Lay a writing tablet on a flat surface, then place a ruler on edge under one length of it, and you have a miniature of a cuesta—a clifflike face, with a long gentle backslope. Hogbacks, massive tilted rocks formed as a result of dramatic uplift, are a related landform, though cuestas are far less steep. Cuestas tend to appear along the tributaries of rivers that “open wide valleys in weak rock,” writes O. D. von Engeln in The Finger Lakes Region: Its Origin and Nature. The faces of these beds of rock are the cliffs; the beds of strata inclined on a gentle slope are their backsides. Cuestas are distinguished from escarpments by their range; escarpments may extend into several states, while cuestas are local and sometimes viewed, as in the Finger Lakes Region, as “parallel rows of hills each with one steep slope and one gentle slope. These hills are designated by a Spanish term, cuesta, which signifies a hill of such profile,” according to von Engeln.

Larry Woiwode