Encyclopedic Entry

Like many mesas, this one is in the American Southwest.

Photograph by James P. Blair

Tabletop Community
There are over 300 lakes on top of the Grand Mesa, in Colorado, as well as a state highway.

A mesa is a flat-topped mountain or hill. It is a wide, flat, elevated landform with steep sides.

Mesa is a Spanish word that means table. Spanish explorers of the American southwest, where many mesas are found, used the word because the tops of mesas look like the tops of tables.

Mesas are formed by erosion, when water washes smaller and softer types of rocks away from the top of a hill. The strong, durable rock that remains on top of a mesa is called caprock. A mesa is usually wider than it is tall.

Mesas are usually found in dry regions where rock layers are horizontal. The Grand Mesa in the U.S. state of Colorado, considered the largest mesa in the world, has an area of about 1,300 square kilometers (500 square miles) and stretches for 64 kilometers (40 miles).

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

caprock

Noun

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

durable

Adjective

strong and long-lasting.

erosion

Noun

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

Encyclopedic Entry: erosion

hill

Noun

land that rises above its surroundings and has a rounded summit, usually less than 300 meters (1,000 feet).

Encyclopedic Entry: hill

horizontal

Adjective

left-right direction or parallel to the Earth and the horizon.

landform

Noun

specific natural feature on the Earth's surface.

Encyclopedic Entry: landform

mesa

Noun

broad, flat-topped landform with steep sides.

Encyclopedic Entry: mesa

mountain

Noun

landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

region

Noun

any area on the Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

Encyclopedic Entry: region

rock

Noun

natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.

steep

Adjective

extreme incline or decline.

Credits

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Writers

Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Santani Teng
Erin Sprout
Hilary Costa
Hilary Hall
Jeff Hunt

Illustrators

Tim Gunther
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society

Editors

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Educator Reviewer

Nancy Wynne

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Sources

Dunn, Margery G. (Editor). (1989, 1993). "Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

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