For the more information about the geologic resources of the National Park Service, please visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/.
Earth Science Concepts
Geology by Region
Over Earth's 4.5 billion-year history, tectonic upheavals and colliding plates have formed mountain ranges and carved out basins. Forces of erosion and weathering have been at work to breakdown these landforms. Records of these processes remain imprinted as textural variations and surface patterns that define distinctive landscapes or provinces.
The diversity of our nation's landscape can be seen on a shaded relief map of the United States. There is a noticeably stark contrast from the 'rough' texture of the western US to the 'smooth' central and eastern regions. Differences in topographic relief result from a variety of processes acting on the underlying rock.
- Physiographic Provinces
- Province Maps
- State Province Maps
- State Geologic Maps
The Adirondack province is an extension of the Canadian Shield, which is the nucleus of North America. Forming most of northern New York, this uplifted complex of Precambrian metamorphic rocks is part of the ancient Grenville Orogeny. The Adirondacks are part of the Appalachian Highlands division which also includes the Appalachian Plateaus, Blue Ridge, New England, Piedmont, St. Lawrence Valley and the Valley and Ridge provinces.
There are no National Parks in the Adirondack province. For more information visit the Adirondack State Park website.
Stretching from New York to Alabama, Appalachian Plateaus show evidence of deformation by plate collision. The birth of the mountain ranges in this region, some 480 million years ago, marks the first of several mountain building plate collisions that culminated in the construction of the supercontinent Pangaea with the Appalachians near the center.
Basin and Range
The Basin and Range province has a characteristic topography that is familiar to anyone who is lucky enough to venture across it. Steep climbs up elongate mountain ranges alternate with long treks across flat, dry deserts, over and over and over again! This basic topographic pattern extends from eastern California to central Utah, and from southern Idaho into the state of Sonora in Mexico.
The combination of the arid climate and the tensional stress applied to the crust over the past 30 million years formed the horst and graben topography, and the block-faulted ridges and lowlands, found in this province today.
The Blue Ridge Physiographic Province contains some of the most impressive scenery in the Eastern United States. Seen on a map, the Blue Ridge looks like an elongated teardrop and is situated between the Valley and Ridge and the Piedmont provinces. The Blue Ridge Province is fairly long, stretching a distance of over 550 miles from southern Pennsylvania to northeastern Georgia.
The province is made up of ridges, rolling hills, and mountains of the Appalachian Mountain Belt. Within the province is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, (Mt. Mitchel at 6,684 feet), as well as 50 other peaks over 6,000 feet.
The Cascade-Sierra Mountains province is recognized as a single province that encompasses the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains. These two mountain ranges formed by different geological forces and processes. The Sierra Nevada mountains can be thought of as an enormous tilted fault block with a long slope westward to California's Central Valley and steep eastern slope. The Cascades form an arc-shaped band extending from British Columbia to Northern California with 13 major volcanic centers that lie in sequence.
The Central Lowland province, the largest physiographic province, cover an area about 585,000 miles which extends from western New York to North Dakota and south to Texas. The majority of the province is bounded by higher relief and elevations in the region are 2,000 feet or less. The province is part of the Interior Plains division of the United States and characteristic features of the Central Lowland province are flat lands with geomorphic remnants of glaciation.
The Coastal Plain province is the flattest all of the physiographic provinces. It stretches over 2,200 miles in length from Cape Cod to the Mexican border and southward another 1,000 miles to the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Atlantic plain slopes gently seaward from the inland highlands in a series of terraces. This gentle slope continues far into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, forming the continental shelf.
This region is one of the world's premier natural showcases for Earth history. Encompassing 240,000 square miles, the Colorado Plateaus straddles the region known as 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.
The sculpted beauty and brilliant colors of the Colorado Plateaus' sedimentary rock layers have captured the imaginations of countless geologists. This is a vast region of plateaus, mesas, and deep canyons whose walls expose rocks ranging in age from billions to just a few hundred years old.
The Columbia Plateau province is enveloped by one of the world's largest accumulations of lava. The topography here is dominated by geologically young lava flows that inundated the countryside within the last 17 million years. Over 170,000 cubic kilometers of basaltic lava, known as the Columbia River basalts, covers the western part of the province. Throughout the entire province over 300 high-volume individual lava flows have been identified, along with countless smaller flows.
Covering over 450,000 square miles the Great Plains province is the second largest physiographic province. The vast majority of the province is plateau-like with flat plains and little relief throughout. Though this region is known for it's flatness, some isolated mountains and lowlands are included in portions on the province. The Great Plains, along with the Central Lowland and Interior Low Plateaus, make up the Interior Plains.
Interior Low Plateaus
The Interior Low Plateaus is part of the Interior Plains and the elevation of the province ranges from 1000 feet to as low as 500-600 feet. A prominant structural feature of this province is the northeast-southwest anticline that runs through the entire province. The Cincinnati Arch is the axis of the fold and is a structural high for the region.
Dominated by faults, the Lower California province (sometimes called the Peninsular Ranges) is a group of mountain ranges that stretch from southern California to the tip of Baja California in Mexico. The core of the province consists of a large mass of Mesozoic plutonic igneous rock. This collection of plutons comprises the Peninsular Range Batholith.
Middle, Northern, and Southern Rocky Mountains
The Rockies form an impressive mountain barrier that stretches from Canada through central New Mexico. A look at the topography reveals a discontinuous series of mountain ranges with distinct geological origins that occurred from 170 to 40 million years ago.
The Rocky Mountain System is broken down into the Wyoming Basin, Middle Rocky Mountains, Northern Rocky Mountains, and the Southern Rocky Mountains.
The New England province is part of the Appalachian Highlands and contains similar rock types to those found in the Piedmont. However, the provinces differ in that the New England province contains more mountains and has been subjected to Pleistocene glaciation. Structural features on this province include block-fault basins, large intrusive igneous masses, and shoreline cliffs.
Ouachita and the Ozark Plateaus provinces comprise a division of the United States known as the Interior Highlands. The Ouachita province closely resembles the Valley and Ridge geomorphic features of ridges and valleys that have been eroded on upturned, folded strata.
The province lies in central-western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma and has an average east-west length of 225 miles.
Covering an area of roughly 40,000 square miles, the Ozark Plateaus is the second half of the Interior Highlands division of the United States. The Ozark Plateaus can be thought of as a high, hilly landscape on stratified rocks that is bounded by topographic lowlands.
The Pacific Border straddles the boundaries between several of Earth's moving plates on the western margin of North America. This region is one of the most geologically young and tectonically active in North America. The generally rugged, mountainous landscape of this province provides evidence of ongoing mountain-building.
Characteristic features in this province include lowlands on the eastern margin coupled with mountains and coasts to the west.
The Piedmont province extends from Alabama to the Hudson River in New York. At its widest the province is just 125 miles wide and contains the fewest mountains of the Appalachian Highlands. The Piedmont is often considered a rolling upland with a few monadnocks, or inselbergs, that stand out from the surface.
St. Lawrence Valley
The St. Lawrence Valley is in upstate New York and north-western Vermont and extends into Canada. This region of fairly flat, low-lying topography is composed of two sections, the Champlain and Northern sections. The Champlain section has glaciated rolling lowlands that are partly covered by a plain of recent marine deposits. The Northern section contains local rock hills that are also covered by a plain of recent marine deposits.
There are no National Parks in the St. Lawrence Valley province.
The Superior Upland province is the southern extension of the Laurentian Upland Province, part of the nucleus of North America called the Canadian Shield. The rocks of the Superior Upland are mostly Precambrian metamorphic rocks and overlying Paleozoic rocks (Cambrian) covered by a thin veneer of glacial deposits left behind when glaciers melted at the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age.
Valley and Ridge
The Valley and Ridge province is a set of northeast-southwest trending valleys and ridges that stretch from central Alabama to New York. These ridges and valleys are the result of folded Paleozoic sedimentary beds that were eventually eroded away. This means that, structurally, the folds are alternating anticlines and synclinces that run nearly parallel with each other. These long narrow folds are sometimes overturned, overthrust or are plunging folds.
Lying between the Middle Rockies and the Southern Rockies, the Wyoming Basin is an elevated depression with structural features dating back to the mountain building event that shaped the Rocky Mountains (the Laramide Orogeny). Characteristic features of the Wyoming Basin include hogbacks, cuestas, and numerous basins that are separated by mountains of varying size.
Physiographic Province Maps
Appalachian PlateausDownload »
Basin and RangeDownload »
Blue RidgeDownload »
Cascade-Sierra Mtns.Download »
Central LowlandDownload »
Coastal PlainDownload »
Colorado PlateausDownload »
Columbia PlateauDownload »
Great PlainsDownload »
Interior Low PlateausDownload »
Middle Rocky Mtns.Download »
New EnglandDownload »
Northern Rocky Mtns.Download »
Ozark PlateausDownload »
Pacific BorderDownload »
Southern Rocky Mtns.Download »
St. Lawrence ValleyDownload »
Superior UplandDownload »
Valley and RidgeDownload »
Wyoming BasinDownload »
Basin and Range Provinces
Northern SectionDownload »
Southern SectionDownload »
Coastal Plain Provinces
East Gulf PlainDownload »
Embayed SectionDownload »
Floridian SectionDownload »
Mississippi AlluvialDownload »
Sea Island SectionDownload »
West Gulf PlainDownload »
State Province Maps
Maps of the physiographic provinces by selected states.
AlaskaComing soon »
FloridaComing soon »
HawaiiComing soon »
IndianaComing soon »
OhioComing soon »
State Geologic Maps
- Delaware (Surficial Map)
- Kansas (Surficial Map)
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Last Updated: November 05, 2015