Two modern fluvial-aeolian depositional systems (Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Colorado and the Mojave River Wash, California) are remarkably similar in spite of different climates, sizes, fluvial sediment textures, and relative directions of aeolian and fluvial transport. Dune growth and migration, and deflation of blowouts create 8–10 m of local relief in unflooded aeolian landscapes.

There are six prominent fluvial-aeolian interactions. (1) Fluvial flow extends into the aeolian system until it is dammed by aeolian landforms; (2) interdune areas (overbank-interdunes) upstream of aeolian dams, and alongside channels are flooded; (3) water erodes dunes alongside channels and interdunes; (4) flood waters deposit sediment in interdune areas; (5) fluvially derived groundwater floods interdunes (interdune-playas); (6) wind erodes fluvial sediment and redeposits it in the aeolian system.

Unique and characteristic sediments are deposited in overbank-interdunes and in interdune-playas, reflecting alternate fluvial and aeolian processes and rapidly changing flow and salinity conditions. These fluvial-aeolian interdune deposits are characterized by irregular, concave-up bases and flat upper surfaces containing mudcracks or evaporite cement.

Characteristic low-relief surfaces form in aeolian systems as an effect of flooding. Fluvial deposits are resistant to aeolian deflation. Aeolian sand is preserved when flood sediments are deposited around the bases of the dunes. Thus repetitive fluvial and aeolian aggradation tends to be ‘stepwise’ as interdune floors are suddenly raised during floods. The effects of flooding should be easy to recognize in ancient aeolianites, even beyond the area covered with overbank muds.