Explore Geology
geology fieldnotes title


National Recreation Area


cover of park brochure

park geology subheading
Photo of Curecanti recreation area
Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

Three reservoirs, named for corresponding dams on the Gunnison River, form the heart of Curecanti National Recreation Area. Panoramic mesas, fjord-like reservoirs, and deep, steep and narrow canyons abound.
The humble Gunnison River was the sculptor of the rocks around Curecanti National Recreation Area. The headwaters of the Gunnison River are in the Sawatch Range. Over the last two million years, this river has cut out one of the deepest and narrowest canyons in the world, in some places reaching 2,700 feet in depth. The river had a fairly easy time cutting through the soft rock of the valley which is now occupied by Blue Mesa Lake but found greater difficulty further downstream towards Black Canyon. The hills bordering Blue Mesa Lake are part of the Morrison formation which is composed of sedimentary sandstone, limestone and shale. These layers were deposited by wind and water in ancient times. Above the Morrison formation, the Dakota Sandstone and the Mancos shale can be found. Further up lies volcanic rocks, which are reminiscent of times when the nearby West Elk and San Juan Mountains were active volcanoes. The landforms created by this volcanic activity ultimately determined what the course of the Gunnison River would be.

Cover of scoping reportBlack Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area: Geologic Resource Evaluation

park maps subheading

The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.

View the park's map to create your own personal maps and images right here.

For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.

photo album subheading

A geology photo album for this park can be found here.

For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.

books, videos, cds subheading

The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts. Further resources may be found here.

Please visit the Geology Books and Media webpage for additional sources such as text books, theme books, CD ROMs, and technical reports.

Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
ISBN 0-393-92407-6
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout

The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.

geologic research subheading

For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.

The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.

A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.

selected links subheading

NPS Geology and Soils Partners

NRCS logoAssociation of American State Geologists
NRCS logoGeological Society of America
NRCS logoNatural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
USGS logo U.S. Geological Survey

teacher feature subheading

General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.

For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.
updated on 01/04/2005  I   http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/cure/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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