Ammonite zones (Baculites obtusus-Scaphites hippocrepis) in the marine facies associated with the Mesaverde Formation in the Bighorn basin, Wyoming, Star Point Sandstone and Blackhawk Formation in the Wasatch Plateau, Utah, and the Point Lookout Sandstone, Menefee Formation, and Crevasse Canyon Formation in the Gallup coalfield, New Mexico, indicate that these formations were deposited during early Campanian time (80–84 Ma).
The coal-forming environments of these early Campanian formations were located landward of wave-reworked coastal sand complexes of progradational systems along the western margin of the Cretaceous seaway from Wyoming to New Mexico. The Mesaverde coals accumulated in swamps of the lower delta plain and coeval interdeltaic strandplain environments. The Star Point-Blackhawk coals accumulated in swamps of the lower delta plains of laterally shifting, prograding deltas and associated barrier ridge plains. The Point Lookout, Menefee, and Crevasse Canyon coals formed in swamps of the lower delta plain and infilled lagoons behind barrier islands.
Although the common coal-forming environments of these progradational systems are back barrier and delta plain, the former setting was the more conducive for accumulation of thick, laterally extensive coals. Economic coal deposits formed in swamps built on abandoned back-barrier platforms that were free of detrital influx and marine influence. Delta-plain coals tend to be lenticular and laterally discontinuous and thus uneconomic.
The early Campanian coal-forming coastal-plain environments are analogous to modern peat-forming environments along the coast of Belize, Central America. Deltaic sediments deposited along the Belize coast by short-headed streams are reworked by waves into coastal barrier systems.