Utah Natural Setting

West of the Rockies, midway between Canada and Mexico, lies the State of Utah, a broad rectangular area from which a smaller rectangle in the northeastern corner has been cut away. The southeastern corner, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet, is the only point in the United States at which four State boundaries are adjoined. Within an area of 84,990 square miles, 2,806 of which are water surface, Utah presents an irregular and diversified topography. Lofty mountains roll northward and eastward into Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado; wide undulating plateaus sweep southward into Arizona; and vast unpeopled deserts of salt and alkali stretch westward across the Nevada line.

The Wasatch Mountains and continuing highlands extend north and south across the center of the State, dividing it roughly into two approximately equal sections. The loftiest summit in the Wasatch, Mount Timpanogos near Provo, reaches an elevation of 12,008 feet. Several other peaks in the vicinity have an altitude of more than 11,000 feet. The Wasatch Range terminates near central Utah, but the Sanpitch, Pahvant, and Tushar plateaus continue southward and merge at length into a broken table-land, which extends across the Arizona line. The Henry, La Sal, and Abajo mountains rise out of the southern plateau. In the Tushar Plateau near Beaver there are three 12,000-foot lava peaks. Extending eastward from the Wasatch Range, and covering most of northeastern Utah, are the Uinta Mountains, where Kings Peak, the highest point in the State, towers to an elevation of 13,498 feet. South of the Uinta Range is the Uintah Basin, an east-west valley bordered by sloping mesa lands.

Southeastern Utah is an immense broken plateau extending in a triangular form over nearly one-third of the State's surface. Most of this region is too rugged for agricultural use, and only a small part has enduring settlements. The Deseret News for September 11, 1861, describes the territory adjacent to the Green River as "one vast 'contiguity of waste' and measureably valuless, excepting for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for Indians, and to hold the world together." Nevertheless, southeastern Utah is not completely valueless, for its streams have cut gorges hundreds of feet deep in the sandstone highlands, and the forces of erosion have strewn the plateaus with startling and fantastic geological formations. Certain groups of these natural marvels have become points of scenic interest, among them Capitol Reef, Arches, Natural Bridges, and Rainbow Bridge National Monuments.

The plateau region of south central Utah, near the Arizona line, is also replete with natural wonders, including Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, and Cedar Breaks National Monument. In Zion Canyon massive 3,000-foot cliffs rise perpendicularly on either side of the Virgin River. The Kolob Canyons of Zion National Monument are eight ravines cut into the plateaus north and west of Zion Park by tributaries of the same stream.

The Great Basin, which includes all of western Utah, is a huge depression enclosed by highlands and having no outlet to the sea. The western part of the Basin is characterized by arid valleys, extensive salt flats, and forbidding wastelands. In this region scattered mountain ranges rise like islands out of the flat, gray monotony of the surrounding country, and near the Nevada line a large area is included in the Great Salt Lake Desert. Depressions in the Basin are occupied by Utah Lake on the south and Great Salt Lake on the north. The former is the largest body of fresh water in the State, and the latter is the largest salt water body in the Western Hemisphere. Great Salt Lake is approximately 75 miles long and 50 miles wide. It has no outlet, but Utah Lake empties into Great Salt Lake by way of the Jordan River.

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