Geographical Regions

Utah is part of three major geographical regions. These are big regions with similar terrain, rock types, and geologic history. Each region is unique and different from the others.

Basin and Range

The large Basin and Range region spreads over much of the southwest United States and northwest Mexico. In this region, wide valleys separate parallel mountain ranges. The Great Basin is part of this larger Basin and Range region.

Silver Island Mountains

The Great Basin encompasses most of Nevada, the western part of Utah (except for the southwest corner), and parts of California, Oregon, and Idaho. The explorer John C. Fremont realized that rivers in this region never make it to the ocean—instead they flow into lakes or dry up. So he called the place the Great Basin.

The water in a lot of Utah rivers ends up in the Great Salt Lake and then evaporates, leaving behind minerals—which is why the lake is salty.  Likewise, the Sevier and Beaver rivers flow into the Sevier “Lake,” which rarely contains water. Mostly it’s just dry sand.

Great Salt Lake

Rocky Mountains

The Rocky Mountains region includes the Rocky Mountains and mountain ranges close by. Utah’s mountains are only a small part of this large region. Utah has two ranges in this region, the Uinta Mountains and the Wasatch Mountains.

Uinta Mountains

Running east-west, 150 miles long, this beautiful range has Utah’s highest peaks. Glaciers eroded the Uintas during the Ice Age, leaving behind thousands of lakes. Water from the southern side of the Uintas flows through the Colorado Plateau, and water from the northern side flows into the Great Basin.

Uinta Mountains

What resources do these mountains have that would help people successfully live nearby?

Wasatch Mountains

The Wasatch Mountains, which stretch from Nephi into Idaho, form one edge of the Great Basin. Permanent or seasonal streams flow through canyons into the Great Basin. Several communities lie in the high valleys on the “Back of the Wasatch.”

Wasatch Mountains up Little Cottonwood Canyon.

How have people used the Wasatch Mountains? Why were Utah’s early settlements located close to these mountains?

Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau is a rugged desert landscape that covers large parts of the Four Corners states: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The thick rock of the Plateau was uplifted millions of years ago. Rivers cut through it to create the stunning landscape of today. The region has three major subregions: the Uinta Basin, Canyonlands, and High Plateaus.

Dead Horse Point

Uinta Basin

The Uinta Basin lies south of the Uinta Mountains. In many ways it is like a basin, but unlike the Great Basin, the Green River and its tributaries do flow out of it, into the Colorado River. These rivers have carved deep canyons into the Roan Cliffs and the Tavaputs Plateau/Book Cliffs areas. Most of the Uinta Basin is dry rolling landscape, cut by ravines and washes.What challenges would a farmer have here?  What natural resources does the Uinta Basin have?


This section of the Colorado Plateau has been lifted gradually while the Colorado River and its tributaries have cut deep canyons and other landscape features. Igneous intrusions formed three mountain ranges as the surrounding rock later eroded away. Mesas, buttes, cliffs, plateaus, arches, and other colorful formations resulted—part of what people call red-rock country.

Sunset view from Canyonlands

How did the indigenous people live here? What survival strategies did they use?

High Plateaus

Escalante Grand Staircase

West of the Canyonlands section lie high plateaus separated by faultlines and valleys. To the south lie several cliffs named for their colors: the Chocolate Cliffs, Vermilion Cliffs, White Cliffs, Gray Cliffs, Pink Cliffs, and Black Cliffs. All together, these are called the Grand Staircase. The Grand Canyon section of the Colorado Plateau lies south of the Grand Staircase.

How do you think this high country was used by humans throughout history? What resources did it provide?

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