The Hualapai Plateau in northwest Arizona, the location of the western Grand Canyon, contains an unusually lengthy Tertiary stratigraphic record dominated by fluvial deposition and extending from at least late Paleocene through late Miocene time. The thickest and oldest Tertiary sections are best exposed in a system of partially re-exhumed Laramide paleocanyons. The Paleogene drainage system was locally disrupted and ponded by Laramide monoclines. In pre-Oligocene time, extensive alluvial fans spread southward from the Shivwits Plateau scarp across the current location of the modern Colorado River gorge to the northern margin of the Laramide drainage system at Hindu Canyon. Locally derived, fluvial Buck and Doe Conglomerate subsequently filled the disrupted Paleogene channels, spilled out over the local interfluves, and formed an extensive aggradational surface of low relief by late Oligocene time. Early Miocene volcanism filled in much of the relict Laramide relief. Erosional recession of the adjacent Shivwits Plateau escarpment shifted the northern Hualapai Plateau margin 8 km northeastward after the Laramide drainage episode and before the incision by the modern Colorado River. Partially exhumed tributaries to the Hindu Canyon paleochannel and associated sedimentary deposits bordering the southern edge of the Grand Canyon gorge demonstrate that local surface runoff flowed south, away from the modern Grand Canyon location, during early Paleogene time. Headwardly eroding Colorado River tributaries exhumed, captured, and reversed the flow of these tributaries to the Laramide canyon, beginning in late Miocene or Pliocene time. The geomorphic and stratigraphic records show no evidence of, and provide no space for, incision of a Late Cretaceous–Paleogene ancestral precursor to the modern Colorado River gorge. Instead, all the field evidence clearly supports a late Miocene–Pliocene origin for integration of the western Grand Canyon on the central Hualapai Plateau with the upper Colorado River.
- Received 31 July 2013.
- Revision received 18 April 2014.
- Accepted 28 May 2014.
- © 2014 Geological Society of America