Geology of Joshua Tree National Park geodatabase

Open-File Report 2015-1175
National Park Service
By: , and 



The database in this Open-File Report describes the geology of Joshua Tree National Park and was completed in support of the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS). The geologic observations and interpretations represented in the database are relevant to both the ongoing scientific interests of the USGS in southern California and the management requirements of NPS, specifically of Joshua Tree National Park (JOTR).

Joshua Tree National Park is situated within the eastern part of California’s Transverse Ranges province and straddles the transition between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. The geologically diverse terrain that underlies JOTR reveals a rich and varied geologic evolution, one that spans nearly two billion years of Earth history. The Park’s landscape is the current expression of this evolution, its varied landforms reflecting the differing origins of underlying rock types and their differing responses to subsequent geologic events. Crystalline basement in the Park consists of Proterozoic plutonic and metamorphic rocks intruded by a composite Mesozoic batholith of Triassic through Late Cretaceous plutons arrayed in northwest-trending lithodemic belts. The basement was exhumed during the Cenozoic and underwent differential deep weathering beneath a low-relief erosion surface, with the deepest weathering profiles forming on quartz-rich, biotite-bearing granitoid rocks. Disruption of the basement terrain by faults of the San Andreas system began ca. 20 Ma and the JOTR sinistral domain, preceded by basalt eruptions, began perhaps as early as ca. 7 Ma, but no later than 5 Ma. Uplift of the mountain blocks during this interval led to erosional stripping of the thick zones of weathered quartz-rich granitoid rocks to form etchplains dotted by bouldery tors—the iconic landscape of the Park. The stripped debris filled basins along the fault zones.

Mountain ranges and basins in the Park exhibit an east-west physiographic grain controlled by left-lateral fault zones that form a sinistral domain within the broad zone of dextral shear along the transform boundary between the North American and Pacific plates. Geologic and geophysical evidence reveal that movement on the sinistral faults zones has resulted in left steps along the zones, resulting in the development of sub-basins beneath Pinto Basin and Shavers and Chuckwalla Valleys. The sinistral fault zones connect the Mojave Desert dextral faults of the Eastern California Shear Zone to the north and east with the Coachella Valley strands of the southern San Andreas Fault Zone to the west.

Quaternary surficial deposits accumulated in alluvial washes and playas and lakes along the valley floors; in alluvial fans, washes, and sheet wash aprons along piedmonts flanking the mountain ranges; and in eolian dunes and sand sheets that span the transition from valley floor to piedmont slope. Sequences of Quaternary pediments are planed into piedmonts flanking valley-floor and upland basins, each pediment in turn overlain by successively younger residual and alluvial surficial deposits.

Suggested Citation

Powell, R.E., Matti, J.C., Cossette, P.M., 2015, Geology of the Joshua Tree National Park geodatabase: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1175, GIS database,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geology of Joshua Tree National Park geodatabase
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2015-1175
DOI 10.3133/ofr20151175
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Description Geodatabase; Style Sheet; Data Table Map; Metadata; ReadMe
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Joshua Tree National Park
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details