Dead Horse Point is situated atop a high plateau at an elevation of about 6,000 feet above sea level. From the point, a “layer cake” of geologic time may be viewed, revealing 300 million years of the earth’s geologic history. While standing on the canyon rim, 8,000 feet of geologic strata is visible looking from the peaks of the 12.000 foot high La Sal Mountains to the river below. These rock layers were deposited over the eons by oceans, fresh water and wind as well as isolated igneous events.
Sediments at the 4,000-foot river level were deposited during the Pennsylvanian period, 300 million years ago. The La Sal Mountains are composed of igneous rocks from an ancient laccolith that formed during the Tertiary period about 25 million years ago. Also during the Tertiary period, uplifting caused by continental drift elevated the entire Colorado Plateau by more than a mile. The Colorado River was born during this regional uplift, and has been carving down through the sediments ever since. Erosion continues today as the river winds from the Continental Divide high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean at the Sea of Cortez (a distance of 1,400 miles) sculpting ancient rock layers into the spectacular panorama seen from Dead Horse Point.