Explore Geology
geology fieldnotes title

Glen Canyon

National Recreation Area


cover of park brochure

park geology subheading
Photo of boat on the water at Glen Canyon
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah

So we have a curious ensemble of wonderful features – carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments. From which of these features should we select a name? We decide to call it Glen Cañon. –Major John Wesley Powell, August 3, 1869

The rough canyon country of the Colorado Plateau has been occupied at various times by Indian tribes for at least 2,000 years. At first they lived here sporadically. Then, during a period of agricultural expansion between A.D. 900 and 1100, the land was farmed by the people of the Pueblo culture. About 1200, these people began to leave the Glen Canyon area and after almost a century of severe drought, the land was abandoned. Still, ruins of Pueblo settlements and artifacts such as stone and bone tools, basketry and pottery indicate to archeologists that farming and hunting people once lived in the canyon bottoms.

Dominating the Glen Canyon spectacle are mountains and vertical cliffs of rock which originated as deposits of sediment. Windblown sediments reveal themselves in the brick-red Navajo sandstone shaped into cliffs near the dam. These are the slopes of one-time sand dunes. Examples of sea-deposited rocks are exposed at Wahweap. There the red Carmel formation overlies the Navajo sandstone. Other formations contain fossils of marine animals that lived millions of years ago. The last volcanic uplift of the region began about 60 million years ago. As the uplift progressed, meandering streams of the ancient low-lying Colorado Basin ran faster, cutting the labyrinth of canyons that you can explore today on Lake Powell. Sweeping vistas of rock and sky are scaled so large here that Glen Canyon’s plant life at first glance might escape notice. But a surprising amount of vegetation can be found.

Glen Canyon Dam, set between the high cliffs of red sandstone, was built by the Bureau of Reclamation between 1956 and 1964 in order to harness the turbulent waters of the Colorado River. Behind this massive slab of white concrete lies Lake Powell which stretches more than 180 miles to the northeast of the dam. The dam was built to meet the needs of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP). Controlled releases of water generate more than one million kilowatts at full capacity which is enough to meet the needs of a city with a population over one million. The power produced through this dam is used throughout the western region of the United States.

park maps subheading

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

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

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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

Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.

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

Information about the park's research program is available on the park's research webpage.

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.

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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/glca/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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