2016 Pac Cell: Panamint Valley

Here is the basic information. We will update this page as more information come in.

The 2016 Friends of the Pleistocene Pacific Cell field trip will take place at Panamint Valley and vicinity, from October 7th-9th, 2016.

    Basic Contact Info:

  • Leader: Drs. Eric Kirby and Eric McDonald
  • Location: Panamint Valley
  • Email: 2016.pac.fop @ gmail.com

We are pleased to announce that the 2016 Annual Pacific Cell FOP field trip will be held in Panamint Valley, CA, Friday through Sunday, October 7-9.


The guidebook is here and it is yuge. (~150 MB pdf)


Print some copies of the songbook so that you can sing along at the campfire on Saturday night. (0.5 MB pdf)

** thanks Marith


Registration, travel and camping information can be found on at the FOP web site, below. Registration fees ($30 professionals, $20 students) go toward portable toilets, refreshments, and t-shirts for all. Although you may opt to register upon arrival, please do so in advance if at all possible, as it helps with planning (and guarantees that we have a t-shirt in your size).

Here is a .kmz file with our FINAL planned itinerary and the location of the campsite. Because many of you may be arriving late, I’ve outlined the approximate location of camping both south and north of the Surprise Canyon road (red polygons). On the north side, the camping area is bound by a wilderness region; tents are allowed beyond, but vehicles need to remain near the road. To the south and west, the BLM restricts both camping and vehicles to restore portions of the wash. Both boundaries are reasonably well-marked by BLM signs, but they may be easily missed in the dark.


Panamint Valley is a tectonically active, pull-apart basin located within the Eastern California – Walker Lane shear zone (Burchfiel and Stewart, 1966). Despite spectacular exposures of alluvial and lacustrine stratigraphy that record a complex interplay between fault slip and basin subsidence, hydrologic fluctuations, and variations in sediment supply, the basin has received relatively limited study. Underscoring this, the last FOP in the valley was organized in 1978 by R.S.U. Smith (Smith, 1978). A brief reference list of relevant work since that time is included on the last page.

    For the better part of a decade, we have been working on a number of interrelated questions regarding the alluvial and lacustrine history of the young valley fill, the nature of slip along active faults in the valley, and the degree of soil development as a function of time. Although we do not intend to create a comprehensive field guide to the entire valley, we hope to address aspects of the following outstanding issues:

  1. What is the nature of slip along the range-bounding fault system? Opening of the modern Panamint Valley fault system is argued to have occurred along a low-angle (<15°), oblique-slip normal fault (Burchfiel et al. 1987; MIT and Biehler, 1987; Wesnousky and Jones, 1994) that is linked to the dextral Hunter Mountain fault (Oswald and Wesnousky, 2002; Lee et al., 2009). In contrast, Pleistocene slip along the active strands of the southern Panamint Valley fault system appears to be primarily right-lateral (Smith, 1979; Zhang et al., 1990). Low-angle detachments involving Plio-Quaternary deposits are present within the Panamint Range (Cichanski, 2000; Walker et al., 2005; Numelin et al., 2007; Andrew and Walker, 2009), but whether these participate in the active deformation field remains debated. We will present arguments from field observations that suggest to us that low-angle normal faults are not only active along much of the range front, but that these ruptured in prehistoric paleoseismic events.
  2. What was the timing, duration, and extent of lakes in Panamint Valley during the late Pleistocene? The timing of lacustrine occupation of Panamint Valley has been a long-standing question in the hydrologic history of the eastern Sierra (Gale, 1914; Smith, 1976; Fitzpatrick and Bischoff, 1993; Fitzpatrick et al., 1993; Jayko et al., 2008). High shorelines attest to an extensive lake that filled most of the valley to a depth of several hundred meters (Smith, 1976), but the age of this system has been difficult to determine, with estimates ranging from ~70 ka to ~150 ka. We will present new age data (10Be & 36Cl depth profiles, luminescence, soil stratigraphy) on beach ridges that argue for the younger side of this range (MIS 4). We will also address a second debate, over the extent of the most recent (MIS 2) lake in Panamint Valley (Jayko et al., 2008). Dating and mapping of deposits and landforms associated with this period along the eastern foot of the Panamint Range suggest a relatively small and short-lived lake ~20-30 m depth.
  3. What are the primary rates and processes of soil development in the valley? Much of our work has relied on soil development as a means to associate alluvial and lacustrine deposits of different age, landscape position, and source lithology. We have developed a relatively extensive data set of well characterized soils (many associated with well-dated deposits). We will discuss the utility of using this chronosequence as a tool to help understand both the timing of episodes of alluvial fan development and the history of fault displacement. Examples will focus soil-stratigraphy associated with a widespread pulse of fan aggradation subsequent to lake occupation at 60-80 ka, lacustrine deposits, and Holocene ruptures along both the range front fault and the Ash Hill fault (e.g., Densmore and Anderson, 1997).



Directions to BLM group camp site:

From the north (Hwy. 190):
Turn South on Panamint Valley Rd., ~4 km east of Panamint Springs
At intersection with Trona-Wildrose Rd. (~22 km), turn South
At intersection with Ballarat Rd. (~15 km), turn East
In ghost town of Ballarat (~6 km), turn North on Indian Ranch Rd.
At ~2 km, Google Earth shows old Surprise Canyon Rd. – CONTINUE PAST THIS
At ~3 km from Ballarat, turn East on Surprise Canyon Rd.
FOP Group Site is ~300 – 500 m up the road

From the north (Hwy. 178):
Depart Trona, enter Panamint Valley via Slate Range Crossing along Trona-Wildrose Rd.
From summit, descend ~11.5 km to intersection with Ballarat Rd., and turn East
In ghost town of Ballarat (~6 km), turn North on Indian Ranch Rd.
At ~2 km, Google Earth shows old Surprise Canyon Rd. – CONTINUE PAST THIS
At ~3 km from Ballarat, turn East on Surprise Canyon Rd.
FOP Group Site is ~300 – 500 m up the road

Here is a kmz file with the location of the BLM group campsite, and a brief set of directions to the site.


We encourage folks to register in advance, using the “Buy Now” button below, if at all possible. This will help us with planning, and will ensure that we have enough t-shirts for everyone. If you plan to attend, but do not wish to pay in advance, we will accept on-site registration. In this case, we ask you to go to a Google spreadsheet, using the link below, open the spreadsheet, and enter your name, institution, t-shirt size, etc.

Payment is closed now since the trip is over… see you next time!

And, of course, supporting your local Friends of the Pleistocene, not only enables this epic, annual meeting of Quaternary geologists, but gets you that rare prize of a t-shirt (and, use of at least one porta potty during the trip).

Simply donate below using your PayPal account, or a credit card.

Because, as Obi Wan Kenobi once said to Luke Skywalker, “You must do as you feel is right, of course.”