Anomalous features of Upper Cretaceous strata in southern Utah challenge existing tectonic and depositional models of the Cordilleran foreland basin. Extreme thickness variations, net to gross changes, and facies distributions of nonmarine to marginal marine strata of the Turonian−early Campanian Straight Cliffs Formation are documented across the Southwestern High Plateaus. Contrary to most traditional models of foreland basin architecture, regional correlations demonstrate abrupt stepwise thickening, with a punctuated increase in average grain size of key intervals from west to east, i.e., proximal to distal relative to the fold-thrust belt. Except in the most proximal sections, fluvial drainage systems were oriented predominantly subparallel to the fold-thrust belt. Combined, these results suggest that modern plateau-bounding faults may have had topographic expressions as early as Cenomanian time, and influenced the position of the main axial river system by creating northeast-trending paleotopography and sub-basins. Laramide-style tectonism (e.g., basement-involved faults) is already cited as a driver for sub-basin development in latest Cretaceous−Cenozoic time, but new data presented here suggest that this part of the foredeep was “broken” into distinct sub-basins from its earliest stages. We suggest that flexural foundering of the lithosphere may have caused early stage normal faulting in the foredeep. Regional implications of these new data indicate that both detachment-style and basement-involved structures were simultaneously active in southern Utah earlier than previously recognized. These structures were likely influenced by inherited Proterozoic basement heterogeneities along the edge of the Colorado Plateau. This interpretation suggests that tectonic models for the region should be reevaluated and has broader implications for understanding variability and geodynamics of foreland basin evolution.

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