Paleogeographic and Tectonic History of Western North America:

Includes the Great Plains, Colorado Plateau, Rocky Mountains of US and Canada, Basin and Range of US and Mexico, and Pacific Margin from British Columbia to Baja, Mexico

Early Devonian paleogeographic map (left) and paleotectonic map (right)


Map Library

Paleogeographic Maps

Paleotectonic Maps

The entire series of Western North American paleogeographic and paleotectonic maps (more than 70 time slices) are available at full resolution on DVD for non-comercial use. For commercial use, please contact RBlakey@cpgeosystems.com

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  • Introduction

  • The paleogeographic maps of Western North America were completed in July 2011 and are expanded and modified from the former Greater Ancestral Rocky Mountains series. The maps were compiled from many sources (see below) and do not follow any single model (I am unaware of any model that details the history of the region over 600 Ma). Rather, the maps represent compilations and compromises from the literature listed below. Particular attention was paid to making sure that tectonic and geologic events between adjacent time slices made geologic, geographic (space issues), and tectonic sense.

    All of the features on the maps are palinspastically restored -- that is, the positions of various terranes and blocks are shown in their presumed location during a given time slice. Considerable offset of these elements occurred west of a line from Eastern British Columbia southward through Western Wyoming and the Salt Lake City area, SSW towards Las Vegas, and SE towards SE Arizona. Parts of this line are known as the Wasatch Line or Cordilleran hingeline. Displacement of elements west and south of this line ranged from tens to hundreds of kms to a thousand or more kms for terranes along the West Coast. Many of these motions can be followed by comparing various successive tectonic maps. Note that state-province lines are not deformed, a common method of showing palinspastic restorations in many publication; rather state-province lines are minimized until the time slice in which the terrane arrives at it's present location for a given area. Terrane-block motion is shown (restored) relative to areas east of the Wasatch Line. By not deforming state lines, the paleogeography shows more clearly and without confusing lines. No attempt is made to show minor Cenozoic rotations of the Colorado Plateau.

    Although the time slices are given as a numerical (absolute) single age, it is realized that over an area this large, errors in correlation across the map is inevitable. The range is generally on the order of +/- 5 m. y. for older time slices but shorter, perhaps +/- 2 m. y. for more recent time slices. Names from the relative time scale are give as the geologic periods divided into Early, Middle, and Late (epochs for Cenozoic); correlation between the numerical and relative time scale follow Gradstein and Ogg, 2004 (reference below).

    Highlights of the geologic history presented in the paleogeographic maps are given as text on the paleotectonic maps; major tectonic elements are also indicated. The movement of many of the terranes that comprise Western North America can be followed on the paleotectonic maps.

    Both this series (Western North America) and the Southwestern North America series have used similar data. The SW North America series covers a smaller area but is more detailed and at higher resolution; it is also a more recently completed series (February 2012). For many time slices, the area of overlap between the two series is nearly identical; for some time slices, there are slight to minor differences. Reasons for these differences vary but include different models used between the two series, more accurate palinspastic restoration shown on SW North America series, added detail on the SW North America series, and improved presentation methods (improved terrain cloning) on the newer SW North America series.


    Paleogeography References Western North America

    Partial list -- more complete listing on DVD

  • Baars, D.L., 1962, Permian system of Colorado Plateau: Bulletin American Association of Petroleum Geologists v. 46, p. 149-218.
  • Bjerrum, C.J., and Dorsey, R.J., 1995, Tectonic controls on deposition of Middle Jurassic strata in a retroarc foreland basin, Utah-Idaho trough, western interior, United States: Tectonics, v. 14, p. 962-978.
  • Blakey, R.C., 1989, Triassic and Jurassic geology of southern Colorado Plateau: in Jenney, J.P. and Reynolds, S.J., Geologic evolution of Arizona, Arizona Geological Society Digest 17, p. 369-396.
  • Blakey, R.C., 1990, Stratigraphy and geologic history of Pennsylvanian and Permian rocks, Mogollon Rim region, central Arizona and vicinity: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 102, p. 1189-1217.
  • Blakey, R.C., 1994, Paleogeographic and tectonic controls on some Lower and Middle Jurassic erg deposits, Colorado Plateau, in Caputo, M.V., Peterson, J.A., and Franczyk, K.J., (eds.), Mesozoic systems of the Rocky Mountain region, USA: Rocky Mountain Section, Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Special Publication, p. 273-298.
  • Blakey, R. C., 1996, Permian eolian deposits, sequences, and sequence boundaries, Colorado Plateau, in Longman M, W. and Sonnenfeld, M. D. (eds), Paleozoic systems of the Rocky Mountain Region: Rocky Mountain Section SEPM, p. 405-426.
  • Blakey, R. C., 2009, Paleogeography and Geologic History of the western Ancestral Rocky Mountains, Pennsylvanian-Permian, Southern Rocky Mountains and Colorado Plateau, in, The Paradox Basin Revisited: New Developments in Petroleum Systems and Basin Analysis, Houston, B., Moreland, P., and Wray, L. (eds): 2009 RMAG Special Publication, Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists, Denver p. 222-264.
  • Blakey, R.C., and Gubitosa, R., 1983, Late Triassic paleogeography and deposi¬tional history of the Chinle Formation, Southern Utah and northern Arizona: Mesozoic Paleogeography of the west central United States, Rocky Mountain Section of Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists (Symposium), p. 57 76.
  • Blakey, R.C., and Knepp, R., 1989, Pennsylvanian and Permian geology of Arizona: in Jenney, J.P. and Reynolds, S.J., Geologic evolution of Arizona, Arizona Geological Society Digest 17, p. 313-347.
  • Blakey, R. C., and Ranney, W., 2008, Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau: (Grand Canyon) Grand Canyon Association, 176 p.
  • Blakey, R. C., Havholm, K. G., and Jones, L.S., 1996, Stratigraphic analysis of eolian interactions with marine and fluvial deposits, Middle Jurassic Page Sandstone and Carmel Formation, Colorado Plateau, U.S.A.: Journal of Sedimentary Research, V. 66, p. 324-342.
  • Blakey, R.C., Basham, E.L., and Cook, M.J., 1993, Early and Middle Triassic paleogeography, Colorado Plateau and vicinity, in Morales, M., ed., Aspects of Mesozoic Geology and Paleontology of the Colorado Plateau: Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin 59, p. 13-26.
  • Blakey, R.C., Peterson, F., and Kocurek, G., 1988, Late Paleozoic and Mesozoic eolian deposits of the Western Interior of the United States: Sedimentary Geology, v. 56, p. 3-125.
  • Burchfiel, B. C., Cowan, D. S., and Davis, G. A., 1992, Tectonic overview of the Cordilleran orogen in the western U. S., in Burchfiel, B. C., Lipman, P. W., and Zoback, M. L., The Cordilleran Orogen: conterminous U. S.: The Geology of North America, Volume G-3, Decade of North American Geology, Geological Society of America, Boulder, p. 407-480.
  • Cassel, E.J., Graham, S.A., and Chamberlain, C.P., 2009, Cenozoic tectonic and topographic evolution of the northern Sierra Nevada, California, through stable isotope paleoaltimetry in volcanic glass: Geology, v. 37, p. 547-550.
  • Caputo, M.V., Peterson, J.A., and Franczyk, K.J., (eds.), 1994, Mesozoic systems of the Rocky Mountain region, USA: Rocky Mountain Section, Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Special Publication
  • Cather, S.M., Connell, S.D., Chamberlin, R.M., McIntosh, W.C., Jones, G.E., Potochnik, A.R., Lucas, S.G., and Johnson, P.S., 2008, The Chuska erg: Paleogeomorphic and paleoclimatic implications of an Oligocene sand sea on the Colorado Plateau: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 120, p. 13-33.
  • Christiansen, R. L., and Yeats, R. S., 1992, Post-Laramide geology of the western U.S. Cordillera, in Burchfiel, B. C., Lipman, P. W., and Zoback, M. L., The Cordilleran Orogen: conterminous U. S.: The Geology of North America, Volume G-3, Decade of North American Geology, Geological Society of America, Boulder, p. 261-406.
  • Colpron, M., Nelson, J. L., and Murphy, D. C., 2007, Northern Cordilleran terranes and their interactions through time: GSA Today, v. 17, p. 4-10.
  • Colpron, M., and Nelson, J. L., 2009, A Palaeozoic Northwest Passage: incursion of Caledonian, Baltican and Siberian terranes into eastern Panthalassa, and the early evolution of the North American Cordillera: Geological Society, London, Special Publications v. 318:273-307.
  • Cook, T. D. and Bally, A. W., 1975, Stratigraphic atlas of North and Central America: Princeton University Press, Princeton, 271 p.
  • Cowan, D. S. and Bruhn, R. L., 1992, Late Jurassic to early Late Cretaceous geology of the U. S. Cordillera, in Burchfiel, B. C., Lipman, P. W., and Zoback, M. L., The Cordilleran Orogen: conterminous U. S.: The Geology of North America, Volume G-3, Decade of North American Geology, Geological Society of America, Boulder, p. 169-204.
  • Davis, S.J., Mulch, A., Carroll, A. R., Horton, T. W., and Chamberlain, C. P., 2009, Paleogene landscape evolution of the central North American Cordillera: Developing topography and hydrology in the Laramide foreland: Geological Society of America Bulletin, vol. 121, p. 100-116.
  • DeCelles, P.G., 2004, Late Jurassic to Eocene evolution of the Cordilleran thrust belt and foreland basin system, western U.S.A.: American Journal of Science, v. 304, p. 105-168.
  • Dickinson, W.R., 2008, Accretionary Mesozoic-Cenozoic expansion of the Cordilleran continental margin in California and adjacent Oregon: Geosphere, v. 4, p. 329-353.
  • Dickinson, W.R., 2011, The place of the Great Basin in the Cordilleran orogen, in Steininger, R., and Pennell, B., eds., Great Basin evolution and metallogeny: Reno, Geological Society of Nevada 2010 Symposium, p. 419- 436.
  • Dickinson, W.R., and Snyder, W.S., 1978, Plate tectonics of the Laramide orogeny, in Matthews, V., III, ed., Laramide Folding Associated with Basement Block Faulting in the Western United States: Geological Society of America Memoir 151, p. 355-366.
  • Dickinson, W.R., and Lawton, T.F., 2001, Carboniferous to Cretaceous assembly and fragmentation of Mexico: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 113, p. 1142-1160.
  • Dubiel, R.F., Huntoon, J. E., Condon, S. M. and Stanesco, J. D., 1996, Permian deposystems, paleogeography, and paleoclimate of the Paradox Basin and vicinity, in, Longman M, W. and Sonnenfeld, M. D. (eds), Paleozoic systems of the Rocky Mountain Region: Rocky Mountain Section SEPM, p. 427-444.
  • Ducea, M., 2001, The California arc: thick granite batholiths, eclogitic residues, lithospheric-scale thrusting, and magmatic flare-ups: GSA Today, v. 11, p. 4-10.
  • Elder, W. P., and Kirkland, J. I., 1994, Cretaceous paleogeography of the Southern Western Interior Region in Longman M, W. and Sonnenfeld, M. D. (eds), Paleozoic systems of the Rocky Mountain Region: Rocky Mountain Section SEPM, p. 415-440.
  • Engebretson, D.G., Cox, A., and Gordon, R.G., 1985, Relative motions between oceanic and continental plates in the Pacific basin: Geological Society of America Special Paper 206, 59p.
  • Enkin, R.J., Mahoney, J.B., Baker, J., Liessling, M., and Haugerud, R.A., 2002, Syntectonic remagnetization in the southern Methow block: Resolving large displacements in the southern Canadian Cordillera: Tectonics, v. 21, p. 18-1 - 18-18.
  • Ernst, W.G., 1983, Phanerozoic continental accretion and the metamorphic evolution of northern and central California: Tectonophysics, v. 100, p. 287-320,
  • Ernst, W.G.,2011, Accretion of the Franciscan Complex attending Jurassic-Cretaceous geotectonic development of northern and central California: Geological Society of America Bulletin 123, no. 9-10;1667-1678.
  • Frisch, W., Meschede, M., and Blakey, R. C., 2010, Plate Tectonics - Continental drift and mountain building: Springer, Heidelberg, 212 p.
  • Gradstein, F. M., and Ogg, J. G., 2004, A geological time scale 2004: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 589p.
  • Henry, C.D., 2009, Uplift of the Sierra Nevada, California: Geology, v. 37, p. 575-576.
  • Hintze, L.F., and Kowallis, B.J., 2009. Geologic history of Utah: Provo, Brigham Young University Geology Studies Special Publication 9, 225 p.
  • Ingersol, R. V. 1997, Phanerozoic tectonic evolution of central California and environs: International Geology Review, v. 39, p. 957-972.
  • Ingersol, R. V. and Schweickert, R. A. 1986, A plate-tectonic model for Late Jurassic ophiolite genesis, Nevadan orogeny and foreland initiation, northern California: Tectonics, v. 5, p. 901-912.
  • Irwin, W.P., and Wooden, J.L., 1999, Plutons and Accretionary Episodes of the Klamath Mountains, California and Oregon: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 99-0374, 1 sheet.
  • Jacobson, C.E., Grove, M., Pedrick, J.N., Barth, A.P., Marsaglia, K.M., Gehrels, G.E., and Nourse, J.A., 2010, Late Cretaceous-early Cenozoic tectonic evolution of the southern California margin inferred from provenance of trench and forearc sediments: Geological Society of America Bulletin.
  • Karachewski, J. A., 1992, Facies analysis, genetic sequences, and paleogeography of the lower part of the Minturn Formation (Middle Pennsylvanian), southeastern Eagle basin, Colorado: U. S. Geological Survaey Bulletin 1787-AA, 30p.
  • Kluth, C. F. 1986, Plate tectonics of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains: in Peterson, J. A., ed., Paleotectonics and Sedimentation, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Memoir 41, p. 353-369.
  • Lawton, T. F. 1994, Tectonic setting of Mesozoic sedimentary basins, Rocky Mountain region, United States, in Caputo, M.V., Peterson, J.A., and Franczyk, K.J., (eds.), Mesozoic systems of the Rocky Mountain region, USA: Rocky Mountain Section, Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Special Publication, p. 1-25.
  • Mallory, W.W., 1972a, Pennsylvanian System: Regional Synthesis: in Mallory, W.W., ed., Geologic Atlas of the Rocky Mountain Region, Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists, p. 111-128.
  • McQuarrie, N, and Wernicke, B. P., 2005, An animated tectonic reconstruction of southwestern North America since 36 Ma Geosphere; December 2005; v. 1; no. 3; p. 147-172;
  • Miall, A. D., and Blakey, R. C., 2008, The Phanerozoic tectonic and sedimentary evolution of North America, in, Miall, A. D. (ed), Sedimentary Basins of United States and Canada: Elsevier, Amsterdam p. 1-29.
  • Miller, D. M., Nilsen, T. H., and Bilodeau, W. L., 1992, Late Cretaceous to early Eocene geologic evolution of the U. S. Cordillera, in Burchfiel, B. C., Lipman, P. W., and Zoback, M. L., The Cordilleran Orogen: conterminous U. S.: The Geology of North America, Volume G-3, Decade of North American Geology, Geological Society of America, Boulder, p. 205-260.
  • Miller, E. L., Miller, M. M., Stevens, C. H., Wright, J. E., and Madrid, R., 1992, Late Paleozoic paleogeography and tectonic evolution of the western U. S. Cordillera, in Burchfiel, B. C., Lipman, P. W., and Zoback, M. L., The Cordilleran Orogen: conterminous U. S.: The Geology of North America, Volume G-3, Decade of North American Geology, Geological Society of America, Boulder, p. 57-106.
  • Miller, M.M., and Saleeby, J.B., 1995, U-Pb geochronology of detrital zircon from Upper Jurassic synorogenic turbidites, Galice Formation, and related rocks, western Klamath Mountains: Correlation and Klamath Mountains provenance: Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 100, p. 18,045-18,058,
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  • Poole, F. G., and eight others, 1992, Latest Precambrian to latest Devonian time; development of a continental margin, in Burchfiel, B. C., Lipman, P. W., and Zoback, M. L., The Cordilleran Orogen: conterminous U. S.: The Geology of North America, Volume G-3, Decade of North American Geology, Geological Society of America, Boulder, p. 9-56.
  • Riggs, N.R., and Blakey, R.C., 1993, Early and Middle Jurassic paleogeography and volcanology of Arizona and adjacent areas, in Dunne, G., and McDougall, K., (eds.), Mesozoic Paleogeography of the Western United States - II, Pacific Section Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Book 71, p. 347-375.
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  • Saleeby, J. B., and Busby-Spery, C., 1992, Early Mesozoic tectonic evolution of the western U. S. Cordillera, in Burchfiel, B. C., Lipman, P. W., and Zoback, M. L., The Cordilleran Orogen: conterminous U. S.: The Geology of North America, Volume G-3, Decade of North American Geology, Geological Society of America, Boulder, p. 107-168.
  • Saleeby, J.B., 2003, Segmentation of the Laramide Slab -evidence from the southern Sierra Nevada region: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 113, p. 655-668.
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  • Stamatakos, J.A., Trop, J.M., and Ridgway, K.D., 2001, Late Cretaceous paleogeography of Wrangellia: Paleomagnetism of the MacColl Ridge Formation, southern Alaska, revisited: Geology. v. 29, p. 947-950.
  • Tardy, M., Lapierre, H., Freydier, C., Coulon, C., Gill, J.-B., Mercier de Lepinay, B., Beck, C., Martinez, J., Talavera, O., Ortiz, E., Stein, G., Bourdier, J.-L., Yta, M., 1994, The Guerrero suspect terrane (western Mexico) and coeval arc terranes (the Greater Antilles and the Western Cordillera of Colombia): a late Mesozoic intra-oceanic arc accreted to cratonal America during the Cretaceous: Tectonophysics, v. 320, p. 49-73.
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  • Wernicke, B., 2011, The California River and its role in carving Grand Canyon: Geological Society of America Bulletin v. 123, p. 1288-1316.
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  • Wyld, S.J., and Wright, J.E., 2001, New evidence for Cretaceous strike-slip faulting in the United States Cordillera and implications for terrane-displacement, deformation patterns, and plutonism: American Journal of Science, v. 301, p. 150-181.

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