Thin tidal estuarine deposits of the Naturita Formation (0–23 m) of the San Rafael Swell record the initial flooding of the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway, Utah, and capture the transition from inland fluvial systems to fully marine conditions over a time period of 5 My or less. A tide-dominated estuarine environment is favored due to the combined presence of mud and/or carbonaceous drapes on ripples and dunes, bidirectional flow indicators, sigmoidal cross-stratification, herring-bone cross-stratification, and bimodal paleocurrent measurements. Facies associations are arranged in a predictable manner. Locally at the base of the Naturita Formation, tidally influenced fluvial channel deposits are present. These are overlain by tidal bars, including subtidal bars and intertidal point bars. Overlying the tidal bars are sand-flat and mud-flat deposits as well as bedded coal and carbonaceous mudstone that represents a supratidal setting in the estuary. The Formation can be capped by a thin transgressive lag composed of shell debris, and/or pebbles, that marks the final transition into the fully marine Tununk Shale Member of the overlying Mancos Shale.
Lateral relationships between estuaries and adjacent paleohighs shed light on the influence of foreland-basin tectonics on the location and preservation of tide-dominated estuaries. Estuarine and shoreface deposits are absent along the eastern flank of the San Rafael Swell and eastward for more than 80 km. This zone of nondeposition or erosion is coincident with the location of the forebulge in the developing foreland basin, implying that growth of the forebulge prohibited the development of, or enhanced the later erosion of, estuarine deposits. Conversely, enhanced accommodation in the transition into the foredeep depozone allow the preservation of tide-dominated estuarine deposits along the western flank of the San Rafael Swell. Additionally, the possibility of a pre-Laramide tectonic history for the San Rafael Swell is indicated by a distinct lack of Naturita Formation deposits in an area that is coincident with the modern-day axis of the anticline.
Overall, the Naturita records the initial flooding of the Western Interior Seaway in the San Rafael Swell region and provides an excellent case study of the deposits that are laid down in a transgressive system that passes from coastal-plain to offshore deposits.