Sedimentary processes and facies of the waterlaid Anvil Spring Canyon alluvial fan, Death Valley, California



The Anvil Spring Canyon fan of the Panamint Range piedmont in central Death Valley was built entirely by water-flow processes, as revealed by an analysis of widespread 2- to 12-m-high stratigraphic cuts spanning the 9·7 km radial length of this 2·5–5·0° sloping fan. Two facies deposited from fan sheetfloods dominate the fan from apex to toe. The main one (60–95% of cuts) consists of sandy, granular, fine to medium pebble gravel that regularly and sharply alternates with cobbly coarse to very coarse pebble gravel in planar couplets 5–25 cm thick oriented parallel to the fan surface. The other facies (0–25% of cuts) comprises 10- to 60-cm-thick, wedge-planar and wedge-trough beds of pebbly sand and sandy pebble gravel in backsets sloping 3–28°. Both facies are interpreted as resulting from rare, sediment-charged flash floods from the catchment, and were deposited by supercritical standing waves of expanding sheetfloods on the fan. Standing waves were repeatedly initiated, enlarged, migrated, and then terminated either by gradually rejoining the flood or by more violent breakage and washout. The frequent autocyclic growth and destruction of standing waves during an individual sheetflood resulted in the deposition of multiple coarse and fine couplet and backset sequences 50–250 cm thick across the active depositional lobe of the fan. Erosional intensity during washout of the standing wave determined whether early-phase backset-bed deposits or washout-phase sheetflood couplet deposits were selectively preserved in a given cycle. Two minor facies are also found in the Anvil fan. Pebble–cobble gravel lags (0–20% of cuts) are present above erosional scours into the sheetflood couplet and backset deposits. They consist of coarse gravel concentrated through fine-fraction winnowing of the host sheetflood facies by sediment-deficient water flows. This reworking occurred during recessional flood stage or from non-catastrophic discharge during the long intervals between major flash floods. This facies is common at the surface, giving rise to a ‘braided-stream’ appearance. However, it is stratigraphically limited, present as thin, continuous to discontinuous beds or lenses that bound 50- to 250-cm-thick sheetflood sequences. The other minor facies of the Anvil fan consists of clast-supported and imbricated, thickly stratified, pebbly, cobbly, boulder gravel present in narrow, radially aligned ribbons nested within sheetflood deposits. This facies is interpreted as representing deposition in the incised channel of the fan, a subenvironment characterized by greater flow competence resulting from maintained depth from channel-wall confinement, and by more frequent water flows and winnowing events caused by its direct connection with the catchment feeder channel.