalopod Cravenoceras hesperiam, occur within this formation.
23 Tin Mountain Limestone
a. Consists of a lower lagoonal or mudflat limestone. Above this unit is an upper crinoidal limestone, which was deposited on an offshore bar or bank. The upper part of this limestone is highly fossiliferous and characterized by the corals Syringopora and Zaphrentites. Other fossils: foraminifera, coelenterates, solitary/colonial corals, bryozoan, goniatite and orthceroid cephalopods, gastropods, pelecypods, crinoid stems, brachiopods, phillipsid trilobites, an annelid worm, and petrified wood.
b. Mapped as 1 unit (Lee Flat, Perdido and Tin together). Tin Mountain Limestone 1000 feet thick, is black with thin-bedded lower member and thick-bedded upper member. Unnamed limestone formation, 725 feet thick, consists of interbedded chert and limestone in thin beds and in about equal proportions. Mixed brachiopods, corals, and crinoid stems. Syringopora (open-spaced colonies) Caninia cf. C. cornicula.
24 Lost Burro Formation
a. *5 Members* The upper member contains conodonts, microgastropod steinkerns, sponge spicules, and fish remains. In the Ash Meadow area crinoidal columns have been found. Syringopora have also been found. In this formation, the placoderm Dunkleosteus (a small cladodont) and cochliodont tooth have been found. The middle member is characterized by the brachiopods Cyrtospirifer, and Stringocephalus, the stromatoporoids Amphipora and Stromatopora, and cladoporoid corals. The Lippincott Member (?) is a cherty argillaceous unit containing Lower Devonian fish, the pteraspidids Blieckaspis and Panamintaspis from the Trail Canyon area. Also, crinoidal columnals, fragments of cephalopods, and gastropods have been found from the Ash Meadow area.
b. Limestone in light and dark beds 1-10 feet thick give striped effect on mountainsides. Two quartzite beds, each about 3 feet thick, near base, numerous sandstone beds 8001 000 feet above base. Top 200 feet is well-bedded limestone and quartzite. Total thickness uncertain because of faulting; estimated 2,000 feet. Brachiopods abundant, especially Spirifer , Cyrtospirifer , Productilla , Carmarotoechia , Atrypa. Stromatoporoids. Syringopora (closely spaced colonies).
25 Hidden Valley Dolomite
a. *3 Members* In the lower, cherty member there are Halysites, Favosites, Syringopora, rugose corals, articulate brachiopods, conodonts, and crinoid debris. Panamintaspis and Blieckaspis, along with other pteraspidid, have been reported from the Lippincott Member from exposures in the Trail Canyon area.
b. Thick-bedded, fine-grained, and even-grained dolomite, mostly light color. Thickness 300-1,400 feet. Crinoid stems abundant, Including large types. Favosites.
26 Ely Springs Dolomite
a. Lower section is dark gray cherty dolomite and the upper section is light gray dolomite; the base of the lower unit is fossiliferous, consisting of silicified rhynchonellid brachiopods, conodonts, streptelasmid corals, and Halysites. At Lake Hill, the lower unit contains the cephalopod Armenoceras and several species of the brachiopod Lepidocyclus.
b. Massive black dolomite, 400-800 feet thick. Streptelasmatid corals: Grewingkia, Bighornia, Brachiopods.
c. Widely exposed in map area. Upper 20 to 25 m consists of slope-forming, light-olive-gray to light-grey weathering, aphanic to finely crystalline dolomite with sparse pelmatozoan fragments; contains zones of yellow-ish-gray silty dolomite; beds are locally ookitic and contain oncoids. Most of this formation (lower 2/3 to ¾) is cliff-forming, medium-dark-gray, burrow-mottled, irregularly thin-to-thick-bedded dolomite with common planar laminations; includes nodules and lenses of dark-grey to dark-brown chert. Fossils include brachiopods, colonial and solitary corals, gastropods, pelmatozoan ossicles, and stromatoporoids. Lower contact with Eurkeka Quartzite is major disconformity; upper contact with Laketown Dolomite (Silurian) in eastern park of quadrangle is disconformable, in western part of quadrangle, upper contact with Hidden Valley Dolomite reported as gradational and conformable. Unit is 50-200 m thick.
27 Eureka Quartzite
a. No fossils reported
b. Massive quartzite, with thin-bedded quartzite at base and top, 350 feet thick. No fossils.
c. Widely exposed in map area. Light-to moderate-brown, dusky-yllowish brown, varicolored red, and white to light-brown quartzite and sandstone; sand grains are fine to medium-grained. Beds contain tabuliar-planar and trough cross bed sets, and Skolithus burrows. At some locations, such as in the Spring Mountains, has sandy carbonate beds and collophane nodules, and in Panamint Range area, lower part contains mostly silty and sandy dolomite, argillaceous quarzite, and minor shale. Unit is from 6 to 150 m thick.
28 Pogonip Group
a. *3 Members* (Goodwin, Ninemile, Antelope Valley Limestone) carbonates, the upper member (AVL) is most prominent – fossiliferous, cliff-forming, limestone/dolomite. In the Grapevine Mountain there are two primary fossil assemblages; the stratigraphically lower assemblage is dominated by trilobites and brachiopods; the stratigraphically higher assemblage is dominated by receptaculitids, the large gastropods Palliseria robusta, Macrulites, orthoconic and coiled nautiloids, and a species of graptolite. Recaptaculites, echinoderm plates and oncolitic algae (?) occur in this formation at Dolomite Canyon. Trilobites, orthid brachiopods, the mollusk Ctenodonta, and conodonts have also been reported from this unit.
b. Dolomite, with some limestone, at base, shale unit in middle, massive dolomite at top. Thickness, 1,500 feet. Abundant large gastropods in massive dolomite at top: Palliseria and Maclurites, associated with Receptaculites. In lower beds: Protopliomerops , Kirkella , Orthid brachiopods.
c. In NTS area, consists of (from top to base) the Antelope Valley Limestone, Ninemile Formation, and the Goodwin Limestone). Antelope Valley is medium-gray, finely to coarsely crystalline limestone and silty limestone, and dark-yellowish-to-orange, grayish-orange and dark-yellowish brown limestone, and yellowish-orange to pink silty partings; beds are commonly burrowed, and have yellowish-orange to pale red tracks and trails on bedding planes; contains orthocone cephlapods, gastropods (Maclurites and Palliseria) pelmatozoans, Receptaculites, and trilobites; also contains ooids and oncoids. Ninemile is light-to moderate-brown shaly siltstone and black and gray silty limestone and dolomite. Goodwin is medium gray to grayish-orange weathering limestone and dolomite, dark-brown weathering chert layers, and distinctive intraclastic limestone conglomerate; contains trilobite and brachiopods fragments, and sparse ooids; base of Goodwin contains Late Cambrian conodonts in the Spring Mountains and souther Sheep Range. Ninemile Formation is absent in most locations in the eastern part of the map area. Group is about 410 m thick in the Dry Mountain area of the Cottonwood Mountains, 384 m thick in the Panamint Range, 320 m thick in the Nopah Range, 360 to 700 m thick in the Spring Mountains and souther Sheep Range, 957 m thick in the Pahrangat Range, and 1,050 m in NTS area.
29 Nopah Formation
a. *3 Members* a large, cliff-forming carbonate unit with three members (Dunderberg/Halfpint Members, Smokey Member) basal shale and silty limestone beds of this formation are persistently fossiliferous characterized by trilobites, conodonts, and the brachiopod Linnarssonella - Dunderberg/ Halfpint Members are divided into seven facies and contain sponge Hintzespongia, spicule-like elements of Chancelloria, eocrinoid fragments, lingulid and acrotretid brachiopods, trilobites, and single-element species of paraconodonts and protocondonts - Smokey Membercharacterized by the black and buff colored banded dolomite also contains stromatolites and thrombolites within packstones and grain stones, a dark dolomite above the middle of the Nopah Formation contains small-silicified Trempleauan gastropods, a singular mollusk Matthevia, and trilobites.
b. Highly fossiliferous shale member 100 feet thick at base, upper 1 200 feet is dolomite in thick alternating black and light hands about 100 feet thick. Total thickness of formation 1,200-1,500 feet. In upper part, gastropods. In basal 100 feet, trilobite trash beds containing Elburgis, Pseudagnostus, Horriagnostris, Elvinia , Apsotreta.
c. Includes (from top to base) Smoky, Halfpint, and Dunderberg Shale members. Smoky Member is light-to dark-gray cliff-forming dolomite, dark-gray to light gray; mottled, medium crystalline and thin to thick-bedded, discontinuous layers and nodules of dark-brown weathering chert. Like the Bonanza King, alternating light- and dark-gray beds for distinctive color bands, but bands are thicker and more prominent. Stromatolites, thrombolites, oncoids, and brachiopod fragments are common, pelmatozoan ossicles less common. Dunderberg Shale Member consists of reddish-brown to greenish-brown shale, thin-bedded limestone, and some siltstone; trilobite fragments are common. Unit is about 345 to 380 m thick in the Spring Mountains and southern Sheep Range, 365 m thick in the northern Last Chance Range, 457 m in the Panamint Range area, about 530 m thick in the Nopah Range and in the Cottonwood Mountains, 766 m thick in the Pahranagat Range, 720 m thick in the NTS area.
30 Racetrack Dolomite
Middle (?) Cambrian
Nearly black to grayish-yellow dolomite; some chert nodules; base marked by brownish-weathering shaly and cherty limestone and dolomite; incipiently to highly contact metamorphosed.
31 Bonanza King Formation
a. *3 Members* upper member (Papoose Lake Member) is a fossiliferous shale containing trilobites of Glossopleura – middle member (Informal Middle Member)contains trilobite "hash beds" with fragments of Ehmaniella and with linguloid brachiopod beds within a shale layer – lower member (Banded Mountain Member) contains no fossils.
b. Mostly thick-bedded arid massive dark-colored dolomite, thin-bedded limestone member 500 feet thick 1 000 feet below top of formation, 2 brown-weathering shaIy units, upper one fossiliferous, about 200 arid 500 feet, respectively, below thin-bedded member. Total thickness Uncertain because of faulting; estimated about 3,000 feet in Panamint Range, 2,000 feet in Funeral Mountains. The only fossiliferous bed is shale below limestone member neat middle of formation. This shale contains linguloid brachiopods and trilobite trash beds with fragments of "Ehmaniella."
c. Banded Mountain and Papoose Lake members recognizable in most parts of the map area. Mostly equivalent with the Highland Peak Formation as use by Tschanz and Pampeyan (1970) in Lincoln Country. Banded Mountain Member generally is light- to dark-gray, fine- to medium crystalline dolomite and limestone, alternating light- to dark-gray colors of beds give the member a distinctive banded appearance. Dark-brown to orange burrow mottling is prevalent, and several layers have dark-brown weathering chert beds and nodules. Base of member is marked by the regionally extensive "silty unit". Papoose Lake Member is mostly dark-gray dolomite with distinctive brownish-gray to grayish-orange burrow mottles; sparse limestone and silty dolomite beds. Unit is 580 m to 1,700 m thick in the NTS area, about 1,000 m thick in the Cottonwood Mountains, 1,150 to 1,350 m thick in the Montgomery Mountains and Nopah Range respectively, about 610 m thick in the norther Last Chance Range, 445 to 900 m thick in the Spring Mountains and southern Sheep Range, and reaches a maximum thickness of 1,633 m in the Groom Range area, Lincoln County.
32 Carrara Formation
a. *9 Members* alternating siliciclastic and carbonate facies – lower four (of the nine) members and the lower part of the fifth member contain Early Cambrian olenellid trilobites. the remaining members contain a variety of Middle Cambrian trilobites. This formation contains one of the best stratigraphically documented trilobite faunas in North America. Four trilobite zones have been identified that span the Lower to Middle Cambrian boundary. – Concentrically structured algal ovoids, columnar and branching stromatolites, Girvanella trilobites, and trace fossils of: Planolites, Cruziana, Rusophycus.
b. An alternation of shaly and silty members with limestone members transitional between underlying clastic formations and overlying carbonate ones. Thickness about 1 000 feet but variable because of shearing. Numerous trilobite trash beds in lower part yield fragments of olenellid trilobites.
c. Interbedded limestone, silty limestone, silstone, sandstone, and shale. Uper part is mostly cliff-foming, orange to gray silty limestone, and lower part contains mostly clastic rocks. Limestone beds contain ooids, oncoids, and are stromatolitic. Contact with overlying Bonanza King Formation is commonly marked by a change from slope-forming yellowish-weathering limestone of the Carrara to more massive cliff-forming limestone and dolomite of the Bonanza King formation. Unit is 457 m thick in the northwestern Spring Mountains, 500 m thick in the Striped Hills and 350 m thick at Bare Mountain, 420 m thick in the Montgomery Mountains.
33 Zabriskie Quartzite
a. *2 Members* light-colored, cliff forming quarzite -Emigrant Pass Member and Resting Spring Member– nearshore and foreshore deposits containing ichnofossils (e.g. Skolithos) and some interbedded bioturbated silstones.
b. Quartzite, mostly massive arid granulated due to shearing, locally it) beds 6 inches to 2 feet thick ' trot much cross bedded. Thickness more than 150 feet, variable because of shearing. No fossils.
c. White, pink, and red orthoquartzite; laminated to thick-bedded, commonly cross-bedded, and well cemented; has skolithos. Unit is 30 to 350 m thick in the NTS area, 70 m thick in the Montgomery Mountains, 106 m thick in the Dry Mountain area, Cottonwood Mountains.
34 Wood Canyon Formation
a. *3 Members* upper and lower members are brownish-weathering dolomite/limestone and quartzite in the middle member – lower member represents high water stand deposition with carbonate intervals overlain by fluvially-dominated terrestrial braidplain and braid-delta facies of the middle member also contains Ediacaran fossils – upper member represents mainly marine deposition with abundant body and trace fossils typical of the Early Cambrian such as olenellid trilobites and Skolithos tubes found in the siltstone beds, also Helicoplacoid echinoderms and brachiopod molds and casts have been found – above the archaeocyathan and olenellid-bearing limestones are green siltstones containing trilobites, echinoderms, and hyoliths.
b. Basal unit is well-bedded quartzite above 1,650 feet thick ' shaly Unit above this 520 feet thick contains lowest olenellids in section; top unit of dolomite and quartzite 400 feet thick. A few scattered olenellid trilobites and archaeocyathids in upper part of formation. Scolithus ? tubes.
c. Quartzite, sandstone, siltstone, shale, and dolomite. Shaly and silty units increase in abundance in the upper part of the formation. Upper and lower third of units consists of interbedded red and brown quartzite, brownish green micaceous siltstone and minor orange-weathering silty dolomite. Middle third is mostly light-green quartzite and siltstone, and minor distinctive arkosic conglomerate. Locally metamorphosed to subgreenschist to lower greenschist facies south of NTS in Funeral Mountains and Specter Range. In NTS area, unit is from 700 to 1,150 m thick, about 600 m thick in the Montgomery Mountains, and 640 to 820 m thick in the northwest Spring Mountains.
35 Stirling Quartzite
a. Interbedded fluvial and marine sequences – fine-grained, cross-stratified, locally conglomeratic sandstone, intervals of siltstone and carbonate rocks – in the Funeral Mnts. the dolomite member contains conical calcareous fossils including metazoan small shelly fossils of Cloudina in another member there are rare occurrences of the trace fossil Planolites.
b. Well-bedded quartzite in beds 1-5 feet thick comprising thick members of quartzite 700-800 feet thick separated by 500 feet of purple shale, crossbedding conspicuous in quartzite. Maximum thickness about 2,000 feet. No fossils.
c. Unit is white, pale red, purple, pink, and gray, quarzite and sandstone, conglomeratic quartzite, and minor beds of light- to dark-brown micaceous siltstone. Quartz grains are usually fine- to medium-grained. A 20 m thick white quartzite marks the base of the unit in the Specter Range and northwestern Spring Mountains. Locally metamorphosed to sub-greenschist to lower greenschist facies at Bare Mountain, Funeral Mountains, and parts of the northwestern Spring Mountains. Unit forms massive cliffs, 975 m thick in northwestern Spring Mountains, 1,100 m thick in the Montgomery Mountains, 2,100 m thick in the Funeral Mountains, 1,500 m thick in the Belted Range and 700 m thick at Bare Mountain.
36 Johnnie Formation
a. A mix of carbonate and siliciclastic sequences from a shallow, near-shore depo. environment – three groups of stromatolites have been found in the uppermost section - lower carbonate member contains domical and branching forms of stromatolites.
b. Mostly shale, in part olive brown, in part purple. Basal member 400 feet thick is interbedded dolomite arid quartzite with pebble conglomerate. Locally, fair dolomite near middle arid at top. Thickness more than 4,000 feet. No fossils.
c. Quartzite, conglomeratic quartzite, siltstone, shale and minor limestone and dolomite beds. Upper part contains Rainstorm Member traced regionally across parts of southern Nevada and southeastern California. Rainstorm Member contains mixed clastic and carbonate units, and the "Johnnie oolite", a distinctive grayish-orange ooid-bearing dolomite unit in the lower part of the member. Unit exceeds 900 m thick in the Halfpint Range, and is estimated at 2,000 m thick in the Funeral Mountains, only 600 m of unit exposed in Spring Mountains.
37 Noonday Dolomite
a. *deposited in marine basins during Precambrian continental rifting – algal marine dolomite.
b. Algal, cryptalgal, and clastic dolostone records shallow marine carbonate platform environment – upper member has silty dolomite, siltstone, and stromatolitic dolomite – lower member has finely crystalline, laminated, relatively pure dolomite