NPS Geodiversity Atlas—Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Geodiversity refers to the full variety of natural geologic (rocks, minerals, sediments, fossils, landforms, and physical processes) and soil resources and processes that occur in the park. A product of the Geologic Resources Inventory, the NPS Geodiversity Atlas delivers information in support of education, Geoconservation, and integrated management of living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components of the ecosystem.

canyonlands report cover with desert landscape image
In-depth geologic information is contained in the baseline inventory products of the Geologic Resources Inventory, see table below.

Geologic Features and Processes

Canyonlands National Park showcases exceptionally well preserved sand dunes from the Triassic-age Navajo and Jurassic-age Entrada Sandstones with a variety of unique rock formations such as expansive walls of cross-bedded sandstones, arches, and windows. The Needles area of the park has extensive, colorful hoodoo formations. The rock units in the park represent a portion of the continuum of geologic ages spanning Cretaceous-age rocks in northern Utah to Pre-Cambrian aged rocks to the south in Grand Canyon National Park.

The Island in the Sky District has several classic "geologic" sites including: Grand View Point, Green River Overlook, Upheaval Dome, and the Shafer Trail. All afford spectacular views of the colorful rock strata present at the park. Additionally the Needles District gives glimpses into the "needles" of complexly fractured and eroded Permian-aged Cedar Mesa Sandstone and Cutler Formations. The Maze District results from spectacular canyon cutting into the Cedar Mesa Sandstone.

Canyonlands National Park is located geologically against the plunging nose of the Monument Upwarp above the west flank of the Paradox Basin. Erosional landforms of rocks ranging from the Middle Pennsylvanian (circa 311 million years ago) through Jurassic (145 million years) create the magnificent scenery of this rugged desert landscape. Structural geologic features present at the surface today result from the Laramide Orogeny (mountain-building episode <70 million years ago) and younger rejuvenation of pre-existing fracture patterns of Precambrian age (>542 million years ago). All of this is enhanced by salt tectonics acting on the region as well.


Biological soil crusts are common throughout the park and help stabilize the soil. Soils in the Canyonlands NP play a key role in many biological and physical processes. Soil is involved in nutrient cycling, the hydrologic cycle and energy capture and transfer. Its capacity to perform soil and ecological functions depends upon the condition of the soil resources. See Baseline Inventories, below.

Paleontological Resources

The potential for paleontological resources at Canyonlands is high, however, limited paleontological work has been conducted to date.

All NPS fossil resources are protected under the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-11, Title VI, Subtitle D; 16 U.S.C. §§ 470aaa - 470aaa-11).

Cave and Karst

There are some small shelters and alcoves in the park mostly formed in sandstone units that may be associated with cultural resources.

All NPS cave resources are protected under the the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988 (FCRPA)(16 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq.).

Abandoned Mineral Lands

Canyonlands has 21 Abandoned Mineral Land (AML) sites, inclusive of 12 mines in the Chinle formation, and 9 oil & gas wells.

NPS AML sites can be important cultural resources and habitat, but many pose risks to park visitors and wildlife, and degrade water quality, park landscapes, and physical and biological resources. Be safe near AML sites—Stay Out and Stay Alive!

Geology Field Notes

Students and teachers of college-level (or AP) introductory geology or earth science teaching courses will find that each park's Geologic Resource Inventory report includes the Geologic History, Geologic Setting, and Geologic Features & Processes for the park which provides a useful summary of their overall geologic story. See Maps and Reports, below.

Regional Geology

Canyonlands is a part of the Colorado Plateaus Province and shares its geologic history and some characteristic geologic formations with a region that extends well beyond park boundaries.

Maps and Reports

Related Articles

Canyonlands National Park

National Park Service Geodiversity Atlas

The servicewide Geodiversity Atlas provides information on geoheritage and geodiversity resources and values within the National Park System. This information supports science-based geoconservation and interpretation in the NPS, as well as STEM education in schools, museums, and field camps. The NPS Geologic Resources Division and many parks work with National and International geoconservation communities to ensure that NPS abiotic resources are managed using the highest standards and best practices available.

For more information on the NPS Geodiversity Atlas, contact us.

Part of a series of articles titled National Park Service Geodiversity Atlas.

Canyonlands National Park

Last updated: October 25, 2019