New core complex model for the South Virgin-White Hills detachment and extension in the eastern Lake Mead area, southern Nevada and northwestern Arizona

Zack A. Swaney, Ernest M. Duebendorfer, Paul G. Fitzgerald, William C. McIntosh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The eastern Lake Mead region, to the north of the belt of metamorphic core complexes that define the Colorado River extensional corridor, underwent largemagnitude extension in the middle to late Miocene. We present two speculative new models for extension in this area that resolve several puzzling and paradoxical relations. These models are based on new field mapping and structural, geochronologic, and thermochronologic data from the northern White Hills, Lost Basin Range, and south Wheeler Ridge. The Meadview fault, a previously underappreciated structure, is an east-side-down normal fault that separates the northern Lost Basin Range to the west from south Wheeler Ridge to the east. Proterozoic crystalline rocks of the northern Lost Basin Range yielded an apatite fission-track (AFT) age of 15 Ma, whereas 2 km to the east, across the Meadview fault, crystalline rocks of south Wheeler Ridge yielded a 127 Ma AFT age. Similarly, at the south end of the Lost Basin Range, crystalline rocks with ca. 15 Ma AFT ages lie within 5 km of crystalline rocks of Garnet Mountain that yielded a 68 Ma AFT age across the Grand Wash fault. Neither of these relations can be explained by existing tilted crustal section or tilt-block models. In our "classic" metamorphic core complex model, the Grand Wash fault (breakaway), the Meadview fault, and the South Virgin-White Hills detachment represent different structural levels of a single, regional detachment that was active between ca. 16 and 11 Ma. The hanging wall of the detachment consists of rocks at south Wheeler Ridge, the Paleozoic ridges, and possibly part of the crystalline basement of the Gold Butte block, sedimentary and volcanic rocks in the hanging walls of the Salt Spring and Cyclopic Mine faults, and possibly stranded tilt blocks beneath the Grand Wash Trough supradetachment basin. The footwall, exhumed by subvertical simple shear and characterized by middle Miocene AFT ages, includes the central and western Gold Butte block, Hiller Mountains, and crystalline rocks of the White Hills and the Lost Basin Range. The east-dipping Meadview fault bounds the crystalline core on the east; the west-dipping South Virgin-White Hills detachment bounds the core on the west. Therefore, the Grand Wash fault represents the structurally highest part of the detachment, and the South Virgin-White Hills detachment represents the structurally deepest exposed part of the detachment. In the modified core complex model, the Grand Wash, Meadview, and South Virgin-White Hills detachment faults are separate structures, and the Grand Wash Trough is a "trailing-edge" basin bound on the east by the Grand Wash fault and on the west by the Meadview fault. The South Virgin-White Hills detachment is the main detachment along which extension was accommodated, and the Meadview fault is a major antithetic normal fault that facilitated exhumation of the core at the trailing edge of the detachment system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)353-370
Number of pages18
JournalSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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