By Pete Aleshire
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Extra resources for Deserts (The Extreme Earth)
Death Valley is bounded by long, deep, active earthquake faults. Such faults mark the place where the Earth has been stretched, strained, and cracked. Pressures from beneath cause the crust to crack along such faults, which often allows mountain ranges to rise. When a chunk of the Earth between two such mountain-range-raising faults splits lose and drops down as the land on either side rises, it is called a graben. That makes Death Valley one of the most dramatic grabens on the planet. So although the mountains overlooking the valley rise to 11,000 feet (3,667 m), the floor of Death Valley is actually 282 feet (94 m) below sea level.
That highly centralized Chaco system may have faced a crisis, which the prayers of the Chacooriented priests failed to avert. That would have spurred the spread of the kachina religion, which was connected to older traditions. The decline of Chaco coincides with the spread outward from the Casa Malpais area of kachina motifs on pottery found in villages and burials. Moreover, the rise of the decentralized kachina religion coincides with the decline of centralized, irrigation-based civilizations throughout the Southwest.
Some of the rocks in the surrounding mountains are more than 500 million years old, formed miles beneath the Earth before the first living things crawled out onto dry land. Those deeply buried rocks were thrust upward through miles of rock into their present positions. 8 billion years. In Mesozoic times (245 million to 65 million years ago), the quiet, sea-covered continental margin was replaced by erupting volcanoes, uplifting mountains, and compressional thrust faulting. These changes were brought about by a tectonic collision to the west when the western edge of the North American continent was pushed against the oceanic plate under the Pacific Ocean.