The San Andreas fault system in northern California forms an 80–90 km wide zone of right-lateral shear. Extensional tectonism within this broad shear zone is indicated by both Neogene silicic volcanic rocks that gradually young in the direction of shear propagation to the north-west and by numerous Neogene faultbounded structural basins filled with thick non-marine sequences.
The Little Sulphur Creek basins, three well-exposed 1·5–2 km wide pull apart basins within this shear system, have sedimentation patterns analogous to those of much larger pull-apart basins. They were formed and subsequently deformed by east-west extension and by north-west to south-east-orientated right-slip concurrently with basin filling. Palaeocurrent and maximum-clast size data indicate both lateral sediment transport from fault-bounded basin margins and longitudinal transport down the basin axes.
The basins are filled primarily with coarse alluvial-fan and streamflow deposits derived from a surrounding igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic provenance. Two of the basins contain basin-plain-type lacustrine turbidites that grade laterally into distal alluvial fan, fan-delta, and sublacustrine delta deposits. Talus deposits along the south-west margin of the basins contain megabreccia indicative of active uplift. Structures indicative of dewatering, liquefaction, and slumping suggest penecontemporaneous tectonism.