The John Henry Member of the Upper Cretaceous Straight Cliffs Formation preserves deposition of four regressive–transgressive (R-T) cycles in 350 m of strata of the Sevier foredeep in south-central Utah, USA. Each cycle is discussed in detail, with emphasis on the transgressive phases of deposition. Regressive intervals comprise wave-dominated shorefaces and coastal-plain strata, whereas transgressive intervals record tide-influenced coastal-margin and low-energy-bay and lagoonal deposits. One R-T cycle in the lower John Henry Member preserves a compound incised-valley system filled with a complex assemblage of tidal and estuarine facies. In contrast, overlying R-T cycles are not associated with valley formation, but instead preserve sandstone-rich back-barrier platform deposits that transition landward into tidal-creek, tidal-flat, and marsh depositional settings.
Excellent outcrop expression permits detailed examination of the complex internal architecture of the compound incised-valley, and demonstrates that: 1) tidal ravinement significantly modified the initial valley shape during transgression, a process not fully recognized in most conceptual models of valley formation and fill; 2) the valley system incised in a basin-axial position (NNE–SSW), subparallel to the thrust front and oblique to the orientation of pre-valley-formation shorefaces, which prograded from west to east. Axial systems are well-known transporters of large volumes of sediment in foreland basins, and yet most incised-valley models imply a direct and oversimplified relationship between up-dip (source area and tectonics) and down-dip (base level) controls; 3) the major subaerial unconformity and bypass surface occurred at a higher (younger) stratigraphic position than previously interpreted, and is herein renamed the lower John Henry Member sequence boundary. The changes in regional correlations necessitated by this discovery have several broader implications for sequence stratigraphic models; 4) finally, correlations down dip along the axial valley system indicate a steep topographic gradient of 0.011, with 47% vertical, compacted expansion of the whole John Henry Member over 14 km from south to the north. This suggests structural control on sediment transport and deposition, with significant lateral variability in accommodation parallel to the fold-thrust belt. This study adds to the growing body of literature documenting the complex nature of transgressive deposits, which will aid in the interpretation, prediction, and management of analogous subsurface reservoirs.