Cenozoic drainage reversal on the southern margin of the Colorado Plateau, east-central Arizona, USA

Andre R. Potochnik, James E. Faulds, Stephen J. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Laramide northeast-flowing streams from the ancestral Mogollon highland beveled gently northeast-dipping Late Proterozoic to Cretaceous strata across the southern Colorado Plateau Transition Zone. Late Eocene renewed uplift rejuvenated northeast-flowing streams incising paleocanyons. Apache paleocanyon was incised into the Mogollon highland, including the north-trending Laramide Apache uplift bounded by major reverse faults/monoclines. The Mogollon Rim sequence aggraded in Apache paleocanyon and on a broad alluvial plain to the east. Middle Cenozoic tectonic subsidence of the Transition Zone, aridification, and volcanism combined to aggrade Apache paleocanyon with sedimentary and volcanic rocks from 37.6 to 18.63 Ma. Emplacement of the Mogollon-Datil caldera complex and Chuska erg on the southeastern Colorado Plateau forced streamflow to northwest-dispersal of fluvio-eolian sediment from 34 to 26 Ma. Following erosion by northwest-flowing streams on the southern Colorado Plateau from ~26 to 16 Ma, lake sediments of the lower Bidahochi Fm were deposited. Southwestward reactivation of Laramide faults was underway by ~25 Ma coeval with extensive 25 to 20 Ma Natanes Plateau basalt flows and extreme crustal thinning southwest of the Transition Zone. As northeastward streamflow gradually diminished, a Superstition field ash flow tuff ended northeastward flow at 18.63 Ma and was followed by a period of sluggish southwest stream flow and ponding until after ~14.84 Ma. Southwestward structural subsidence and possible spillover from ancestral Lake Hopi on the Colorado Plateau southern margin caused incision of the southwest-directed Dagger Canyon paleovalley after 14.84, which followed the path of the earlier Apache paleocanyon and possibly to the Sespe delta on the California coast before opening of Gulf of California. Structural collapse of the Tonto Basin to the west induced deposition of the Dagger Canyon Conglomerate in the Dagger Canyon paleovalley before the modern Salt River incised all previous deposits and became integrated with the Gila River during the Plio-Pleistocene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108286
StatePublished - Aug 15 2022


  • Basin and Range
  • Little Colorado River
  • Salt River
  • Spillover
  • Tectonic inversion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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