In the North American landscape a mesa, which in Spain is merely a dinner table, occupies a grander scale: a flat-topped mountain or rock mass, usually capped with a weather-resistant rock stratum, it stands above an arid plain as a remnant of eons of erosion. Mesas and their smaller relatives, buttes—a butte is taller than it is wide, a mesa wider than it is tall—figure in place-names throughout the semiarid lands of Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado. The world’s most famous mesa-and-butte landscape, in the Navajo Nation Monument Valley Tribal Park of northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah, has so regularly served as the backdrop of cowboy movies and other manufactured visions of the American West that these unusual landforms are mistakenly assumed, throughout the world, to be the dominant feature of the western landscape. Mesas, in art, also commonly co-occur with another cliché of the Southwest, the saguaro cactus with its pair of raised arms, even though that plant has a limited range and does not grow within two hundred miles of Monument Valley.

Barbara Kingsolver