Breaks, in the western United States, are tracts of rough, broken land, similar to badlands, that are of little commercial or utilitarian value— stretches of terrain, cracked and fissured by arroyos and ravines, nearly impossible to negotiate for any distance on foot or by horse. A dramatic example is found in the Texas Panhandle, where the course of the Canadian River abruptly fractures the smooth face of the Llano Estacado into a virtual bedlam of steep hills and tight passages. The distinction between breaks and badlands is minimal. The primary erosional mechanism for both is the freeze/thaw cycle, which loosens surface particles and carries them off in running water. Breaks also describes a line of irregular cliffs at the edge of a mesa or plateau. Cedar Breaks National Monument near Cedar City, Utah, for example, is a huge natural amphitheater. Dotted with scrub cedars and eroded out of the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau, it measures three miles across and cuts 2,500 feet deep into the surrounding land. “Cedar” is a misnomer in this instance; the tree is actually a juniper, which because of its shape and shaggy bark was mistaken by early pioneers for the famous cedars of Lebanon in the Middle East.

Conger Beasley, Jr.