Colorado Plateau

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A map of the Colorado Plateau. Colorado Plateaus map.png
A map of the Colorado Plateau.
The Four Corners Monument is where the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet. (The states are listed in clockwise order.) Four Corners Monument (1).jpg
The Four Corners Monument is where the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet. (The states are listed in clockwise order.)

The Colorado Plateau, also known as the Colorado Plateau Province, [1] is a physiographic and desert region of the Intermontane Plateaus, roughly centered on the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States. This province covers an area of 336,700 km2 (130,000 mi2) within western Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, southern and eastern Utah, and northern Arizona. About 90% of the area is drained by the Colorado River and its main tributaries: the Green, San Juan, and Little Colorado. Most of the remainder of the plateau is drained by the Rio Grande and its tributaries. [2] [3] :395

United States physiographic region classification system for landforms of the lower 48 United States by N. M. Fenneman

This list of physiographic regions of the contiguous United States identifies the 8 regions, 25 provinces, and 85 sections. The system dates to Nevin Fenneman's paper Physiographic Subdivision of the United States, published in 1917. Fenneman expanded and presented his system more fully in two books, Physiography of western United States (1931), and Physiography of eastern United States (1938). In these works Fenneman described 25 provinces and 85 sections of the United States physiography.

Desert Area of land where little precipitation occurs

A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the processes of denudation. About one-third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid. This includes much of the polar regions where little precipitation occurs and which are sometimes called polar deserts or "cold deserts". Deserts can be classified by the amount of precipitation that falls, by the temperature that prevails, by the causes of desertification or by their geographical location.

Intermontane Plateaus physiographic division of the United States

The Intermontane Plateaus of the Western United States is one of eight U.S. Physiographic regions (divisions) of the physical geography of the contiguous United States. The region is composed of intermontane plateaus and mountain ranges. It is subdivided into physiographic provinces, which are each subdivided into physiographic sections.


The Colorado Plateau is largely made up of high desert, with scattered areas of forests. In the southwest corner of the Colorado Plateau lies the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Much of the Plateau's landscape is related, in both appearance and geologic history, to the Grand Canyon. The nickname "Red Rock Country" suggests the brightly colored rock left bare to the view by dryness and erosion. Domes, hoodoos, fins, reefs, river narrows, natural bridges, and slot canyons are only some of the additional features typical of the Plateau.

Grand Canyon A steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in Arizona, United States

The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in Arizona, United States. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile.

Dome (geology) Deformational feature in structural geology of symmetrical anticlines that intersect each other at their respective apices.

A dome is a feature in structural geology consisting of symmetrical anticlines that intersect each other at their respective apices. Intact, domes are distinct, rounded, spherical-to-ellipsoidal-shaped protrusions on the Earth's surface. However, a transect parallel to Earth's surface of a dome features concentric rings of strata. Consequently, if the top of a dome has been eroded flat, the resulting structure in plan view appears as a bullseye, with the youngest rock layers at the outside, and each ring growing progressively older moving inwards. These strata would have been horizontal at the time of deposition, then later deformed by the uplift associated with dome formation.

Hoodoo (geology) A tall, thin spire of relatively soft rock usually topped by harder rock

A hoodoo is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements. They generally form within sedimentary rock and volcanic rock formations.

The Colorado Plateau has the greatest concentration of U.S. National Park Service (NPS) units in the country outside the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Among its nine National Parks are Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde, and Petrified Forest. Among its 18 National Monuments are Bears Ears, Rainbow Bridge, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Wupatki, Sunset Crater Volcano, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Natural Bridges, Canyons of the Ancients, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the Colorado National Monument.

National Park Service United States federal agency

The National Park Service (NPS) is an agency of the United States federal government that manages all national parks, many national monuments, and other conservation and historical properties with various title designations. It was created on August 25, 1916, by Congress through the National Park Service Organic Act and is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior. The NPS is charged with a dual role of preserving the ecological and historical integrity of the places entrusted to its management while also making them available and accessible for public use and enjoyment.

Grand Canyon National Park National park of the United States in Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park, located in northwestern Arizona, is the 15th site in the United States to have been named a national park. The park's central feature is the Grand Canyon, a gorge of the Colorado River, which is often considered one of the Wonders of the World. The park, which covers 1,217,262 acres of unincorporated area in Coconino and Mohave counties, received more than six million recreational visitors in 2017, which is the second highest count of all American national parks after Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Grand Canyon was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The park celebrated its 100th anniversary on February 26, 2019.

Zion National Park national park in Utah, United States

Zion National Park is an American national park located in southwestern Utah near the town of Springdale. A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile (590 km2) park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles (24 km) long and up to 2,640 ft (800 m) deep. The canyon walls are reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone eroded by the North Fork of the Virgin River. The lowest point in the park is 3,666 ft (1,117 m) at Coalpits Wash and the highest peak is 8,726 ft (2,660 m) at Horse Ranch Mountain. Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park has a unique geography and a variety of life zones that allow for unusual plant and animal diversity. Numerous plant species as well as 289 species of birds, 75 mammals, and 32 reptiles inhabit the park's four life zones: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest. Zion National Park includes mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches.


The Four Corners region and the Colorado Plateau. Click image to see state lines. Four corners.jpg
The Four Corners region and the Colorado Plateau. Click image to see state lines.
The Book Cliffs of western Colorado. Grand Junction Trip 92007 012.JPG
The Book Cliffs of western Colorado.
The Green River runs north to south from Wyoming, briefly through Colorado, and converges with the Colorado River in southeastern Utah. Green River, eastern Utah.jpg
The Green River runs north to south from Wyoming, briefly through Colorado, and converges with the Colorado River in southeastern Utah.
Sunset in Ojito Wilderness, near Albuquerque, NM Sunset in Ojito Wilderness, NM.jpg
Sunset in Ojito Wilderness, near Albuquerque, NM

This province is bounded by the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and by the Uinta Mountains and Wasatch Mountains branches of the Rockies in northern and central Utah. It is also bounded by the Rio Grande Rift, Mogollon Rim and the Basin and Range Province. Isolated ranges of the Southern Rocky Mountains such as the San Juan Mountains in Colorado and the La Sal Mountains in Utah intermix into the central and southern parts of the Colorado Plateau. It is composed of six sections: [3] :367

Rocky Mountains Major mountain range in western North America

The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range located in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch 3,000 km (1,900 mi) in straight-line distance from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico in the Southwestern United States. Located within the North American Cordillera, the Rockies are distinct from the Pacific Coast Ranges, Cascade Range, and the Sierra Nevada, which all lie farther to the west.

Uinta Mountains mountain range in northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado in the United States

The Uinta Mountains are an east-west trending chain of mountains in northeastern Utah extending slightly into southern Wyoming in the United States. As a subrange of the Rocky Mountains, they are unusual for being the highest range in the contiguous United States running east to west, and lie approximately 100 miles (160 km) east of Salt Lake City. The range has peaks ranging from 11,000–13,528 feet (3,353–4,123 m), with the highest point being Kings Peak, also the highest point in Utah. The Mirror Lake Highway crosses the western half of the Uintas on its way to Wyoming.

Mogollon Rim mountain range

The Mogollon Rim is a topographical and geological feature cutting across the U.S. state of Arizona. It extends approximately 200 miles (320 km), starting in northern Yavapai County and running eastward, ending near the border with New Mexico. It forms the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau in Arizona.

Uinta Basin basin in northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado in the United States

The Uinta Basin is a physiographic section of the larger Colorado Plateaus province, which in turn is part of the larger Intermontane Plateaus physiographic division. It is also a geologic structural basin in eastern Utah, east of the Wasatch Mountains and south of the Uinta Mountains. The Uinta Basin is fed by creeks and rivers flowing south from the Uinta Mountains. Many of the principal rivers flow into the Duchesne River which feeds the Green River—a tributary of the Colorado River. The Uinta Mountains forms the northern border of the Uinta Basin. They contain the highest point in Utah, Kings Peak, with a summit 13,528 feet above sea level. The climate of the Uinta Basin is semi-arid, with occasionally severe winter cold.

The Canyon Lands Section of the Colorado Plateau is a physiographic section of the larger Colorado Plateaus province, which in turn is part of the larger Intermontane Plateaus physiographic division in the Western United States

Navajo section

The Navajo Section is a physiographic section of the larger Colorado Plateaus Province, which in turn is part of the larger Intermontane Plateaus physiographic Division.

As the name implies, the High Plateaus Section is, on average, the highest section. North-south trending normal faults that include the Hurricane, Sevier, Grand Wash, and Paunsaugunt separate the section's component plateaus. [3] :366 This fault pattern is caused by the tensional forces pulling apart the adjacent Basin and Range province to the west, making this section transitional.

Occupying the southeast corner of the Colorado Plateau is the Datil Section. Thick sequences of mid-Tertiary to late-Cenozoic-aged lava covers this section.

Development of the province has in large part been influenced by structural features in its oldest rocks. Part of the Wasatch Line and its various faults form the western edge of the province. Faults that run parallel to the Wasatch Fault that lies along the Wasatch Range form the boundaries between the plateaus in the High Plateaus Section. [3] :376 The Uinta Basin, Uncompahgre Uplift, and the Paradox Basin were also created by movement along structural weaknesses in the region's oldest rock.

In Utah, the province includes several higher fault-separated plateaus:

Some sources also include the Tushar Mountain Plateau as part of the Colorado Plateau, but others do not. The mostly flat-lying sedimentary rock units that make up these plateaus are found in component plateaus that are between 4,900 to 11,000 feet (1,500 to 3,350 m) above sea level. A supersequence of these rocks is exposed in the various cliffs and canyons (including the Grand Canyon) that make up the Grand Staircase. Increasingly younger east-west trending escarpments of the Grand Staircase extend north of the Grand Canyon and are named for their color:

Within these rocks are abundant mineral resources that include uranium, coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Study of the area's unusually clear geologic history (which is laid bare due to the arid and semiarid conditions) has greatly advanced that science.

A rain shadow from the Sierra Nevada far to the west and the many ranges of the Basin and Range means that the Colorado Plateau receives six to sixteen inches (15 to 40 cm) of annual precipitation. [3] :369 Higher areas receive more precipitation and are covered in forests of pine, fir, and spruce.

Though it can be said that the Plateau roughly centers on the Four Corners, Black Mesa in northern Arizona is much closer to the east-west, north-south midpoint of the Plateau Province. Lying southeast of Glen Canyon and southwest of Monument Valley at the north end of the Hopi Reservation, this remote coal-laden highland has about half of the Colorado Plateau's acreage north of it, half south of it, half west of it, and half east of it.

Human history

The Ancestral Puebloan People lived in the region from roughly 2000 to 700 years ago. [3] :374

A party from Santa Fe led by Fathers Dominguez and Escalante, unsuccessfully seeking an overland route to California, made a five-month out-and-back trip through much of the Plateau in 1776-1777. [4]

Despite having lost one arm in the American Civil War, U.S. Army Major and geologist John Wesley Powell explored the area in 1869 and 1872. Using wooden oak boats and small groups of men the Powell Geographic Expedition charted this largely unknown region of the United States for the federal government.

Construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s and the Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s changed the character of the Colorado River. Dramatically reduced sediment load changed its color from reddish brown (Colorado is Spanish for "red") to mostly clear. The apparent green color is from algae on the riverbed's rocks, not from any significant amount of suspended material. The lack of sediment has also starved sand bars and beaches but an experimental 12-day-long controlled flood from Glen Canyon Dam in 1996 showed substantial restoration. Similar floods are planned for every 5 to 10 years. [3] :375


The Redwall Limestone cliffs of the Colorado Plateau tower above the northern Mojave Desert. Colorado Plateau, Mojave desert.jpg
The Redwall Limestone cliffs of the Colorado Plateau tower above the northern Mojave Desert.
The Permian through Jurassic stratigraphy of the Colorado Plateau area of southeastern Utah that makes up much of the famous prominent rock formations in protected areas such as Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park. From top to bottom: Rounded tan domes of the Navajo Sandstone, layered red Kayenta Formation, cliff-forming, vertically jointed, red Wingate Sandstone, slope-forming, purplish Chinle Formation, layered, lighter-red Moenkopi Formation, and white, layered Cutler Formation sandstone. Picture from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah. SEUtahStrat.JPG
The Permian through Jurassic stratigraphy of the Colorado Plateau area of southeastern Utah that makes up much of the famous prominent rock formations in protected areas such as Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park. From top to bottom: Rounded tan domes of the Navajo Sandstone, layered red Kayenta Formation, cliff-forming, vertically jointed, red Wingate Sandstone, slope-forming, purplish Chinle Formation, layered, lighter-red Moenkopi Formation, and white, layered Cutler Formation sandstone. Picture from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah.
Erosion-resistant sandstones of Mesozoic age result in bands of continuous cliffs, central Colorado Plateau. Dirty devil river.jpg
Erosion-resistant sandstones of Mesozoic age result in bands of continuous cliffs, central Colorado Plateau.
MODIS satellite image of Grand Canyon, Lake Powell (black, left of center) and the Colorado Plateau. White areas are snow-capped. MODIS1000013.jpg
MODIS satellite image of Grand Canyon, Lake Powell (black, left of center) and the Colorado Plateau. White areas are snow-capped.

One of the most geologically intriguing features of the Colorado Plateau is its remarkable stability. Relatively little rock deformation such as faulting and folding has affected this high, thick crustal block within the last 600 million years or so. In contrast, provinces that have suffered severe deformation surround the plateau. Mountain building thrust up the Rocky Mountains to the north and east and tremendous, earth-stretching tension created the Basin and Range province to the west and south. Sub ranges of the Southern Rocky Mountains are scattered throughout the Colorado Plateau. [5]

The Precambrian and Paleozoic history of the Colorado Plateau is best revealed near its southern end where the Grand Canyon has exposed rocks with ages that span almost 2 billion years. The oldest rocks at river level are igneous and metamorphic and have been lumped together as Vishnu Basement Rocks; the oldest ages recorded by these rocks fall in the range 1950 to 1680 million years. An erosion surface on the "Vishnu Basement Rocks" is covered by sedimentary rocks and basalt flows, and these rocks formed in the interval from about 1250 to 750 million years ago: in turn, they were uplifted and split into a range of fault-block mountains. [3] :383 Erosion greatly reduced this mountain range prior to the encroachment of a seaway along the passive western edge of the continent in the early Paleozoic. At the canyon rim is the Kaibab Formation, limestone deposited in the late Paleozoic (Permian) about 270 million years ago.

A 12,000-to-15,000-foot high (3,700 to 4,600 m) extension of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains called the Uncompahgre Mountains were uplifted and the adjacent Paradox Basin subsided. Almost 4 mi. (6.4 km) of sediment from the mountains and evaporites from the sea were deposited (see geology of the Canyonlands area for detail). [3] :383 Most of the formations were deposited in warm shallow seas and near-shore environments (such as beaches and swamps) as the seashore repeatedly advanced and retreated over the edge of a proto-North America (for detail, see geology of the Grand Canyon area). The province was probably on a continental margin throughout the late Precambrian and most of the Paleozoic era. Igneous rocks injected millions of years later form a marbled network through parts of the Colorado Plateau's darker metamorphic basement. By 600 million years ago North America had been leveled off to a remarkably smooth surface.

Throughout the Paleozoic Era, tropical seas periodically inundated the Colorado Plateau region. Thick layers of limestone, sandstone, siltstone, and shale were laid down in the shallow marine waters. During times when the seas retreated, stream deposits and dune sands were deposited or older layers were removed by erosion. Over 300 million years passed as layer upon layer of sediment accumulated.

It was not until the upheavals that coincided with the formation of the supercontinent Pangea began about 250 million years ago that deposits of marine sediment waned and terrestrial deposits dominate. In late Paleozoic and much of the Mesozoic era the region was affected by a series of orogenies (mountain-building events) that deformed western North America and caused a great deal of uplift. Eruptions from volcanic mountain ranges to the west buried vast regions beneath ashy debris. Short-lived rivers, lakes, and inland seas left sedimentary records of their passage. Streams, ponds and lakes created formations such as the Chinle, Moenave, and Kayenta in the Mesozoic era. Later a vast desert formed the Navajo and Temple Cap formations and dry near-shore environment formed the Carmel (see geology of the Zion and Kolob canyons area for details).

The area was again covered by a warm shallow sea when the Cretaceous Seaway opened in late Mesozoic time. The Dakota Sandstone and the Tropic Shale were deposited in the warm shallow waters of this advancing and retreating seaway. Several other formations were also created but were mostly eroded following two major periods of uplift.

The Laramide orogeny closed the seaway and uplifted a large belt of crust from Montana to Mexico, with the Colorado Plateau region being the largest block. Thrust faults in Colorado are thought to have formed from a slight clockwise movement of the region, which acted as a rigid crustal block. The Colorado Plateau Province was uplifted largely as a single block, possibly due to its relative thickness. This relative thickness may be why compressional forces from the orogeny were mostly transmitted through the province instead of deforming it. [3] :376 Pre-existing weaknesses in Precambrian rocks were exploited and reactivated by the compression. It was along these ancient faults and other deeply buried structures that much of the province's relatively small and gently inclined flexures (such as anticlines, synclines, and monoclines) formed. [3] :376 Some of the prominent isolated mountain ranges of the Plateau, such as Ute Mountain and the Carrizo Mountains, both near the Four Corners, are cored by igneous rocks that were emplaced about 70 million years ago.

Minor uplift events continued through the start of the Cenozoic era and were accompanied by some basaltic lava eruptions and mild deformation. The colorful Claron Formation that forms the delicate hoodoos of Bryce Amphitheater and Cedar Breaks was then laid down as sediments in cool streams and lakes (see geology of the Bryce Canyon area for details). The flat-lying Chuska Sandstone was deposited about 34 million years ago; the sandstone is predominantly of eolian origin and locally more than 500 meters thick. The Chuska Sandstone caps the Chuska mountains, and it lies unconformably on Mesozoic rocks deformed during the Laramide orogeny.

Younger igneous rocks form spectacular topographic features. The Henry Mountains, La Sal Range, and Abajo Mountains, ranges that dominate many views in southeastern Utah, are formed about igneous rocks that were intruded in the interval from 20 to 31 million years: some igneous intrusions in these mountains form laccoliths, a form of intrusion recognized by Grove Karl Gilbert during his studies of the Henry Mountains. Ship Rock (also called Shiprock), in northwestern New Mexico, and Church Rock and Agathla, near Monument Valley, are erosional remnants of potassium-rich igneous rocks and associated breccias of the Navajo Volcanic Field, produced about 25 million years ago. The Hopi Buttes in northeastern Arizona are held up by resistant sheets of sodic volcanic rocks, extruded about 7 million years ago. More recent igneous rocks are concentrated nearer the margins of the Colorado Plateau. The San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, south of the Grand Canyon, are volcanic landforms produced by igneous activity that began in that area about 6 million years ago and continued until 1064 C.E., when basalt erupted in Sunset Crater National Monument. Mount Taylor, near Grants, New Mexico, is a volcanic structure with a history similar to that of the San Francisco Peaks: a basalt flow closer to Grants was extruded only about 3000 years ago (see El Malpais National Monument). These young igneous rocks may record processes in the Earth's mantle that are eating away at deep margins of the relatively stable block of the Plateau.

Tectonic activity resumed in Mid Cenozoic time and started to unevenly uplift and slightly tilt the Colorado Plateau region and the region to the west some 20 million years ago (as much as 3 kilometers of uplift occurred). Streams had their gradient increased and they responded by downcutting faster. Headward erosion and mass wasting helped to erode cliffs back into their fault-bounded plateaus, widening the basins in-between. Some plateaus have been so severely reduced in size this way that they become mesas or even buttes. Monoclines form as a result of uplift bending the rock units. Eroded monoclines leave steeply tilted resistant rock called a hogback and the less steep version is a cuesta.

Cliffs of Navajo Sandstone in Zion National Park The Three Patriarchs in Zion Canyon.jpg
Cliffs of Navajo Sandstone in Zion National Park

Great tension developed in the crust, probably related to changing plate motions far to the west. As the crust stretched, the Basin and Range province broke up into a multitude of down-dropped valleys and elongate mountains. Major faults, such as the Hurricane Fault, developed that separate the two regions. The dry climate was in large part a rainshadow effect resulting from the rise of the Sierra Nevada further west. Yet for some reason not fully understood, the neighboring Colorado Plateau was able to preserve its structural integrity and remained a single tectonic block. [5]

A second mystery was that while the lower layers of the Plateau appeared to be sinking, overall the Plateau was rising. The reason for this was discovered upon analyzing data from the USARRAY project. It was found that the asthenosphere had invaded the overlying lithosphere, as a result of an area of mantle upwelling stemming from either the disintegration of the descending Farallon Plate, or the survival of the subducted spreading center connected to the East Pacific Rise and Gorda Ridge beneath western North America, or possibly both. The asthenosphere erodes the lower levels of the Plateau. At the same time, as it cools, it expands and lifts the upper layers of the Plateau. [6] Eventually, the great block of Colorado Plateau crust rose a kilometer higher than the Basin and Range. As the land rose, the streams responded by cutting ever deeper stream channels. The most well-known of these streams, the Colorado River, began to carve the Grand Canyon less than 6 million years ago. [5]

The Pleistocene epoch brought periodic ice ages and a cooler, wetter climate. This increased erosion at higher elevations with the introduction of alpine glaciers while mid-elevations were attacked by frost wedging and lower areas by more vigorous stream scouring. Pluvial lakes also formed during this time. Glaciers and pluvial lakes disappeared and the climate warmed and became drier with the start of Holocene epoch.

Energy generation

Castle Gate Power Plant near Helper, UT. Grand Junction Trip 92007 098.JPG
Castle Gate Power Plant near Helper, UT.
Coal mine in Carbon County, UT. Coal Mine in Carbon County, Utah.jpg
Coal mine in Carbon County, UT.
Oil well in the Uinta Basin, Utah. Oil Well in Duchense County, Utah.jpg
Oil well in the Uinta Basin, Utah.

Electrical power generation is one of the major industries that takes place in the Colorado Plateau region. Most electrical generation comes from coal fired power plants.

Natural resources


The rocks of the Colorado Plateau are a source of oil and a major source of natural gas. Major petroleum deposits are present in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico and Colorado, the Uinta Basin of Utah, the Piceance Basin of Colorado, and the Paradox Basin of Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.


The Colorado Plateau holds major uranium deposits, and there was a uranium boom in the 1950s. The Atlas Uranium Mill near Moab has left a problematic tailings pile for cleanup, which is soon to happen.[ citation needed ]


Major coal deposits are being mined in the Colorado Plateau in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, though large coal mining projects, such as on the Kaiparowits Plateau, have been proposed and defeated politically. The ITT Power Project, eventually located in Lynndyl, Utah, near Delta, was originally suggested for Salt Wash near Capitol Reef National Park. After a firestorm of opposition, it was moved to a less beloved site. In Utah the largest deposits are in aptly named Carbon County. In Arizona the biggest operation is on Black Mesa, supplying coal to Navajo Power Plant.

Gilsonite and uintaite

Perhaps the only one of its kind, a gilsonite plant near Bonanza, southeast of Vernal, Utah, mines this unique, lustrous, brittle form of asphalt, for use in "varnishes, paints,, waterproofing compounds, electrical insulation,...roofing materials." [7]

Scenic beauty

The scenic appeal of this unique landscape had become, well before the end of the twentieth century, its greatest financial natural resource. The amount of commercial benefit to the four states of the Colorado Plateau from tourism exceeded that of any other natural resource.[ citation needed ]

Protected lands

North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Imperial Point Grand Canyon.jpg
North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
Painted Desert seen from Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park Blue Mesa Painted Desert.jpg
Painted Desert seen from Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park
Erosional features within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Lake Powell Above Wahweap Marina.jpg
Erosional features within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park.jpg
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

This relatively high semi-arid province produces many distinctive erosional features such as arches, arroyos, canyons, cliffs, fins, natural bridges, pinnacles, hoodoos, and monoliths that, in various places and extents, have been protected. Also protected are areas of historic or cultural significance, such as the pueblos of the Anasazi culture. There are nine U.S. National Parks, a National Historical Park, sixteen U.S. National Monuments and dozens of wilderness areas in the province along with millions of acres in U.S. National Forests, many state parks, and other protected lands. In fact, this region has the highest concentration of parklands in North America. [3] :365 Lake Powell, in foreground, is not a natural lake but a reservoir impounded by Glen Canyon Dam.

National parks (from south to north to south clockwise):

National monuments (alphabetical):

Wilderness areas (alphabetical):

Other notable protected areas include: Barringer Crater, Dead Horse Point State Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Goblin Valley State Park, Goosenecks State Park, the Grand Gulch Primitive Area, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Monument Valley, and the San Rafael Swell.

Sedona, Arizona and Oak Creek Canyon lie on the south-central border of the Plateau. Many but not all of the Sedona area's cliff formations are protected as wilderness. The area has the visual appeal of a national park, but with a small, rapidly growing town in the center.

See also

Related Research Articles

Natural Bridges National Monument national monument in San Juan County, Utah, United States

Natural Bridges National Monument is a U.S. National Monument located about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of the Four Corners boundary of southeast Utah, in the western United States, at the junction of White Canyon and Armstrong Canyon, part of the Colorado River drainage. It features the thirteenth largest natural bridge in the world, carved from the white Permian sandstone of the Cedar Mesa Formation that gives White Canyon its name.

Geology of the Yosemite area

The exposed geology of the Yosemite area includes primarily granitic rocks with some older metamorphic rock. The first rocks were laid down in Precambrian times, when the area around Yosemite National Park was on the edge of a very young North American continent. The sediment that formed the area first settled in the waters of a shallow sea, and compressive forces from a subduction zone in the mid-Paleozoic fused the seabed rocks and sediments, appending them to the continent. Heat generated from the subduction created island arcs of volcanoes that were also thrust into the area of the park. In time, the igneous and sedimentary rocks of the area were later heavily metamorphosed.

Geology of the United States Regional geology

The richly textured landscape of the United States is a product of the dueling forces of plate tectonics, weathering and erosion. Over the 4.5 billion-year history of our Earth, tectonic upheavals and colliding plates have raised great mountain ranges while the forces of erosion and weathering worked to tear them down. Even after many millions of years, records of Earth's great upheavals remain imprinted as textural variations and surface patterns that define distinctive landscapes or provinces.

Geology of the Grand Canyon area

The geology of the Grand Canyon area includes one of the most complete and studied sequences of rock on Earth. The nearly 40 major sedimentary rock layers exposed in the Grand Canyon and in the Grand Canyon National Park area range in age from about 200 million to nearly 2 billion years old. Most were deposited in warm, shallow seas and near ancient, long-gone sea shores in western North America. Both marine and terrestrial sediments are represented, including lithified sand dunes from an extinct desert. There are at least 14 known unconformities in the geologic record found in the Grand Canyon.

Geology of the Zion and Kolob canyons area

The geology of the Zion and Kolob canyons area includes nine known exposed formations, all visible in Zion National Park in the U.S. state of Utah. Together, these formations represent about 150 million years of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation in that part of North America. Part of a super-sequence of rock units called the Grand Staircase, the formations exposed in the Zion and Kolob area were deposited in several different environments that range from the warm shallow seas of the Kaibab and Moenkopi formations, streams and lakes of the Chinle, Moenave, and Kayenta formations to the large deserts of the Navajo and Temple Cap formations and dry near shore environments of the Carmel Formation.

The exposed geology of the Bryce Canyon area in Utah shows a record of deposition that covers the last part of the Cretaceous Period and the first half of the Cenozoic era in that part of North America. The ancient depositional environment of the region around what is now Bryce Canyon National Park varied from the warm shallow sea in which the Dakota Sandstone and the Tropic Shale were deposited to the cool streams and lakes that contributed sediment to the colorful Claron Formation that dominates the park's amphitheaters.

Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase refers to an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers that stretch south from Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, through Zion National Park, and into the Grand Canyon National Park.

Geology of the Grand Teton area

The geology of the Grand Teton area consists of some of the oldest rocks and one of the youngest mountain ranges in North America. The Teton Range, partly located in Grand Teton National Park, started to grow some 9 million years ago. An older feature, Jackson Hole, is a basin that sits aside the range.

Geology of the Capitol Reef area

The exposed geology of the Capitol Reef area presents a record of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation in an area of North America in and around Capitol Reef National Park, on the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah.

Chinle Formation formation

The Chinle Formation is an Upper Triassic continental geologic formation of fluvial, lacustrine, and palustrine to eolian deposits spread across the U.S. states of Nevada, Utah, northern Arizona, western New Mexico, and western Colorado. The Chinle is controversially considered to be synonymous to the Dockum Group of eastern Colorado and New Mexico, western Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle, and southwestern Kansas. The Chinle is sometimes colloquially named as a formation within the Dockum Group in New Mexico and in Texas. The Chinle Formation is part of the Colorado Plateau, Basin and Range, and the southern section of the Interior Plains.

Canyons of the Escalante collective name for the erosional landforms created by the Escalante River and its tributaries

The Canyons of the Escalante is a collective name for the erosional landforms created by the Escalante River and its tributaries—the Escalante River Basin. Located in southern Utah in the western United States, these sandstone features include high vertical canyon walls, numerous slot canyons, waterpockets, domes, hoodoos, natural arches and bridges. This area—extending over 1,500 square miles (3,885 km2) and rising in elevation from 3,600 ft (1,097 m) to over 11,000 ft (3,353 m)—is one of the three main sections of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and also a part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, with Capitol Reef National Park being adjacent to the east.

Geology of North America regional geology of North America

The geology of North America is a subject of regional geology and covers the North American continent, third-largest in the world. Geologic units and processes are investigated on a large scale to reach a synthesized picture of the geological development of the continent.

Esplanade Sandstone

The Lower Permian Esplanade Sandstone is a cliff-forming, resistant sandstone, dark red, geologic unit found in the Grand Canyon. The rock unit forms a resistant shelf in the west Grand Canyon, south side of the Colorado River, at the east of the Toroweap Fault, down-dropped to west, southeast of Toroweap Overlook, and west of Havasupai. The red, sandstone shelf, The Esplanade is about 20-mi long. At Toroweap Overlook region, Toroweap Valley with Vulcan's Throne, Uinkaret volcanic field, the resistant Esplanade Sandstone is described in access routes exploring the Toroweap Lake area.

Supai Group

The Pennsylvanian to Lower Permian,, Supai Group, is a slope-forming section of red bed deposits found at the southwest-to-south Colorado Plateau. Cliff-forming interbeds (sandstone) are noticeable throughout the group, as well as the largest cliff-former the topmest member Esplanade Sandstone. The Supai Group is especially exposed throughout the Grand Canyon in northwest Arizona, as well as local regions of southwest Utah. It outcrops southeastwards in Arizona at Chino Point, Sycamore Canyon, and famously at Sedona as parts of Oak Creek Canyon. In the Sedona region, it is overlain by the Hermit Formation, and the colorful Schnebly Hill Formation.

The geology of Arizona began to form in the Precambrian. Igneous and metamorphic crystalline basement rock may have been much older, but was overwritten during the Yavapai and Mazatzal orogenies in the Proterozoic. The Grenville orogeny to the east caused Arizona to fill with sediments, shedding into a shallow sea. Limestone formed in the sea was metamorphosed by mafic intrusions. The Great Unconformity is a famous gap in the stratigraphic record, as Arizona experienced 900 million years of terrestrial conditions, except in isolated basins. The region oscillated between terrestrial and shallow ocean conditions during the Paleozoic as multi-cellular life became common and three major orogenies to the east shed sediments before North America became part of the supercontinent Pangaea. The breakup of Pangaea was accompanied by the subduction of the Farallon Plate, which drove volcanism during the Nevadan orogeny and the Sevier orogeny in the Mesozoic, which covered much of Arizona in volcanic debris and sediments. The Mid-Tertiary ignimbrite flare-up created smaller mountain ranges with extensive ash and lava in the Cenozoic, followed by the sinking of the Farallon slab in the mantle throughout the past 14 million years, which has created the Basin and Range Province. Arizona has extensive mineralization in veins, due to hydrothermal fluids and is notable for copper-gold porphyry, lead, zinc, rare minerals formed from copper enrichment and evaporites among other resources.

The geology of Wyoming includes some of the oldest Archean rocks in North America, overlain by thick marine and terrestrial sediments formed during the Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic, including oil, gas and coal deposits. Throughout its geologic history, Wyoming has been uplifted several times during the formation of the Rocky Mountains, which produced complicated faulting that traps hydrocarbons.

The geology of Utah includes rocks formed at the edge of the proto-North American continent during the Precambrian. A shallow marine sedimentary environment covered the region for much of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic, followed by dryland conditions, volcanism and the formation of the basin and range terrain in the Cenozoic. Utah is a state in the western United States.


  1. "Colorado Plateau | plateau, United States". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2017-06-05.
  2. Leighty, Robert D. (2001). "Colorado Plateau Physiographic Province". Contract Report. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DOD) Information Sciences Office. Archived from the original on 2004-09-26. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Kiver, Eugene P.; Harris, David V. (1999). Geology of U.S. Parklands (5th ed.). John Wiley & Sons. ISBN   0-471-33218-6.
  4. Crampton, Gregory (1964). Standing Up Country. New York: Alfred Knopf. pp. 43–46.
  5. 1 2 3 PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material  from the  United States Geological Survey document:  "Colorado Plateau Province". Geologic Provinces of the United States. Archived from the original on 2017-07-09. Retrieved 2017-07-04.
  6. "Why is the Colorado Plateau Rising?". Archived from the original on 2011-05-05. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
  7. Utah: A Guide to the State. 1982. p. 590.

Further reading

Prickly pear cactus are common throughout the Colorado Plateau region. Grandjunctionalpineloop 032.jpg
Prickly pear cactus are common throughout the Colorado Plateau region.
  • Baars, Donald L. (1972). Red Rock Country: The Geologic History of the Colorado Plateau. Doubleday. ISBN   0-385-01341-8.
  • Baars, Donald L. (2002). Traveler's Guide to the Geology of the Colorado Plateau. University of Utah Press. ISBN   0-87480-715-8.
  • Baldridge, W. Scott (2004). Geology of the American Southwest: A Journey Through Two Billion Years of Plate-Tectonic History. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   0-521-01666-5.
  • Fillmore, Robert (2011). Geological Evolution of the Colorado Plateau of Eastern Utah and Western Colorado. University of Utah Press. ISBN   978-1-60781-004-9.
  • Harris, Ann G.; Tuttle, Esther; Tuttle, Sherwood D. (1997). Geology of National Parks (Fifth ed.). Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing. pp. 2–3, 19–20, 25. ISBN   0-7872-5353-7.
  • Plummer, Charles C.; McGeary, David; Carlson, Diane H. (1999). Physical Geology (Eighth ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. p. 320. ISBN   0-697-37404-1.
  • Stanley, Steven M. (1999). Earth System History. W.H. Freeman and Company. pp. 511–513, 537. ISBN   0-7167-2882-6.
  • Foos, Annabelle. Geology of the Colorado Plateau (PDF). National Park Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2004-06-10. Retrieved 2005-12-21.
  • Roylance, Ward (1982). Utah: A Guide to the State. Salt Lake City: Utah: A Guide to the State Foundation. OL   3508093M.
  • Look, Al (1947). A Thousand Million Years on the Colorado Plateau. Golden Bell Publications. OCLC   254673147.
  • Trimble, Stephen (1979). The Bright Edge: A Guide to the National Parks of the Colorado Plateau. Museum of Northern Arizona Press. OCLC   768218015.

Coordinates: 37°N110°W / 37°N 110°W / 37; -110