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Volume 21 Issue 10 (October 2011)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 4-10 | Full Text | PDF (6.9MB)

A Miocene river in northern Arizona and its implications for the Colorado River and Grand Canyon

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Ivo Lucchitta1*, Richard F. Holm2, Baerbel K. Lucchitta3

1 U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001, USA, and Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001, USA
2 Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011, USA
3 U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001, USA


The southwesterly course of the pre–late Miocene Crooked Ridge River can be traced continuously for 48 km and discontinuously for 91 km in northern Arizona. It is visible today in inverted relief. Pebbles in the river gravel came from at least as far northeast as the San Juan Mountains. The river valley was carved out of easily eroded Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks, whose debris overloaded the river with abundant detritus, possibly steepening the gradient. After the river became inactive, the regional drainage network was rearranged twice, and the Four Corners region was lowered by erosion 1–2 km. The river provides constraints on the history of the Colorado River and Grand Canyon; its continuation into lakes in Arizona or Utah is unlikely, as is integration of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon by lake spillover. The downstream course of the river was probably across the Kaibab Arch in a valley roughly coincident with the present eastern Grand Canyon.


Manuscript received 23 Feb. 2011; accepted 20 July 2011.

DOI: 10.1130/G119A.1

~ This paper is dedicated to the memory of Charlie Hunt, Chester Longwell, and Eddie McKee—On whose shoulders we stand. ~