The Colorado Plateau was originally named the "Colorado Plateaus" by explorer John Wesley Powell. It is in actually a huge basin ringed by highlands and filled with plateaus. Covering southeastern Utah, northern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and western Colorado, the Colorado Plateau province covers a land area of 130,000 square miles. This is a vast region of plateaus, mesas, and deep canyons whose walls expose rocks ranging in age from billions to just a few hundred years old.

Throughout the Paleozoic Era, 500 to 250 million years ago, the Colorado Plateau region was periodically covered by tropical seas. Thick layers of limestone, sandstone, siltstone, and shale were laid down in the shallow marine waters. During times when the seas retreated, stream deposits and dune sands were deposited or older layers were removed by erosion. Over 300 million years passed as layer upon layer of sediment accumulated. During periods when the seas retreated, these deposits were exposed to erosion. Stream and aeolian processes redistributed the eroded materials from the highlands the exposed marine rocks and deposited them as stream and aeolian sand dune deposits. A record of these sea-level fluctuations and alternating deposition processes is preserved in the so called Pennsylvanian Hermosa Group and Permian Cutler Group rock formations.

It was not until the upheavals that coincided with the formation of the supercontinent Pangea began about 250 million years ago that deposits of marine sediment waned and terrestrial deposits dominate: accumulations of dune sand hardened to form sweeping arcs in cross-bedded sandstone, ashy debris from volcanic eruptions, and sediments from short-lived rivers, lakes, and inland seas. Marine sedimentation waned and terrestrial (non-marine) deposits began to accumulate. From about 250 to 150 million years ago, the terrestrial deposition of Triassic to Jurassic sediments produced great accumulations of aeolian dune sand, arid flood plain, and lacustrine deposits. The Wingate and Navajo Sandstones record the existence of vast desert ergs with sand dunes rising 10s of feet above the desert floor. The Chinle, Kayenta, and Morrison Formations record the existence of vast arid flood plains and shallow lakes. The periodic encroachment of shallow Triassic and Jurassic seas produced the marine portions of the Moenkopi, Entrada, Carmel, Summerville, and Curtis Formations.

Beginning about 20 million years ago, the Colorado Plateau region was lifted as much as 3 kilometers while it was able to preserve its structural integrity and remained a single tectonic block. In contrast to this stability, the Colorado Plateau is surrounded by regions that have suffered severe deformation. Eventually, the great block of Colorado Plateau crust rose a kilometer higher than the surrounding regions. As the land rose, the streams responded by cutting ever deeper stream channels. The most well-known of these streams, the Colorado River, began to carve the Grand Canyon less than 6 million years ago. The forces of erosion have exposed the vivid kaleidoscope of rock layers that make the Colorado Plateau one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth.

The bases to explore the Colorado Plateau are Kanab and Moab in Utah. Kanab is almost equal distance from Zion and Bryce National Parks and the North rim of the Grand Canyon. Moab is nestled between the Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. To explore Glen Canyon, Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon, Page in Arizona is a good place to stay.