A large landslide on the urban fringe of metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona

John Douglass, Ronald Dorn, Brian Gootee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


A granitic rock avalanche, one of the largest Quaternary landslides in Arizona outside the Grand Canyon with a volume of approximately 5.25 M m3 and a width a little under 0.5 km, ran ∼1 km from the eastern McDowell Mountains. With lateral levees and pressure ridges, the rock avalanche deposit displays many features found on classic sturzstroms. Failure occurred along a major joint plane paralleling the slope with a dip of 44°, when a major base level lowering event in the Salt River system would have undermined the base of the failed slope, and probably during a period of more moisture than normally available in the present-day arid climate. Failure at the subsurface weathering front highlights the importance of the dramatic permeability change between grussified regolith and relatively fresh bedrock. Rock varnish microlaminations (VMLs) dating, in concert with other geomorphic evidence, suggests that the rock avalanche deposit is slightly older than ∼500 ka. The rock vanish results also have important implications for sampling strategies designed to use cosmogenic nuclide to date Quaternary landslide deposits. Discovery of a large landslide in close proximity to the extending urban fringe of metropolitan Phoenix argues for a more careful analysis of landslide hazards in the region, especially where rapid development excavates bedrock at the base of steep mountain slopes and where the subsurface weathering front is near the surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-336
Number of pages16
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2005


  • Central Arizona
  • Cosmogenic nuclide
  • Dating
  • Geomorphology
  • Natural hazard
  • Urban growth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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