What is the Difference Between a Butte and a Mesa

What is the Difference Between a Butte and a Mesa?

The terms butte and mesa are often used interchangeably, but they actually have distinct meanings. A butte is an isolated hill or small mountain with steep sides and a flat top, while a mesa is a flat-topped hill or small mountain with steep sides on three sides and a gentler slope on the fourth side.

A butte is typically much smaller than a mesa, with a maximum size of around 500 feet. Buttes tend to be more steeply sided and have a more pointed top than mesas. Mesas tend to have more gradual slopes and rounded flat tops. The difference between a butte and a mesa is typically determined by the shape of the landform, not the size.

Buttes and mesas are both typically found in areas with arid climates, such as deserts and semi-arid steppes. They are usually composed of sedimentary rocks such as sandstone and shale, and may be isolated from nearby hills and mountains. Buttes and mesas are usually created as a result of erosion, with rainwater and wind wearing away the sides of the landform and forming a flat top.

Buttes and mesas can both be found in the same area, and they can both be used to identify a region. For example, the Monument Valley in Arizona is known for its iconic buttes and mesas.

Buttes and mesas are both landforms that can be used to identify a region and can be found in arid climates. The main difference between them is the shape, with buttes having steep sides and a pointed top, and mesas having gentler slopes and a flat top.

Butte vs. Mesa: What is the Difference?

Geographical Characteristics

Buttes and mesas both have a flat surface, however, buttes are typically smaller, more isolated, and more steep sided than mesas. Mesas usually have a flat top and sides that slope gradually away from the top. Buttes are typically more pointed with sides that are steeply angled.

When compared to other landforms, mesas are generally larger than buttes. Mesas may be up to several miles in length and width, while buttes are usually significantly smaller. Buttes are often considered to be a part of a formation known as a badlands, where erosion has created a rugged landscape.

Geological Composition

Buttes and mesas are both made of sedimentary rocks that have been strongly eroded by wind and water. Mesas are usually composed of sedimentary rocks such as sandstone and shale, while buttes may be composed of different kinds of rocks, including granite, basalt, and quartzite. The difference in rock composition can often be seen by the different colors of the rocks.

In addition to the different rock compositions, buttes and mesas have different levels of erosion. Mesas have typically been eroded by water over long periods of time, resulting in a gentle sloping surface. Buttes, on the other hand, have been eroded quickly by wind and water, resulting in a more jagged and steep-sided surface.


Buttes and mesas can both be found in arid regions such as deserts, but they are typically located in different areas. Mesas are typically found in areas with more precipitation, such as in the Southwest United States, while buttes are more common in drier regions such as the Great Plains.

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Despite these general rules, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is an example of a large butte. The Grand Canyon is located in an arid region and has been carved out by the Colorado River, resulting in a steep-sided, jagged landscape.

Overall, buttes and mesas are similar in many ways, but have distinct differences. Buttes are typically smaller and have steep sides, while mesas are larger and have more gentle slopes. They also differ in terms of rock composition and their geographical distribution.

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