Cenozoic evolution of the abrupt Colorado Plateau-Basin and Range boundary, northwest Arizona: A tale of three basins, immense lacustrine-evaporite deposits, and the nascent Colorado River

James E. Faulds, Keith A. Howard, Ernest M Duebendorfer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Scopus citations


In northwest Arizona, the relatively unextended Colorado Plateau gives way abruptly to the highly extended Colorado River extensional corridor within the Basin and Range province along a system of major west-dipping normal faults, including the Grand Wash fault zone and South Virgin-White Hills detachment fault. Large growth-fault basins developed in the hanging walls of these faults. Lowering of base level in the corridor facilitated development of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon. This trip explores stratigraphic constraints on the timing of deformation and paleogeographic evolution of the region. Highlights include growth-fault relations that constrain the timing of structural demarcation between the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range, major fault zones, synextensional megabreccia deposits, nonmarine carbonate and halite deposits that immediately predate arrival of the Colorado River, and a basalt flow interbedded with Colorado River sediments. Structural and stratigraphic relations indicate that the current physiography of the Colorado Plateau-Basin and Range boundary in northwest Arizona began developing ca. 16 Ma, was essentially established by 13 Ma, and has changed little since ca. 8 Ma. The antiquity and abruptness of this boundary, as well as the stratigraphic record, suggest significant headward erosion into the high-standing plateau in middle Miocene time. Thick late Miocene evaporite and lacustrine deposits indicate that a long period of internal drainage followed the onset of extension. The widespread distribution of such deposits may signify, however, a large influx of surface waters and/or groundwater from the Colorado Plateau possibly from a precursor to the Colorado River. Stratigraphic relations bracket arrival of a through-flowing Colorado River between 5.6 and 4.4 Ma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-151
Number of pages33
JournalGSA Field Guides
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008



  • Basin and Range
  • Colorado Plateau
  • Colorado River
  • Extension
  • Paleogeography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Geology
  • Palaeontology
  • Stratigraphy

Cite this