• 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.
    There are no buttes nicknamed "the Socks," but these are the Mittens.

    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.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    arid Adjective


    butte Noun

    single hill or rock formation that rises sharply from a flat landscape, usually in a desert.

    Encyclopedic Entry: butte
    caprock Noun

    strong, hard rock that remains on top of a mesa.

    debris Noun

    remains of something broken or destroyed; waste, or garbage.

    elevate Verb

    to raise higher than the surrounding area.

    erosion Noun

    act in which earth is worn away, often by water, wind, or ice.

    Encyclopedic Entry: erosion
    geographer Noun

    person who studies places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    mesa Noun

    broad, flat-topped landform with steep sides.

    Encyclopedic Entry: mesa
    Monument Valley Noun

    national park with very large rock formations (buttes), in the U.S. states of Arizona and Utah.

    plateau Noun

    large region that is higher than the surrounding area and relatively flat.

    Encyclopedic Entry: plateau
    rock Noun

    natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.

    scree Noun

    accumulation of broken rocks, boulders, and other material at the base of cliffs or other tall rock formations.

    spire Noun

    tall, thin structure, often on top of a building.

    steep Adjective

    extreme incline or decline.

    stream Noun

    body of flowing water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: stream
    weathering Noun

    the breaking down or dissolving of the Earth's surface rocks and minerals.

    Encyclopedic Entry: weathering