Evaluating the Shinumo-Sespe drainage connection: Arguments against the “old” (70-17 Ma) Grand Canyon models for Colorado Plateau drainage evolution

Karl E. Karlstrom, Carl E. Jacobson, Kurt E. Sundell, Athena Eyster, Ron Blakey, Raymond V. Ingersoll, Jacob A. Mulder, Richard A. Young, L. Sue Beard, Mark E. Holland, David L. Shuster, Carmen Winn, Laura Crossey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The provocative hypothesis that the Shinumo Sandstone in the depths of Grand Canyon was the source for clasts of orthoquartzite in conglomerate of the Sespe Formation of coastal California, if verified, would indicate that a major river system flowed southwest from the Colorado Plateau to the Pacific Ocean prior to opening of the Gulf of California, and would imply that Grand Canyon had been carved to within a few hundred meters of its modern depth at the time of this drainage connection. The proposed Eocene Shinumo-Sespe connection, however, is not supported by detrital zircon nor paleomagnetic-inclination data and is refuted by thermochronology that shows that the Shinumo Sandstone of eastern Grand Canyon was >60 °C (~1.8 km deep) and hence not incised at this time. A proposed 20 Ma (Miocene) Shinumo-Sespe drainage connection based on clasts in the Sespe Formation is also refuted. We point out numerous caveats and non-unique interpretations of paleomagnetic data from clasts. Further, our detrital zircon analysis requires diverse sources for Sespe clasts, with better statistical matches for the four “most-Shinumo-like” Sespe clasts with quartzites of the Big Bear Group and Ontario Ridge metasedimentary succession of the Transverse Ranges, Horse Thief Springs Formation from Death Valley, and Troy Quartzite of central Arizona. Diverse thermochronologic and geologic data also refute a Miocene river pathway through western Grand Canyon and Grand Wash trough. Thus, Sespe clasts do not require a drainage connection from Grand Canyon or the Colorado Plateau and provide no constraints for the history of carving of Grand Canyon. Instead, abundant evidence refutes the éoldé (70é17 Ma) Grand Canyon models and supports a <6 Ma Grand Canyon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1425-1456
Number of pages32
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

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