The analysis of downstream changes in ancient fluvial systems can better inform depositional models for foreland-basin systems. Herein we analyze the basal deposits of the Early Cretaceous Cedar Mountain Formation of Utah to better understand the variety of fluvial deposits present and to develop a depositional model for the Sevier foreland basin. We also evaluate the long-held interpretation of a braided origin for these deposits and document numerous examples of point-bar deposition in highly sinuous meandering rivers by analysis of large (20 to 60 km2) plan-view exposures. These plan-view exposures allow comparisons between planform and cross-sectional geometries.

The study utilizes outcrop data, virtual outcrop models, and satellite imagery to develop a facies model and analyze the architecture of channel bodies in the Buckhorn Conglomerate and Poison Strip Sandstone of the Cedar Mountain Formation. We document downstream (west to east) decreases in lateral channel migration, sinuosity, channel amalgamation, grain size, and percent of fluvial channel facies (conglomerate and sandstone). Fluvial channel deposits occur arranged into larger stratal bodies: multistory–multilateral channel bodies that are dominantly composed of clast-supported conglomerate in the west to a mix of multistory, multilateral, and isolated channel bodies composed of matrix-supported conglomerate in the east. The median width of highly sinuous point bars is similar across the field area (344 m to 477 m), but the inclusion of narrower (median = 174 m), low-sinuosity bar elements in the east indicates an overall reduction in lateral channel migration and sinuosity downstream. Net-to-gross values range from 100% in much of the western outcrops to as low as 38% in the east. Paleocurrent analysis reveals a transverse (west to east) paleoflow for the study interval that merges with axial (south–north) paleoflow near the Utah–Colorado state line. We estimate 104 m3/s-scale discharge and 106 kilometer-scale drainage area for axial rivers based on paleohydraulic analysis which represents a significant part of the Early Cretaceous continental-scale drainage.

The observed downstream trends in lateral channel migration, sinuosity, channel amalgamation, grain size, and net-to-gross for the basal Cedar Mountain Formation are consistent with expected trends for sinuous single-thread distributive fluvial systems and are similar to observed trends in the Jurassic Morrison Formation. Medial (Buckhorn Conglomerate) to distal (Poison Strip Sandstone) zones are preserved and span the forebulge to backbulge depozones of a foreland-basin system. Postulated deposits of the proximal distributive fluvial system have been removed during erosion of the foredeep depozone. The easternmost Poison Strip Sandstone and coeval Burro Canyon Formation represent deposits of an axial system at which western-sourced distributive fluvial systems end. Distributive fluvial systems dominate modern foreland basins, and this study suggests that they may constitute a significant proportion of ancient successions.

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