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North Mojave Desert - Inyo County

Owens Valley

Natural Setting

The Owens Valley is the westernmost of the more than 150 desert basins which, together with the more than 160 discontinuous subparallel mountain ranges that separate them, form the Great Basin section of the Basin and Range Province of the western United States. Owens Valley is commonly defined as the narrow northwest/southeast trending trough bounded by the towering Sierra Nevada on the west, the White-Inyo Range on the east and extending northward from the Coso Range south of Owens Lake for more than 100 miles to the great bend in the Owens River northwest of Laws, California. The average elevation of the valley floor is approximately 3,700 feet. The valley includes the area drained by Owens River and its tributaries, and it contains two smaller topographic depressions, Long and Round Valleys. [25]

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Owens Lake

Owens Valley History

Owens Lake Steamers


Owens Valley Paiute

The Owens Valley Paiute belong to an extensive group known generically as the Northern Paiute (in western Nevada as the Paviotso), which extends through ...


Owens Valley

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Owens Valley Water Wars

Geologic History

Throughout the Paleozoic Era the area of the present western United States was submerged beneath the ocean. It was exposed only at the shores of ancient Cascadia somewhere in the eastern part of the Pacific Basin. Erosion from the bordering lands and subsequent sediment deposition on the ocean floor, combined with the additional weight of volcanics from eruptions triggered by the growing stress of the deposits, led to the depression of a geosyncline at the western margin of the submerged region sometime in the early Mesozoic era, probably during the Triassic period. In the late Jurassic or early Cretaceous, this trough yielded to the tension. High temperatures and pressure caused the sedimentary rocks and volcanics to melt, and resulted in the recrystallization and granitization and emplacement of the Sierran batholith one mile or two beneath the surface (Nevadan orogeny) with aureoles of contact metamorphic rocks. These processes were followed by a rising of the trough. Erosion of the uplifted rocks exposed the granites with erosion continuing through and after the cessation of vertical movement into the early Tertiary. This period of relative quiescence was succeeded in the Eocene by a gradual up-arching of the eroded plain, probably along an axis through the area of the present Sierra-Cascade system. Some geologists tentatively place the movement along Owens Valley faults into this period. In the late Miocene and/or early Pliocene, the arch fractured into a number of segments. The Sierran black, remaining intact, continued to rise, tilting to the west. The eastern flank broke into a series of eastward tilted basin and range blocks, the westernmost of which was downdropped as the wedge-shaped graben that now forms the Owens Valley. Some geologists have suggested that the valleys to the east may merely represent alluviated areas on the lower ends of eastward tilted blocks, implying uplift without subsidence in this region. The downfaulting of Long Valley and Mono Basin is suggested to have occurred during this period as well, resulting from volcanic eruptions causing low pressure zones in these areas of local tension which in turn are attributed to the southward movement of the Sierra Nevada relative to the western Great Basin, including Owens Valley.

As a result of its geologic history, portions of Owens Valley, particularly the Manzanar-George Creek area, came to possess an isolated but magnificent natural environment. The formation of artesian springs and high water tables, together with fertile soil, resulted in this vicinity becoming one of the only areas in the southern Owens Valley to be suitable for agriculture. [26]

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Sierra Nevada from Owens Lake ghost town site

Sierra Nevada from Olancha Dunes

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