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Geography word of the week: butte

Buttes are common across western Canada and the United States.
  • Feb 01, 2016
  • 171 words
  • 1 minutes
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An isolated hill with steep, often vertical sides and a small, flat top. Buttes are formed when hard caprock overlies a layer of less resistant rock that is eventually worn away through erosion. The harder rock on top of the butte resists erosion and provides protection for the less resistant rock below which leaves it standing isolated. Buttes are not to be confused with mesas, which have a similar appearance. A butte has a top narrower than its height, while a mesa has a top wider than its height.

From the Middle French word bute meaning ‘knoll.’

Buttes are common across western Canada and the United States and are often popular landmarks thanks to their isolation and dramatic appearance. The Mitten Buttes of Arizona’s Monument Valley are two of the most recognizable buttes, providing the background for several classic Western movies.

Notable Canadian buttes include Saskatchewan’s Castle Butte and Pilot Butte and British Columbia’s Lone Butte.


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