45 Butte Facts: Amazing Details Revealed On Landforms For Kids

Ritwik Bhuyan
Mar 20, 2023 By Ritwik Bhuyan
Originally Published on Mar 20, 2023
Edited by Archita Chaplot
Fact-checked by Amatullah Gulbargawala
Keep reading to discover some unique Butte facts

It is not unusual to see a butte in North America, and the area is full of arid and semi-arid land.

Buttes are steep hills or cliffs made of rock that is flat on top. A butte is definitely smaller than a mesa or plateau and has sides that are vertical or steep.

The height of a butte is always greater than the width of the feature. Buttes are formed due to erosion and weathering.

The top is made of hard rock, which does not erode, while the layers beneath are softer and erode easily. They are formed in dry areas where water evaporates easily. Plats and other covers are not found in these areas, which makes the softer sides bare and unprotected.

They erode over time due to running water. The bases are not that steep and are gently sloped due to the accumulation of all the eroded rock from the softer rock on the sides.

Monument Valley, on the state line between Utah and Arizona, has two of the world's most widely recognized and distinctive buttes. Many western-themed films and television shows use the Monument Valley and the Mittens (as the buttes are called) for the backgrounds in the scenes. John Ford has used these buttes in seven of his movies.

Buttes have also been seen on many other planets in the Solar System under the same conditions of formation with erosion and geological activity. The Curiosity Rover from NASA has taken many images in the area called the Murray Buttes region on Mars.

This butte is found near the lower part of Mount Sharp in the Gale Crater.

Buttes have also been found in photographs by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) using the HiRISE instrument. These include the different buttes spotted back in 2007 in the Candor Chasma area, which is a part of the Valles Marineris canyon system.

The Viking 1 orbiter also found the presence of many buttes in the Cydonia region in 1976 during its flyby.

This is the time when the orbiter took pictures of the 'Face of Mars'. Earth has a lot in common regarding physical features with other planets in the system, and space exploration has helped cement this fact.

Learn more about these landforms in the coming topics.

What are buttes?

It was around the 16th century when Spanish explorers went north from Mexico to find the Seven Cities of Cibola and lots of gold. Instead, they managed to find something which the whole world rejoices in today, buttes.

  • The indigenous nations in the area where these rocks were found, like the Navajo and Hopi, considered these tall, isolated plateaus sacred sites, and some still consider them the same.
  • At the start of the 19th century, the word 'butte' entered the frame and was quickly adapted by the geological society.
  • A butte is an isolated and conspicuous hill with a small, relatively flat top and steep, often vertical sides.
  • Butte means 'small hill' in French. They are not the same as mesas. The surface areas of buttes and mesas are different.
  • Mesas typically have a surface area of around 3.86 sq mi (10 sq km), while buttes have a surface area of around 10,763 sq ft (1,000 sq m).
  • There is quite a lot of difference in their horizontal and vertical measurements. The top of the butte is narrower than the height, while a mesa has a top wider than its height.

Formation History And Origin Of Buttes

Learn how these peculiar features were formed in the arid and semi-arid areas of the earth.

  • The existence of buttes was a mystery for thousands of years, and only after the 19th century they were acknowledged as buttes.
  • There were many folk tales and mythological connections regarding these rock formations.
  • Indigenous people used to connect spiritual tales to these hills and often prayed to them. In some places, these practices still persist.
  • Scientists needed time to understand what these features are, and due to improvements in geology and Earth studies, they have now understood how buttes are formed.
  • The same geological process applies in the formation of both mesas and buttes.
  • The formation of these landforms involves the weathering of rock formations.
  • The process involves the surface material of the landform (hill or mountain), also called cap rock, and its resistance to wind and water erosion, while the materials underneath do not.
  • The underlying material strips away over time, leaving an isolated, standing feature with a flat top left. These are called buttes.
  • The top of a butte is a hardened layer of rock that does not get eroded. This layer is called cap rock.
  • It is made of sedimentary rock. Sometimes it can also be formed by cooled and hardened lava that spreads across the landscape in flows repetitively from cracks or fissures in the ground.
  • Beneath this cap of rock, you will find horizontal layers of softer sedimentary rock.
  • These layers are not resistant to water and wind erosion like the cap.
  • As a result, the softer rock strips away, and all that is left is an isolated rock standing.

Geographic Location Of Buttes

The Mitten Buttes located in Monument Valley are two of the most famous buttes in the world.

There have been many famous buttes found over the years, and they play a significant role in the world's landforms.

  • Mitten Buttes in Monument Valley, Arizona in, USA, are two butte rock formations that have been featured in many famous western films. They can be found around 1 mi (1.6 km) away from the Utah border and around 1,000 ft (300 m) above the floor of the desert.
  • Monument Valley in Utah has the most popular buttes in the world. They usually form in arid areas around the world. Buttes are mostly created by weathering and erosion. So, you can guess why there are so many in Monument Valley.
  • Devil's Tower in Black Hills, Wyoming, is another Butte quite famous all over the world. It can be found in northeastern Wyoming and is around 5,112 ft (1,559 m) above sea level. People from all over the world choose this butte in the Black Hills for rock climbing activities. It is a laccolithic butte made of igneous rock, not limestone, sandstone, or sedimentary rocks.
  • Kachaghakaberd Fortress in Azerbaijan is an Armenian fortress built during medieval times on top of a butte rock formation. It is now inside Azerbaijan. The fortress can still be seen around 200 ft (60 m) above the butte rock formations in the country.
  • Fun fact, people were never able to penetrate the fortress in Azerbaijan and have secret openings and passages inside to throw stones at the enemy.
  • Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock in Nebraska are two butte rock formations found in the western part of the state in the United States. These formations rise to a height of around 400 ft (120 m). These rocks have been mentioned quite a lot in the journals of many pioneers in the 19th century who passed them on their westward journey.
  • Courthouse Butte is a prominent feature seen north of the Village of Oak Creek. It is south of the town of Sedona in Yavapai County.
  • Because of the imposing nature of these rock formations and their isolated locations, they have become quite good land markers and famous tourist destinations.
  • Creation myths and spiritual beliefs of many North American folks also feature these rocks prominently.
  • Buttes are present all over North America and are very common in the arid regions of the American Southwest. Most are found in Wild West, as seen in many films and television shows.
  • Elephant Butte is found in the Elephant Butte Lake State Park located in Sierra Country, New Mexico. A combination of a sloping side and a vertical side in this geographical feature resembles the shape of an elephant. This is the reason for its popular name.
  • South Dakota has Bear Butte, which has been culturally and geologically significant throughout history. The mythological and religious traditions of the Sioux, Lakota, and Cheyenne nations featured Bear Butte a lot. The feature has featured less since the arrival of European settlers.
  • The cultures of Lakota and Sioux called the rock formation Matho Paha, which means 'Bear Mountain' in their language. Cheyenne people called it Nahkohe-vose, which means 'Bear Hill' in their language. The mythology in the Cheyenne culture states that it is from this feature that Ma'heo'o (also their God or the Great Spirit) spread the knowledge from which the culture bases their political, religious, social, and economic customs to the prophet named Sweet Medicine. Bear Butte still remains a sacred place for many indigenous people. Prayer cloths and tobacco bundles are tied to the branches broken from the trees around the butte and left there by pilgrims.
  • Buttes are also found on the northern side. They have been seen in Canada, in provinces like Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. They have been seen in arid and semi-arid areas.
  • The Pilot Butte is found in southern Saskatchewan near the town called Saskatchewan. This flat-topped butte is named Pilot Butte, as it served as a landmark for aircraft arriving at the provincial capitol of Regina and as a lookout for hunting buffalo.
  • Lone Butte is found in the southern Cariboo Plateau in central British Columbia. It is a prehistoric basalt feature. This butte is a part of the geological formation called the Chilcotin Group. Lone Butte was created around six million years ago due to the extensive volcanic activity in the area.
  • Sometimes the word butte is associated with isolated, steep-sided hills with pointed or craggy tops and not the regular flat tops we see in buttes. These buttes do not adhere to the same geographical notions of how buttes should be. Some of the popular ones of these kinds are Scotts Bluff, found in Nebraska, Crested Butte, and Elephant Butte.
  • Scotts Bluff is a collection of five bluffs.
  • Crested Butte is found in Colorado and is a 12,168 ft (3,709 m) mountain.
  • Some popular non-flat-topped buttes known to us are Black Butte in Oregon and the Sutter Buttes in California.
  • Kamiak Butte, Chelan Butte, and Steptoe Butte, all found in Washington state, are some large hills that call themselves buttes but are not the latter.

Physical Features And Characteristics Of Buttes

The word butte is derived from a French word that means 'small hill'. This word surely justifies the physical features of a butte.

  • Buttes should not be confused with plateaus or mesas. For mesas, the top surfaces of the hills are larger than the vertical features, while a butte is not wide but tall.
  • Buttes are small flat-topped hills or mountains with steep slopes on all sides. They are topped by a hard cap rock that does not erode, and this cap rock protects the softer rock that is found beneath.
  • A butte is usually over 100 ft (30 m) high and is taller than it is wider. There are buttes that are more than 1,000 ft (304 m) above the ground.
  • The softer rock found in the bare sides of buttes erodes away over time as the environment does not let ground cover like plants grow.
  • Running water washes down the rock to cause erosion. This leads to steep vertical sides in buttes with gently-sloping bases.
  • The bases are where the rocks that erode get collected.
  • The word butte is also given to the structures with an elevation more than a hill but less than a mountain.


Why is butte famous?
Buttes are landforms that are made from erosion and weathering. They are peculiar and known for their appearance.

What is a butte landform?
Buttes are steep hills or cliffs made of rock that is flat on top.

What is the difference between a mesa and a butte?
Buttes are smaller flat-topped mountains or hills than mesas but have steep slopes. Mesas have at least one steep side.

How far is Crested Butte from Denver?
It is 225 mi (362 km) away from Denver.

Why are buttes important?
The rock that is harder at the top resists erosion. It helps retain the same height as the original plateau.

What is a famous butte?
The buttes of Monument Valley have been used as backdrops in television series and movies.

Is a butte a volcano?
Some buttes, like the Sutter Buttes, are eroded volcanic lava domes.

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Written by Ritwik Bhuyan

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English

Ritwik Bhuyan picture

Ritwik BhuyanBachelor of Arts specializing in English

A skilled content writer, Ritwik holds a Bachelor's degree in English from Delhi University. He has refined his writing abilities through his past experience at PenVelope and his current role at Kidadl. In addition to his proficiency in writing, Ritwik has pursued his passion for flying by achieving CPL training and becoming a licensed commercial pilot. This diverse skill set highlights his commitment to exploring multiple fields. Ritwik's experience in the aviation industry has provided him with a unique perspective and attention to detail, which he brings to his writing.

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Fact-checked by Amatullah Gulbargawala

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Bachelor of Education specializing in the Language Arts

Amatullah Gulbargawala picture

Amatullah GulbargawalaBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Bachelor of Education specializing in the Language Arts

Amatullah is a passionate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education from Ashoka College of Education. With a keen interest in literature, she has excelled in elocution competitions and is an accomplished writer. She has completed courses like "History of English Language and Literature", "Introduction to Western Political Thought and Theory", and "Development of Soft Skills and Personality". In her free time, Amatullah enjoys reading books and writing poetry.

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