Geophysical Unit of Menlo Park, Calif.

U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 2006-1176
Version 1.0

Geophysical Investigations of the Smoke Creek Desert and their Geologic Implications, Northwest Nevada and Northeast California

By David A. Ponce, Jonathan M.G. Glen, and Janet E. Tilden


photo of desert with hills in the dusty background
View looking SE across the Smoke Creek Desert

The Smoke Creek Desert is a large basin about 100 km (60 mi) north of Reno near the California-Nevada border, situated along the northernmost parts of the Walker Lane Belt, a physiographic region defined by diverse topographic expression consisting of northweststriking topographic features and strike-slip faulting. Because geologic and geophysical framework studies play an important role in understanding the hydrogeology of the Smoke Creek Desert, a geophysical effort was undertaken to help determine basin geometry, infer structural features, and estimate depth to basement.

In the northernmost parts of the Smoke Creek Desert basin, along Squaw Creek Valley, geophysical data indicate that the basin is shallow and that granitic rocks are buried at shallow depths throughout the valley. These granitic rocks are faulted and fractured and presumably permeable, and thus may influence ground-water resources in this area.

The Smoke Creek Desert basin itself is composed of three large oval sub-basins, all of which reach depths to basement of up to about 2 km (1.2 mi). In the central and southern parts of the Smoke Creek Desert basin, magnetic anomalies form three separate and narrow EW-striking features. These features consist of high-amplitude short-wavelength magnetic anomalies and probably reflect Tertiary basalt buried at shallow depth. In the central part of the Smoke Creek Desert basin a prominent EW-striking gravity and magnetic prominence extends from the western margin of the basin to the central part of the basin. Along this ridge, probably composed of Tertiary basalt, overlying unconsolidated basin-fill deposits are relatively thin (< 400 m).

The central part of the Smoke Creek Desert basin is also characterized by the Mid-valley fault, a continuous geologic and geophysical feature striking NS and at least 18-km long, possibly connecting with faults mapped in the Terraced Hills and continuing southward to Pyramid Lake. The Mid-valley fault may represent a lateral (east-west) barrier to ground-water flow. In addition, the Mid-valley fault may also be a conduit for along-strike (north-south) ground-water flow, channeling flow to the southernmost parts of the basin and the discharge areas north of Sand Pass.

Download this report as a 29-page PDF file (of2006-1176.pdf; 24.5 MB)

Accessible (tagged) version for the visually impaired (of2006-1176_508.pdf; 800 KB)

Download table 1 as an Excel .xls file: Average physical property data of selected rock types. (of2006-1176_table1.xls; 96 KB)

Also of interest
Open-File Report 2006-1197, Gravity, Magnetic, and Physical Property Data in the Smoke Creek Desert Area, Northwest Nevada, by Janet E. Tilden, David A. Ponce, Jonathan M.G. Glen, Bruce A Chuchel, Kira Tushman, and Alison Duvall

For questions about the content of this report, contact Dave Ponce

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