U-Pb age spectra of detrital zircons in samples from the Paleogene Colton Formation in the Uinta Basin of northeastern Utah and the Late Cretaceous McCoy Mountains Formation of southwestern Arizona (United States) are statistically indistinguishable. This finding refutes previous inferences that arkosic detritus of the Colton was derived from cratonic basement exposed by Laramide tectonism, and instead establishes the Cordilleran magmatic arc (which also provided sediment to the McCoy Mountains Formation) as the primary source. Given the existence of a north-south–trending drainage divide in eastern Nevada and the north-northeast direction of Laramide paleoflow throughout Arizona and southern Utah, we infer that a large river system headed in the arc of the Mojave region flowed northeast ∼700 km to the Uinta Basin. Named after its source area, this Paleogene California River would have been equal in scale but opposite in direction to the modern Green River–Colorado River system, and the timing and causes of the subsequent drainage reversal are important constraints on the tectonic evolution of the Cordillera and the Colorado Plateau.
- Received 25 March 2010.
- Revision received 17 May 2010.
- Accepted 24 May 2010.
- © 2010 Geological Society of America