PSR Relax

Panamint Valley and its Sand Dunes

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Panamint Valley is a 100 mile long, 2 to 10 mile wide depression sandwiched between the Panamint Range on the east and the Argus and Slate ranges on the west. It's northern end is bounded by hills that back the unique Panamint sand dunes. Earthquakes have uplifted the mountains and dropped the valley floor along major faults as the earth's crust stretches here. The great Pleistocene alluvial fans just south of Ballarat are evidence of this continuing upheaval where the fault scarp is over 100' high.

      During the Pleistocene epoch (1.8 million to 10,000 yar ago), Panamint Valley was filled with one of a chain of lakes extending from Mono Basin (north of Mammoth at Lee Vining), throughOwn Lake (near Lone Pine), down to China Lake (at Ridgecrest), through Searles and Panamint lakes, and finally to Death Valley, the lowest lake of the chain. These lakes were fed by torrents of water as the great Sierra Nevada glaciers melted. Five glacial epochs have been identified, the last two being the Tahoe (75,000 years ago) and the Tioga (22,000 years ago). Between these epochs were dry periods lasting thousands of years. As the valley dropped between the faults that defined its east and west margins, it filled with lake sediments during the wet periods and with alluvium during the dry periods. This drop-and-fill action happened over and over again.

      An alluvial fan now divides the valley into two basins, each with its own playa (dry mud flat covered with water in the wet season). The southern playa (south of Ballarat) is about 1,040 feet elevation: the northern one (east of Panamint Springs) is about 1,540 feet, and since the fan is 1,710 feet high, the northern lake cannot drain south until it is 170 feet deep. (not in our lifetime!)

      The most prominent shorelines of ancient Lake Panamint developed about 23,000 years ago coincided with the Tioga glaciation. Shorelines of the ancient lake are as high as 1,820 feet near Panamint Springs. Assuming the valley floor hasn't dropped and the mountains haven't risen in the last 23,000 years, the lake was 280 feet deep east of Panamint Springs providing lakefront peoperty for the resort (had it existed then), but the fishing was probably questionable. Diatoms (algae with shells of silica) found in the old lake beds near Panamint Springs indicate that the lake was quite warm and salty at that time.