POPULAR GEOLOGY

Landforms

The earth’s surface is constantly remodeled by various geological processes. The changes are one of the most exciting things about geology—not only are they continuous, but in many cases, observable. Some geological processes, such as those that make mountains or wear them down, typically take place at imperceptible rates. Sudden events, however, can change the landscape in a minute (for example, a single earthquake can create a 10-foot-high [3 meter] fault scarp, alter stream courses, and drop the valley floor 3 feet [1 meter]).

Utah is the ideal place to observe geology in action. The state contains many types of landforms, such as mountains, plateaus, mesas, river-eroded canyons, glacier-eroded canyons, volcanoes, and basins.

Crustal plate movement, mountain building (except some volcanic mountain building), and erosion are part of the slow evolution of Earth’s landscape. This evolution is sporadically interrupted by more sudden geological events, such as earthquakes (following the Borah Peak, Idaho earthquake in 1983, the mountain range rose 8 inches [20 centimeters], and the adjacent valley dropped about 4 feet [1.2 meters]) and volcanic activity (in Mexico in 1943, a volcano called Paricutin appeared in a farmer’s field and rose 525 feet [160 meters] within a week). Erosion can also happen quite suddenly, and in some cases, may be greatly accelerated by human activities. Flash floods can erode more than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of soil in only a few hours.

By observing landforms, we can learn where geological processes, including erosion, mountain building, crustal extension, earthquakes, geothermal activity, landslides, and rockfalls are currently active in Utah.

Mountains

Click image to view gallery.

Glaciers

Click image to view gallery.

Volcanoes

Click image to view gallery.

Earthquake-Related Landforms

Click image to view gallery.

Plateaus

Click image to view gallery.

Arches

Click image to view gallery.

Physiographic Provinces

Generalized map of Utah’s physiographic provinces.

Basin and Range Province

Steep, narrow, north-trending mountain ranges separated by wide, flat, sediment-filled valleys characterize the topography of the Basin and Range Province. The ranges started taking shape around 17 million years ago when the previously deformed Precambrian (over 540 million years old) and Paleozoic (~540 to ~250 million years old) rocks were slowly uplifted and broken into huge fault blocks by extensional stresses that continue to stretch the earth’s crust.

Colorado Plateau Province

In contrast with the Basin and Range Province, a thick sequence of largely undeformed, nearly flat-lying sedimentary rocks characterize the Colorado Plateau province. Erosion sculpts the flat-lying layers into picturesque buttes, mesas, and deep, narrow canyons.

For hundreds of millions of years sediments have intermittently accumulated in and around seas, rivers, swamps, and deserts that once covered parts of what is now the Colorado Plateau. Starting about 10 million years ago the entire Colorado Plateau slowly but persistently began to rise, in places reaching elevations of more than 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level. Miraculously it did so with very little deformation of its rock layers. With uplift, the erosive power of water took over to sculpt the buttes, mesas, and deep canyons that expose and dissect this “layer cake” of sedimentary rock.

Middle Rocky Mountains Province

High mountains carved by streams and glaciers characterize the topography of the Middle Rocky Mountains province. The Utah part of this province includes two major mountain ranges, the north-south-trending Wasatch and east-west-trending Uintas. Both ranges have cores of very old Precambrian rocks, some over 2.6 billion years old, that have been altered by multiple cycles of mountain building and burial.

Basin and Range – Colorado Plateau Transition Zone

The Basin and Range–Colorado Plateau transition zone is a broad region in central Utah containing structural and stratigraphic characteristics of both the Basin and Range Province to the west and the Colorado Plateau province to the east.

The boundaries are the subject of some disagreement, resulting in various interpretations using different criteria. Essentially, extensional tectonics of the Basin and Range has been superimposed upon the adjacent coeval uplifted blocks of the Colorado Plateau and Middle Rocky Mountains. The result is that block faulting, the principal feature of the Basin and Range, extends tens of kilometers into the adjacent provinces forming a 100-km-wide (60 mi) zone of transitional tectonics, structure, and physiography.


Read More:

Physiographic Provinces

Public Interest Articles

Search:
TitleTopicPublished
Trek to Fremont Island (Disappointment Island) Landforms 2022
What Movies Feature Utah Geology? Film and Geology 2022
The Henry Mountains Landforms 2021
Where is Shaw Arch? Arches 2021
Utah's Great Unconformity Geologic History 2021
Cannonball Concretions in a Treeless “Buried Forest,” Carbon County, Utah Landforms 2021
Raplee Ridge, San Juan County, Utah Landforms 2021
How Does Plate Tectonics Make for Great Skiing? Tectonics 2021
The Uinta-Tooele structural zone–what’s in a name? Geologic History 2020
Utah's Ancient Mega-Landslides Landslides 2020
Wind Cave, Logan, Utah Caves 2020
What Gives Utah’s “Red Rock Country” its Color? Landforms 2020
White Rocks Tooele County, Utah Landforms 2020
Powell’s 1869 Journey Down the Green and Colorado Rivers History 2019
The Curious Case of the Green River in the Uinta Mountains Landforms 2019
Park City Sunrise Rotary Regional Geologic Park, Summit County, Utah Landforms 2019
Drones for Good: Utah Geologists Take to the Skies Technology 2019
Hole-in-the-Ground, Snake Valley, Millard County, Utah Limestone Geology 2019
What Are Ice Caves? Caves 2019
Parowan Gap, Iron County Landforms 2018
San Juan River Rincon, San Juan County Landforms 2018
Geologic Hazard Mapping In Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Hazards 2017
The Cockscomb and Kaibab Uplift of Southern Utah, Kane County Landforms 2017
Point of the Mountain, Salt Lake and Utah Counties Landforms 2016
Why are there so many natural arches in Utah? Arches 2016
Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Area, Daggett County Landforms 2015
Why are there Utah names on Mars? Geographic Names 2015
Marvelous Moore Cutoff, Emery County Landforms 2015
The Uinta Mountains: A Tale of Two Geographies Mountains 2014
What are keeper potholes & how are they formed? Landforms 2014
Volcanic Features in the Black Rock Desert, Millard County Volcanoes 2014
The Goosenecks of the San Juan River, San Juan County Landforms 2013
Notch Peak—BIG Cliff, Millard County Landforms 2013
The Early Miocene Markagunt Megabreccia: Utah’s Largest Catastrophic Landslide Geologic History 2013
Where is the coolest spot in Utah? Landforms 2013
An update on the largest arches in the world (January 2012) Arches 2012
Comb Ridge, San Juan County Landforms 2012
Sizing Up Titans – Navajo Erg vs. Sahara Ergs. Which was the larger sand box? Landforms 2012
The Honeycombs, Juab County Volcanoes 2012
Devils Kitchen, Juab County Landforms 2011
What is the correct name of…? Geographic Names 2011
Little Grand Canyon, Wedge Overlook, and Buckhorn Draw Scenic Backway, San Rafael Swell, Emery County Landforms 2011
The Witches, Summit County Landforms 2011
How can I name a mountain? Geographic Names 2011
Fantasy Canyon, Uintah County Landforms 2009
Why does a river run through it? Water 2009
Wall Arch, a Fallen Giant, Grand County Arches 2009
Ancient Landslides of the Beaver Dam Mountains, Washington County, Utah Geologic History 2009
What is the Biggest Natural Arch in the World? (May 2009) Arches 2009
Utah’s Belly Button, Upheaval Dome, San Juan County Landforms 2009

Landforms Articles: 92