Series: Physiographic Provinces

Colorado Plateaus Province

Green River Oxbow in Canyonlands National Park
Green River Oxbow, Canyonlands National Park

NPS photo/Neal Herbert

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 km (5,000 to 7,000 ft) and mountaintops reaching nearly 3,960 km (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.

Map of Colorado Plateaus

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Educational Resources

Interpretive Training Manual: Grand Canyon National Park

  • The Grand Canyon Geology Training Manual overviews the park's geology, including information that ranges from the introductory level to more advanced concepts. It was written to help interpreters, tour guides, and teachers learn more about the canyon's geology & physiographic provinces, and to help them share the park's geology with others. 

Colorado Plateaus Parks

Courthouse Towers (Arches National Park)
Courthouse Towers (Arches National Park)

NPS photo/Debra Miller

Last updated: April 30, 2018