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Butte

Butte

Buttes are tall, steep-sided towers of rock.

Grades

4 - 12+

Subjects

Earth Science, Geography, Geology, Physical Geography

Buttes are tall, flat-topped, steep-sided towers of rock. Buttes were created through the process of erosion, the gradual wearing away of earth by water, wind, and ice. Buttes were once part of flat, elevated areas of land known as mesas or plateaus. In fact, the only difference between a mesa and a butte is its size. Most geographers say a butte is taller than it is wide, while a mesa is a much larger, slightly less elevated feature. Buttes are created as streams slowly cut through a mesa or plateau. The hard top layers of buttes, called caprock, resist weathering and erosion. As a result, the formations stay about the same height as the original plateau or mesa. Weathering and erosion, most often by wind and rainwater, slowly erode the softer rock surrounding the caprock. Caprock protects the more vulnerable rock beneath it. Buttes slowly become slender spires. Eventually, even the caprock falls prey to severe weathering and erosion. Debris that falls to the side of buttes is called scree or talus. Buttes usually form in arid regions, such as those in Mexico and the southwestern United States. Monument Valley, in the U.S. states of Utah and Arizona, has the most famous collection of buttes in the world. The buttes of Monument Valley have been the setting for many movies and television series, from Forrest Gump to Easy Rider.

Fast Fact

Monumental Mittens
"The Mittens" are a pair of buttes in Monument Valley, Utah. Each of these formations includes a thick tower of rock with a thin spire alongside it, making the two buttes look like a giant pair of mittens.

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Editor
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Producer
National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

July 15, 2022

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