2017 N. Owens Valley/Long Valley Caldera

Synopsis of the 2017 (October 7-9) Pacific Cell Friends of the Pleistocene Field Trip in the Northern Owens Valley/Long Valley, California

ALERT: registration is now closed

ALERT: GUIDEBOOK is posted (see below)

Trip Leaders: Fred Phillips, Drew Levy, Paul Hancock

Locality: The Owens Valley is a deep trough between the Sierra Nevada on the west and the White/Inyo Mountains on the east. The valley is tectonically very active, with most of the dislocation being accommodated on transtensional systems of faults. The climate fluctuations of the Pleistocene left a major imprint on the area, including impressive moraines at canyon mouths and evidence of extensive pluvial lakes.

Scope: The 2017 trip will examine mountain-front faulting along both the White Mountains and Sierra Nevada and the valley-center Owens Valley fault. We will visit early Pleistocene lacustrine exposures in the Waucoba embayment, see new evidence for mid-to-late Pleistocene lakes in Long Valley, and inspect dated moraines at Bishop Creek and in Long Valley. The area is the source of the widely distributed Bishop Tuff and we will visit the source area in Long Valley and extensive exposures of the ignimbrite sheet, as well as other minor volcanic centers.

The last time there was a Pacific Cell FOP in the northern Owens Valley was in 1971!

The headquarters for the 2017 Pacific FOP will be the USFS Cedar Flat campground The campground has pit toilets (which we will supplement with porta-potties), but no running water. It is 12 miles east of the small town of Big Pine down a winding mountain road, so come prepared with water, ice and all necessary supplies. It is at 2250 m (7400 feet), so expect nights to be cool, possibly below freezing. Hopefully we will have glorious fall weather for the field trips, but if a cold front comes through it is not impossible we could be snowed on, and if there is a heat wave it could be up in the 90’s. In other words, be prepared for anything.

Vehicles: The routes for Days 1 and 2 should be passable for passenger cars with reasonable clearance (not low-slung sports cars!). That for Day 3 will involve dirt roads with some projecting boulders and several ~2 foot-deep stream crossings, so high clearance vehicles are required. Plan on car pooling on Day 3 with somebody who has a high-clearance vehicle if you do not!

In general, parking a large number of vehicles and walking back and forth from them to the actual stop sites are the number-one waste of time on FOP trips, so please make every attempt to car pool if you are in a vehicle that has only one or two people in it.

Directions: The 2017 Pacific Cell FoP will be headquartered at the USFS Cedar Flat Group Campsite in Inyo National Forest. To reach Cedar Flat, drive either north or south on U.S. 395 to reach Big Pine, in the northern Owens Valley. Drive to the north end of Big Pine. Turn right on California State Highway 168. This intersection is easy to spot because it is marked by both a Giant Sequoia tree and a giant American flag. Drive 12.5 miles east on 168 (in 2.2 miles you reach the intersection with the Death Valley/Saline Valley Road; continue straight on 168, do not turn off toward Death Valley). The road proceeds up a narrow and twisty canyon before emerging onto the broad expanse of Cedar Flat. In 12.5 miles from the US 395 intersection you will see the sign for the Cedar Flat Group Camp with the turnoff on the north side of 168. The coordinates of this intersection are 37.27674 N and -118.1512 E. Driving ~0.3 mile north on a gravel road you encounter three group camp sites: Camp Nelson, Camp Noren, and Camp Ferguson. All three sites have been reserved for the FOP. When you arrive, please check in at the FOP headquarters to receive your guidebook and T-shirt.

Note that the Cedar Flat facility does not have running water. Vault toilets and port-a-potties will be provided. The nearest point for resupply is Big Pine, 12 miles to the west. Make sure you have adequate water, food, gasoline, and other supplies for the trip before you leave Big Pine. You are completely responsible for your own provisions while on the trip.

Field Trip Agenda

Day 1 (Saturday, October 7)

  • Stop 1.1 – Waucoba embayment. Chronology and paleoenvironmental significance of the lacustrine Waucoba beds (Conni De Masi), Neotectonics of the Waucoba embayment (Fred Phillips, Eric Kirby).
  • Stop 1.2 – Overview of the White Mountain front east of Bishop. Emplacement and stratigraphy of the Bishop Tuff (Wes Hildreth). Long-term perspective on dextral displacement in the Owens Valley (John Bartley). Chronology and paleoenvironmental significance of the Alluvium of Black Canyon (Angela Jayko). Tectonics of the White Mountain Fault Zone (Fred Phillips and Eric Kirby). Tectonic geomorphology of the White Mountain front (Jeff Knott).
  • Stop 1.3 – Fish Slough. Endemic and endangered aquatic species and habitats in the western Great Basin (Don Sada). Tectonic significance of the Fish Slough fault (Fred Phillips).
  • Stop 1.4 – Overview of the Volcanic Tableland and Sierra front west of Bishop. Tectonic deformation of the Volcanic Tableland (Nick Pinter). Tectonics of the Sierra Nevada frontal fault system (Drew Levy and Fred Phillips).

Day 2 (Sunday, October 8)

  • Stop 2.1 – Bishop Creek terminal moraine complex. Geology, chronology, and paleoclimatic significance of the glacial features at Bishop Creek (Fred Phillips).
  • Stop 2.2 – Owens River Gorge overlook. (Re)incision of the Owens River Gorge after the eruption of the Bishop Tuff (Wes Hildreth).
  • Stop 2.3 – Long Valley overlook. History of the formation and draining of the Pleistocene Long Valley Lake (Wes Hildreth).
  • Stop 2.4 – Convict Creek moraines. Chronology and paleoclimatic significance of the Convict Creek moraines (Aaron Putman and Benjamin Hatchett).
  • Sunday evening: Bonfire and highjinks back at Cedar Flat

Day 3 (Monday, October 9)

  • Note: High-clearance vehicles only on Day 3!
  • Stop 3.1 – Warren Bench. Mountain-down faulting on Warren Bench and formation of the Coyote Warp (Fred Phillips)
  • Stop 3.2 – Crater Mountain. Kinematics of the Owens Valley fault (Beth Haddon and Eric Kirby).
  • Stop 3.3 – Red Mountain fault. Kinematic budget across the central Owens Valley (Eric Kirby).

The FOP concludes after lunch on October 9.


Registration is now closed.



Here is the long awaited 2017 Pacific Cell Friends of the Pleistocene Field Trip Guidebook (Low Resolution 10 MB pdf).

Most guidebook articles came out fine in the compressed PDF, but a few (notably, the last three) suffered significant reduction in the quality of the graphics. You can get original quality for all articles by downloading the full 200 MB PDF.

Here is the long awaited 2017 Pacific Cell Friends of the Pleistocene Field Trip Guidebook (High Resolution 180 MB pdf).

Contact Information

Fred M. PhillipsEmeritus Professor of Hydrology

Earth & Environmental Science Department
New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology
801 Leroy Place
Socorro NM 87801


Sign up for the list serv to get email announcements.

Ride Share

USGS Publication: Eruptive history of Mammoth Mountain and its mafic periphery, California

Main Pages