Tag Archives: colorado plateau

Colorado Plateau Canyon

Color photograph (probably aerial) of a view of a side canyon in the Colorado Plateau. (1980-1990).

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 and Mount Taylor. 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.

The Colorado Plateau has the greatest concentration of U.S. National Park Service (NPS) units in the country outside the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

Yellow Pines (Pinus Ponderosa)

Black and white stereograph of Ponderosa pines on the Colorado Plateau, seen during the Wheeler expedition of 1872.

The Jeffrey pine and the ponderosa pine are common in drier montane areas of the Sierra Nevada. They are often confused by casual observers. Across the remainder of the American West, Jeffrey pine is absent, with ponderosa pine being the sole yellow pine. Ponderosa pine-dominated forests (“Ponderosa pine forest”) occur at elevations from about 300 to 2,100 m (980 to 6,890 ft). Ponderosa pine forests occurs on the Colorado Plateau and in the Sierra Nevada of the Western United States, as well as other parts of North America.

Map of Colorado Plateau

Map of southern Utah showing the Colorado Plateau, before the Glen Canyon Dam was built.

This region is one of the world’s premier natural showcases for Earth history. Encompassing 240,000 square miles (386,242 km), the Colorado Plateau straddles the region known as The Four Corners, where the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet. Ancient volcanic mountains, plateaus and buttes, deeply carved canyons, and amazing ranges in color are the region’s defining characteristics. Elevation for the Colorado Plateaus starts at about 610 m (2,000 ft) above sea level, with plateau tops ranging from 1,534 to 2,134 m (5,000 to 7,000 ft) and mountaintops reaching nearly 3,960 m (13,000 ft).

Ancient Precambrian rocks, exposed only in the deepest canyons, make up the basement of the Colorado Plateau. Igneous rocks injected millions of years later form a marbled network through parts of the Colorado Plateaus’ darker metamorphic basement. These rocks formed deep beneath the surface of the earth and were uplifted, eroded, and exposed for eons. By 600 million years ago North America had been eroded to a remarkably smooth surface. It is on this crystalline rock surface that the younger, more familiar layered rocks of the Colorado Plateaus were deposited.

Colorado River

Colorado River below Moab, Utah.

Colorado River, major river of North America, rising in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, U.S., and flowing generally west and south for 1,450 miles (2,330 kilometers) into the Gulf of California in northwestern Mexico. Its drainage basin covers 246,000 square miles (637,000 square kilometers) and includes parts of seven states—Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California. For 17 miles the river forms the international boundary between the U.S. state of Arizona and Mexico. The river drains a vast arid and semiarid sector of the North American continent, and because of its intensive development it is often referred to as the “Lifeline of the Southwest.”