Dells (hollows) that corrugate the antidip slopes of strike-ridge mountains in the Valley and Ridge province of southwestern Virginia vary greatly in cross-section form. This form is a function not of the underlying bedrock, but of the size and durability of boulders supplied to slopes by sandstones capping the strike ridge. Where the largest boulders are smaller than about 0.5 m in intermediate diameter, deep V-shaped dells occur. Where the largest boulders are larger than about 1.0 m, dells are shallow and U-shaped. Boulder size apparently determines the type of erosional processes that predominate in the development of the dells, and thereby dell form. Where boulder size is sufficiently small, running water is the dominant process and incises V-shaped dells. Where boulders are so large that even the largest floods cannot move them, the dell floor is armored and fluvial incision is greatly reduced. The evolution of such dells is dominated by debris flows that have recurrence intervals measured in millenia and by lateral fluvial erosion along the margins of the bouldery dell fill, both of which tend to produce shallow, U-shaped dells. Some evidence for the armoring effect of large boulders was obtained by applying a technique developed for reconstructing flash-flood peaks from boulder deposits. This procedure indicates that boulders in the V-shaped dells could be transported by high but plausible water flows, whereas movement of boulders in the U-shaped dells would require implausibly high flows.

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