National Recreation Area
Three reservoirs, named for corresponding dams on the Gunnison River, form the heart of Curecanti National Recreation Area. Panoramic mesas, fjord-like reservoirs, and deep, steep and narrow canyons abound.
The humble Gunnison River was the sculptor of the rocks around Curecanti National Recreation Area. The headwaters of the Gunnison River are in the Sawatch Range. Over the last two million years, this river has cut out one of the deepest and narrowest canyons in the world, in some places reaching 2,700 feet in depth. The river had a fairly easy time cutting through the soft rock of the valley which is now occupied by Blue Mesa Lake but found greater difficulty further downstream towards Black Canyon. The hills bordering Blue Mesa Lake are part of the Morrison formation which is composed of sedimentary sandstone, limestone and shale. These layers were deposited by wind and water in ancient times. Above the Morrison formation, the Dakota Sandstone and the Mancos shale can be found. Further up lies volcanic rocks, which are reminiscent of times when the nearby West Elk and San Juan Mountains were active volcanoes. The landforms created by this volcanic activity ultimately determined what the course of the Gunnison River would be.
The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.
View the park's map to create your own personal maps and images right here.For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.
A geology photo album for this park can be found here.For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.
The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts. Further resources may be found here.
Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout
The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!
Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.
For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.
The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.
A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.
NPS Geology and Soils PartnersAssociation of American State Geologists
Geological Society of America
Natural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
U.S. Geological Survey
General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.