Fed by the rains and snows of the last Ice Age, the Owens River once flowed from Owens lake down through this narrow valley between the Coso and Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges. Several times during the last 100,000 years, the discharge from the Owens river has been great enough to form a vast interconnected system of lakes in what are now the arid basins of the Mojave Desert. The rugged and primitive features of Fossil Falls are the produce of volcanic activity. As recent as 20,000 years ago, lava from the local volcanic eruptions poured into the Owens River channel. The erosional forces of the Owens River acted upon this volcanic rock, forming the polished and sculptured features that now can be seen at Fossil Falls. The red cinder cone visible to the north is the result of the violent ejection of trapped gases and molten material into the air from vent in the earth's crust. Cooling quickly when exposed to the air, the molten material formed a porous rock known as scoria, which built up around the original vent forming a cone-shaped hill.
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