Canyonlands National Park Formations

Burro Canyon

Burro Canyon and Cedar Mountain Formation

Deposited

Early Cretaceous (64 to 144 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Rivers

Appearance

Brown, ledge-forming sandstones.

Example

Visible in some areas of Arches National Park and in canyons along Highway 666 east of Monticello and around Hovenweep National Monument.

Carmel Formation

Deposited

Mid- to late-Jurassic (144 to 208 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Shallow marine and mud-flats

Appearance

Mix of siltstone, shale and sandstone forms slopes.

Example

Some occurrence around the rim of Horseshoe Canyon makes this the youngest layer in Canyonlands. More prevalent along the Green River.

Cedar Mesa

Deposited

Permian Period (245 to 286 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Near-shore sand dunes interfingering with periodic floods that brought dark red sediments from the ancient Uncompahgre Mountains.

Appearance

Red and white layered sandstones forming cliffs, domes and spires.

Examples

Spires and canyons in the Needles and Maze Districts of Canyonlands.

Chinle Formation

The Chinle Formation is composed of the Shinnarump and Moss Back members. Each has different characteristics due to changes in the depositional environment.

Deposited

Triassic Period (208 to 245 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Tropical streams, lakes and swamps

Appearance

Multi-colored slopes of clay with dark brown sandstone ledges (Moss Back)

Notes: Uranium is often found in the Moss Back Member of the Chinle. Though most Uranium mines are in the Morrison Formation, the famous Mi Vida mine in Lisbon Valley was in the Chinle. The multi-colored clays in the Chinle are bentonite (volcanic ash).

Example

Talus slopes immediately below the Wingate cliffs at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands.

Curtis Formation

This layer does not occur in Canyonlands.

Deposited

Mid- to late-Jurassic (144 to 208 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Shallow marine

Appearance

Sandstone, shale and gypsum forms slopes.

Example

Exposed along the Green River.

Cutler Undivided

Deposited

Permian Period (245 to 286 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Alluvial fans and rivers from the ancient Uncompaghre Mountains (also called the ancestral Rockies)

Appearance

Irregular layer of dark red, lumpy sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates.

Note: The Cutler Undivided begins west of the Uncompaghre Plateau along the Utah-Colorado border. Differentiated elements of the Cutler Group begin to appear along the eastern boundary of Canyonlands National Park.

Examples

Fisher Towers along Highway 128 (northeast of Moab).

Dakota Sandstone

This layer does not occur in Canyonlands.

Deposited

Early- to mid-Cretaceous (64 to 144 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Varid from alluvial fans in the south to more marine environments in the north (Book Cliffs).

Appearance

Brown, cross-bedded sandstone

Example

Visible in some areas of Arches National Park. Forms the mesa tops along Highway 666 east of Monticello and around Hovenweep National Monument.

Entrada Formation

The Entrada Formation is composed of three members (listed from youngest to oldest): Moab Tongue, Slickrock and Dewey Bridge. Each has different characteristics due to changes in the depositional environment. The Arches of Arches National Park are usually in the Slickrock Member. This layer does not occur in Canyonlands.

Deposited

Mid- to late-Jurassic (144 to 208 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Varied between tidal flat (Dewey Bridge) to near-shore sand dunes.

Appearance
  • Moab Tongue: Thin, red layer not heavily cross-bedded.
  • Slickrock: Red, cross-bedded, arch-forming sandstone.
  • Dewey Bridge: Lumpy, misshapen red sandstone
Example

Entrada is one of the dominant sandstones in Arches National Park.

Green River Formation

This layer does not occur in Canyonlands.

Deposited

Early Tertiary Period (1.6 to 66 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Lakes

Appearance

Continuous grey/brown slopes of shale

Examples

Uinta Basin in north-central Utah.

Honaker Trail Formation

Deposited

Pennsylvanian Period (286 to 320 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Shallow seas

Appearance

Dark gray limestones with fossils forming rugged slopes and ledges

Examples

Along the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon. The Honaker Trail is also visible along the Moab Fault in Arches National Park.

Kayenta Formation

Deposited

Early- to mid-Jurassic (144 to 208 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Braided streams

Appearance

Red/brown, ledge-forming sandstone Notes

Dinosaur tracks sometimes appear in the Kayenta. The Kayenta Formation is a member of the Glen Canyon Group which also includes Navajo and Wingate and is the primary aquifer in the Moab area.

Example

Mesa top at Island in the Sky (thin, resistant layer above the Wingate cliffs).

Mancos Shale

This layer does not occur in Canyonlands.

Deposited

Mid-Cretaceous (64 to 144 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Near-shore regimes (e.g. tidal flats)

Appearance

Slope forming, gray shales.

Example

Slopes below the Book Cliffs along I-70 between Grand Junction, CO and Green River, UT. Floor of Cache Valley in Arches National Park.

Moenkopi Formation

Deposited

Triassic Period (208 to 245 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Tropical tidal flat

Appearance

Dark red-brown, ledge-forming sandstones and siltstones

Example

Irregular slopes with ledges just above the White Rim Road at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands.

Morrison Formation

The Morrison Formation is composed of three members (listed from youngest to oldest): Brushy Basin, Salt Wash and Tidwell. Each has different characteristics due to changes in the depositional environment. This layer does not occur in Canyonlands.

Deposited

Late Jurassic (144 to 208 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Varied between river, tidal flat and shallow marine

Appearance

Brushy Basin: multicolored Bentonite clays (volcanic ash)

Salt Wash: Light-colored, ledge-forming sandstone.

Tidwell: red marine sandstones frequently containing chert.

Notes

The Salt Wash Member is a source of Uranium which was mined throughout the Moab area. Dinosaur tracks and fossils also appear in the Morrison Formation.

Example

Visible in the northern parts of Arches (Salt Valley) and along Highway 191 north of Moab.

Navajo Sandstone

Deposited

Mid-Jurassic (144 to 208 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Massive, wind-blown sand dunes

Appearance

Light-colored (white to tan), heavily cross-bedded cliffs and domes.

Notes

Dinosaur tracks sometimes appear in the Navajo. Navajo Sandstone is a member of the Glen Canyon Group which also includes Kayenta and Wingate and is the primary aquifer in the Moab area.

Examples

Navajo Sandstone is the youngest, dominant rock layer in Canyonlands. This layer forms buttes along the scenic drive in the Island in the Sky District. Much of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the cliff walls of Zion National Park and the Petrified dunes in Arches National Park are also Navajo Sandstone.

Organ Rock Shale

Deposited

Permian Period (245 to 286 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Marine lowlands, braided streams and tidal flats

Appearance

Dark red, lumpy mudstones/sandstones (forms towers with protective White Rim caprock)

Examples

Towers in Monument Basin in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands.

Paradox Formation

Deposited

Pennsylvanian Period (286 to 320 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Evaporites (salts) from landlocked seas

Appearance

Salt and Gypsum with black shales

Note

The Paradox Formation has played a large role in shaping the landscape of southeast Utah, especially around Arches and Canyonlands. When conditions are right, the weight of overlying rock causes the deposits in the Paradox Formation to liquefy and flow through whatever channels offer the least resistance. This subsurface movement can have drastic effects on the surface, causing rock layers to uplift or sink and fracture under the stress. This sets the stage for the creation of arches, grabens, and needles.

Examples

Pockets are exposed along the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon.

Rock Strata

Deposited

Permian Period (245 to 286 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Shallow seas and coastal plains

Appearance

Ledgy slopes with brown sandstones.

Examples

Confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers and in Cataract Canyon.

Sommerville

Formation This layer does not occur in Canyonlands.

Deposited

Mid- to late-Jurassic (144 to 208 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Coastal, shallow marine and tidal flats

Appearance

Sandstone, shale, siltstone and gypsum forms slopes and cliffs

Example

Exposed along the Green River.

White Rim Sandstone

Deposited

Permian Period (245 to 286 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Wind-blown beach sands

Appearance

White, cross-bedded sandstones forming cliffs and caprocks

Examples

White canyon rim marking the inner gorge of the Colorado and Green rivers at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands.

Wingate Sandstone

Deposited

Early Jurassic (144 to 208 million years ago)

Depositional Environment

Massive, wind-blown sand dunes (like the Sahara today)

Appearance

Towering red cliffs and spires Notes

Wingate Sandstone is a member of the Glen Canyon Group which also includes Kayenta and Navajo and is the primary aquifer in the Moab area.

Examples

Tall cliffs and features like Candlestick Tower at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands.

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