What Are Utah’S Two Major Drainage Regions

Utah’s Glen Canyon National Recreation Area features the Colorado River.

Utah, the “Crossroads of the West,” is the 13th largest state in the country at 54.3 million acres or 84,916 square miles. The state’s population is 2.76 million, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. It consists of three major geosystems: Rocky Mountain, Colorado Plateau and Great Basin.

Climate and Weather

Utah is the country’s second driest state but has diverse soils, climate and vegetation. The geography includes arid flat lands, valleys and lower basins; humid plateaus and high mountains; and semi-arid transitional regions that cover about one third of the state each. Precipitation ranges from about eight to 18 inches or more annually.

Rocky Mountains geosystem

The Rocky Mountains geosystem covers northeastern Utah. It consists of high mountains chiseled out by glaciers and streams. The area features U-shaped valleys, moraines (debris piles created by mountain glaciers), sharp ridge lines and glacial lakes. It includes Wasatch mountains, which run north-south, and the Uinta mountains, which run east-west.

Colorado Plateau geosystem

The Colorado Plateau geosystem across southeastern Utah contains deep canyons, plateaus and mesas formed by erosion from flat-lying layers of sedimentary rocks. This region contains several state parks, a national recreation area, six national monuments and five national parks. It also has large deposits of natural gas, oil, coal, tar sands, oil shale, gilsonite and uranium.

Basin and Range geosystem

The Basin and Range geosystem covers western Utah. It includes numerous steep mountain ranges (running mostly north-south) alternating with flat, dry desert valleys filled with sediment. About 15,000 years ago, this area was flooded by the prehistoric Lake Bonneville.

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Colorado and Green River drainages

Utah’s two major drainage regions are the Colorado and Green rivers. The Green River begins in the eastern section of Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains. It flows for 730 miles, 450 of which are in Utah, dropping from 6,000 feet elevation to 3,000 feet. The river drains northeastern Utah, about one fourth of the state. Its tributaries include the Duchesne, White and Yampa (located in Colorado). The Green River remains virtually wild with only one large dam, the Flaming Gorge Dam.

The Colorado River flows southwesterly through Utah beginning out of a sandstone bedrock canyon west across the Moab Valley’s northern end. Then it turns and flows through cliffs at The Portal and on to another sandstone canyon. The Green and Colorado rivers converge at Stillwater Canyon in Canyonlands National Park.