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BlogDestinationsGeology 101: Terms to know in North American national parks

Geology 101: Terms to know in North American national parks

Jul 12, 2015 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

There are nearly 100 national parks in the U.S. and Canada alone—and each has its own range of impressive natural features. Here, some of the terminology to help you sound like a pro about all the sights you’ll see.

red canyons in bryce canyon national park


A thin spire of rock that towers over a dry basin, like in Bryce Canyon. Also called a fairy chimney or tent rock.

Glacial flour

Fine-grained particles of rock produced by glacial erosion that can alter the color of a body of water, such as the emerald Lake Louise

Graben valley

From the German for “trench,” a graben (like Jackson Hole, for example) is a collapsed block of land between two parallel fault lines.


A large igneous rock that formed miles below the earth’s surface. The granite rock of Mount Rushmore is a batholith.


A large crater, like the Yellowstone Caldera, is caused by the collapse of land after a volcanic eruption.


An accumulation of glacial debris like soil and rock that gives Canada’s glacially-fed Moraine Lake its name.**


As in Mesa Verde National Park, a mesa is a flat-topped mountain or hill that is similar to a butte but larger.

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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