Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide landform origins east of Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming, USA

· Bighorn Mountains, Powder River, Wyoming
Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

The Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area east of the Bighorn Mountains discussed here is located in northern Wyoming, USA. Although detailed topographic maps of the Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area have been available for more than fifty years detailed map evidence has not previously been used to interpret the region’s geomorphic history. The interpretation provided here is based entirely on topographic map evidence. The Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area is interpreted to have been eroded during immense southeast-oriented flood events, the first of which flowed on a topographic surface at least as high as the highest points in the present-day drainage divide area.

Preface:

The following interpretation of detailed topographic map evidence is provided as evidence in the Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project, which is compiling similar evidence for all major drainage divides contained within the Missouri River drainage basin and for all major drainage divides with and within certain adjacent drainage basins. The research project is interpreting evidence in the context of a previously unexplored geomorphology paradigm, which is briefly described in the introduction below. Project essays are listed on the sidebar category list under their appropriate Missouri River tributary drainage basin, Missouri River segment drainage basin (by state), and/or state in which the Missouri River drainage basin is located.

Introduction:

  • The purpose of this essay is to use topographic map interpretation methods to explore Wyoming Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area landform origins east of the Bighorn Mountains. Map interpretation methods can be used to unravel many geomorphic events leading up to formation of present-day drainage routes and development of other landform features. While each detailed topographic map feature provides detailed evidence to be explained, the solution must be consistent with explanations for adjacent area map evidence as well as solutions to big picture map evidence puzzles. I invite readers to improve upon my solutions or to propose alternate solutions that better explain evidence and are also consistent with adjacent map area and big picture evidence. Readers may do so either by making comments here or by writing and publishing their own essays and then by leaving a link to those essays in a comment here.
  • This essay is also exploring a paradigm in which erosional landforms are interpreted as evidence left by immense glacial melt water floods. Implied in that interpretation is the immense floods were derived from a thick North American ice sheet that created a deep “hole” in the North American continent and also melted fast. The previously unexplored paradigm being tested in this and similar essays is a thick North American ice sheet, comparable in thickness to the present day Antarctic ice sheet, occupied approximately the North American region usually recognized to have been glaciated and through its weight and erosive actions created a “deep” North American “hole”, through its weight and deep erosion (and perhaps deposition) along major south-oriented melt water flow routes caused significant crustal warping and tectonic change, through its action of melting fast produced immense floods that flowed across the continent, and through its action of melting fast systematically opened up space in the ice sheet created “hole” so headward erosion of newly developed north-oriented drainage systems captured immense south-oriented melt water floods and diverted immense melt water floods north into space the ice sheet had once occupied.
  • If this previously unexplored paradigm is correct the geographic region explored by this essay should contain evidence of immense floods that were captured by headward erosion of new valley systems so as to cause the floods to flow in a different direction. Ability of this previously unexplored paradigm to explain Wyoming Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area landform evidence east of the Bighorn Mountains will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Location map for Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area east of the Bighorn Mountains

Figure 1: Location map for Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area east of the Bighorn Mountains (select and click on maps to enlarge). National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 1 provides a general location map for Wyoming’s Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman drainage divide area east of the Bighorn Mountain. Clear Creek flows from the Bighorn Mountains east to Buffalo, Wyoming (figure 1 center) and then northeast to join the north and northeast-oriented Powder River. The North Fork Powder River begins in the Bighorn Mountains, but west of the Bighorn Mountain crest, and flows southeast to join the northeast-oriented Middle Fork Powder River near Kaycee, Wyoming and after joining with the north-northeast oriented South Fork Powder River, the Powder River flows northeast, north, and northeast across northeast Wyoming’s Powder River Basin into Montana, where north of the figure 1 map area the Powder River joins the northeast-oriented Yellowstone River. Crazy Woman Creek also originates in the Bighorn Mountains and flows southeast and east to the Powder River Basin floor and then turns northeast to flow to the north-oriented Powder River. South and east of the Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area is the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area. East of the Powder River previous are the Powder River-Little Powder River drainage divide area and Powder River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide area. Evidence in these and other Powder River drainage basin drainage divide areas is addressed in essays found under Powder River on the sidebar category list. This essay interprets Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide evidence east of the Bighorn Mountains in the context of an immense southeast-oriented flood that flowed across the entire Powder River Basin region. In the context of figure 1 drainage systems flood waters were first captured by east-oriented Cheyenne River valley headward erosion from the Black Hills south end (east of figure 1), diverted flood waters southeast, east, and then northeast. Subsequently headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley captured much of the southeast-oriented flood water and diverted the water northeast around the Black Hills north end. The deep north- and northeast-oriented Powder River valley next eroded headward to capture the southeast-oriented flood water and to divert the water still further to the northeast and north. The Clear Creek and Crazy Woman Creek valleys eroded southwest from what must have been the newly eroded and deep north-oriented Powder River valley. Crazy Woman Creek valley headward erosion slightly preceded Clear Creek valley headward erosion, although both were eroded at about the same time.

Detailed Location map for Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area east of the Bighorn Mountains

Figure 2: Location map for Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area east of the Bighorn Mountains. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 2 provides a detailed location map for the Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area east of the Bighorn Mountains. Sheridan, Johnson and Campbell Counties are located in northeast Wyoming. The Powder River flows north through eastern Johnson and Sheridan Counties before turning northeast into Campbell County just south of the figure 2 north edge. Clear Creek flows east from the Bighorn Mountain area west of Buffalo, Wyoming and then turns north-northeast and northeast to join the Powder River near the figure 2 north edge. Crazy Woman Creek flows southeast from the Bighorn Mountain area near the figure 2 south edge and then turns north-northeast and northeast to flow to the Powder River near the Johnson County northeast corner. The Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area addressed here is bounded on the east by the north-oriented Powder River, on the northwest by north-northeast and northeast oriented Clear Creek, on the southeast by north-northeast and northeast oriented Crazy Woman Creek, and on the west by the Bighorn Mountain front, which is located just west of Buffalo, Wyoming. Clear Creek tributaries from the northwest shown in figure 2 are mostly southeast oriented and from the south are north- or northwest-oriented. Crazy Woman Creek tributaries shown also include southeast and northwest-oriented tributaries. This southeast and northwest-orientation of tributary valleys to the major north- and northeast-oriented trunk streams is evidence the major trunk stream valleys eroded headward across what must have been multiple southeast-oriented flood flow channels, such as might be found in a southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Detailed maps below will further support this capture of flood flow moving in a southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex interpretation.

North end of Clear Creek-Powder River drainage divide area

Figure 3: North end of Clear Creek-Powder River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 3 illustrates the north end of the Clear Creek-Powder River drainage divide area. The north-northeast oriented Powder River flows from the figure 3 south center edge to the figure 3 north edge. West of the L Quarter Circle Hills is the north-northeast oriented Clear Creek valley. The northeast-oriented Clear Creek tributary in the figure 3 southwest quadrant is Buffalo Creek. With the exception of the Powder River, Clear Creek, and Buffalo Creek the figure 3 region has a remarkable northwest-southeast oriented drainage alignment. This northwest-southeast oriented drainage alignment is evidence the deep Powder River valley eroded south-southwest to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow channels such as might be found in a large-scale southeast-oriented flood formed anastomosing channel complex. The northwest-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flood flow on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow channels. The well-developed northwest-oriented Powder River tributary valleys suggest significant reversed flood flow in some of those valleys. Frequently reversed flow on a beheaded flood flow channel captured yet to be beheaded flood flow from channels further to the south or southwest. Such was the case with northwest-oriented Spotted Horse Creek. Further information on northwest-oriented Powder River tributaries in this area can be found in Wyoming’s Powder River-Little Powder River drainage divide area essay.  Closely following headward erosion of the deep Powder River valley the deep north-northeast-oriented Clear Creek valley eroded south-southwest to capture southeast-oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Powder River valley. The time difference could not have been great because southeast-oriented valleys were not eroded far into the L Quarter Circle Hills. Shortly thereafter the deep Buffalo Creek valley eroded southwest to capture southeast-oriented flood flow moving to the newly eroded Clear Creek valley.

Clear Creek-Powder River drainage divide area northwest of Arvada, Wyoming

Figure 4: Clear Creek-Powder River drainage divide area northwest of Arvada, Wyoming. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 4 illustrates the Clear Creek-Powder River drainage divide area south of the figure 3 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 3. Northeast-oriented Clear Creek flows from the figure 4 southeast corner to the figure 4 north edge. The north-oriented Powder River flows north through Arvada, Wyoming. Foster Buttes in the figure 4 northwest corner marks the Buffalo Creek-Clear Creek drainage divide area. The previously discussed northwest-southeast oriented drainage alignment is present in figure 4. In addition to the northwest-southeast orientation of tributary valleys northwest-southwest oriented through valleys cross the Clear Creek-Powder River drainage divide. One of the most obvious such through valleys is used by the highway and railroad southeast of Kendricks, Wyoming. Northwest-oriented Scott Draw is linked by the through valley with an unnamed Powder River tributary north of east-oriented Deadman Creek (and also with southeast-oriented Campbell Draw just north of the highway and railroad). The through valley was eroded by southeast-oriented flood flow prior to headward erosion of the deep Clear Creek valley, which beheaded the flood flow causing a flow reversal on the northwest end of that beheaded flood flow route. The reversed flood flow eroded the northwest-oriented Scott Draw valley. Many similar through valleys are present all along the drainage divide and are not only evidence of southeast-oriented flood flow that once crossed the Clear Creek-Powder River drainage divide, but are also evidence of multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes, such as might be found in a large-scale southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex.

Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area southeast of Clearmont, Wyoming

Figure 5: Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area southeast of Clearmont, Wyoming. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 5 illustrates the Clear Creek-Powder River and Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area south of the figure 4 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 4. The north-northeast oriented Clear Creek is located in figure 5 northwest quadrant and the Powder River valley is located in the northeast corner. Through valleys link headwaters of northwest-oriented Clear Creek tributaries with headwaters of southeast-oriented Powder River tributaries. The east-southeast oriented Cottonwood Creek valley appears to have been eroded headward from what was then the newly eroded Powder River valley as a large headcut, perhaps by especially intense southeast-oriented flood flow. The height of the highest points on the ridge now serving as the Clear Creek-Powder River drainage divide provides a minimum measure of the amount of erosion flood waters accomplished. The flood waters originally flowed on a topographic surface at least as high as those highest points today. Headward erosion of the north-oriented Powder River valley and of the northeast-oriented Clear Creek valley was into that higher level topographic surface. Southeast-oriented flood water eroded southeast-oriented valleys headward from the deep and newly eroded north-oriented valleys while reversed flood flow on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes eroded the northwest-oriented tributary valleys. In many cases the reversed flood flow captured southeast-oriented flood flow from yet to be beheaded flood flow channels just to the south and southwest. Such captured flood flow played an important role in eroding the northwest-oriented tributary valleys.

Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area northwest of Antelope Basin

Figure 6: Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area northwest of Antelope Basin. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 6 illustrates the Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area southwest of the figure 5 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 5. Clear Creek flows north-northeast from the figure 6 southwest corner to the figure 6 north edge and then makes a jog east (not shown) before turning north-northeast again as shown in figure 5. Crazy Woman Creek flows northeast across the figure 6 southeast corner and is joined by northeast and east-oriented Dry Creek along the figure 6 south edge (Dry Creek will be better illustrated in figure 7 below). Double Crossing Creek in the figure 6 north center flows north to where Clear Creek makes its jog east and is a Clear Creek tributary. Note how Double Crossing Creek headwaters are north-northwest oriented, suggesting a reversal of flood flow on a beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow route originally flowing to the southeast-oriented Antelope Basin. Figure 6 evidence is similar to the previous figure evidence and includes the northwest-southeast orientation of tributary valleys and through valleys crossing the drainage divide. Evidence in this essay is inadequate to determine the flood water source. However, evidence from this essay and numerous other Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project essays (published on this website) can be used to trace flood waters headward to a North American ice sheet location. Rapid melting of a thick North American ice sheet occupying a deep “hole” would not only be a logical flood water source, it would also explain why deep north- and northeast-oriented valley were eroding headward to capture south-oriented flood waters and to divert the flood waters further and further to the northeast and north (into space in the deep “hole” the rapidly melting thick ice sheet had once occupied).

Clear Creek-Dry Creek and Dry Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area northeast of Buffalo, Wyoming

Figure 7: Clear Creek-Dry Creek and Dry Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area northeast of Buffalo, WyomingUnited States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 7 illustrates the Clear Creek-Dry Creek and Dry Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area southwest of the figure 6 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 6. Clear Creek flows northeast along the highway from the figure 7 west edge into the figure 7 northwest quadrant. Crazy Woman Creek is located in the figure 7 southeast corner and flows north to the figure 7 northeast quadrant and then turns northeast. Dry Creek flows northeast from the figure 7 south center to the figure 7 northeast quadrant and turns east to join Crazy Woman Creek. Again the northwest-southeast orientation of tributary valleys and through valleys linking headwaters of northwest-oriented tributaries with headwaters of southeast-oriented tributaries provide evidence southeast-oriented flood flow once moved across the figure 7 map region. Events recorded by figure 7 evidence begin with southeast-oriented flood water flowing over the figure 7 map area on a topographic surface at as high as the highest figure 7 elevations today. Flood flow was probably moving in a large-scale southeast-oriented complex of ever-changing anastomosing channels. Headward erosion of the deep Crazy Woman Creek valley next captured the southeast-oriented flood flow (channel by channel) as the valley eroded southwest and south. The deep Dry Creek valley eroded west and southwest from what was then the newly eroded Crazy Woman Creek valley and captured southeast-oriented flood flow to the Crazy Woman Creek valley. Next, the deep Clear Creek valley eroded headward and captured southeast-oriented that had been moving to the newly eroded Dry Creek valley. Finally headward erosion of deep northeast-oriented valleys to the northwest captured all southeast-oriented flood flow to the figure 7 map area. This interpretation is leaving out complications of any flood water coming from the Bighorn Mountain area to the west. Evidence presented up to this point in the essay does not document such flood flow, although figure 10 will.

Clear Creek-Dry Creek and Dry Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area east of Buffalo, Wyoming

Figure 8: Clear Creek-Dry Creek and Dry Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area east of Buffalo, WyomingUnited States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 8 illustrates the Clear Creek-Dry Creek and the Dry Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area  south and west of figure 7 and includes overlap areas with figure 7. Clear Creek flows northeast from Buffalo, Wyoming to the figure 8 north edge. Rock Creek is the major southeast-oriented Clear Creek tributary flowing from the figure 8 northwest corner. Bull Creek flows north to join Clear Creek just east of Buffalo. Dry Creek flows north and northeast to the figure 8 northeast corner. North-northeast oriented Crazy Woman Creek is located a short distance southeast of the figure 8 southeast corner. The Bighorn Mountain front is located just west of Buffalo and west of the figure 8 map area Clear Creek flows in deep east-oriented canyons (see figure 10). East of Buffalo, Clear Creek-Dry Creek and Dry Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide evidence is similar to evidence observed in figures 3-7. Tributaries are predominately northwest or southeast-oriented and through valleys cross the drainage divide. Headward erosion of the deep northeast-oriented Clear Creek valley captured east-oriented water coming from the Bighorn Mountain area at Buffalo and diverted that water northeast. Prior to being captured by Clear Creek valley headward erosion waters coming from the Bighorn Mountain area were flowing southeast to what was then the newly eroded north-northeast oriented Crazy Woman Creek valley (and prior to that to the newly eroded Powder River valley and prior to that to the actively eroding Cheyenne River valley).

Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area south of Buffalo, Wyoming

Figure 9: Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area south of Buffalo, Wyoming. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 9 illustrates the Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area south of the figure 8 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 8. Figure 9 has been reduced to show a larger area. East-oriented Clear Creek is flowing from a deep canyon southwest of Buffalo in the figure 9 northwest corner and then turns northeast to flow through Buffalo and to the figure 9 north center. Crazy Woman Creek can be seen in the figure 9 southeast corner. Bull Creek originates in the figure 9 northwest corner, just south of the east-oriented Clear Creek canyon and flows south, then east, and finally north to join Clear Creek just east of Buffalo. Note the through valley linking southeast-oriented Bull Creek headwaters with the east-oriented Clear Creek canyon. Figure 10 below will illustrate the Clear Creek-Bull Creek drainage divide area in much greater detail. Southeast-oriented Kelly Creek and Burnett Creek in the figure 9 southwest corner flow to southeast-oriented North Fork of Crazy Woman Creek (not shown), which is located just southwest of Crazy Woman Mountain in the figure 9 southwest corner. Negro Creek in the figure 9 center flows northeast, northwest, northeast, southeast, northeast and southeast to join north-northeast oriented Dry Creek in the figure 9 northeast quadrant. Southeast-oriented Eder Draw (located by the east of the highway east of Kingsbury Ridge, which is south of Buffalo) flows to southeast-oriented Wallows Creek and then to north-northeast oriented Crazy Woman Creek. Events recorded by figure 9 evidence begin with southeast-oriented flood flow moving across the region, including from the mountain front areas located along the figure 9 west edge. Headward erosion of the deep north-northeast oriented Crazy Woman Creek valley next captured the southeast-oriented flood flow and diverted the water northeast to the north- and northeast-oriented Powder River. Next the deep Dry Creek valley eroded headward into the region and captured the southeast-oriented flood flow and shortly thereafter the deep northeast-oriented Clear Creek valley eroded headward into the region and captured flood flow moving to the newly Dry Creek and Crazy Woman Creek valleys. Subsequently headward erosion of deep valleys further to the northwest and west beheaded all flood flow to the figure 9 map region.

Detailed map of Clear Creek-Bull Creek drainage divide area southwest of Buffalo, Wyoming

Figure 10: Detailed map of Clear Creek-Bull Creek drainage divide area southwest of Buffalo, Wyoming. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 10 provides a detailed map of the Clear Creek-Bull Creek drainage divide, which was illustrated in less detail in figure 9. Bull Creek flows southeast to the figure 10 south enter. Clear Creek flows southeast from the figure 10 west center edge and joins north-northeast oriented Grommund Creek to flow north-northeast and then turns east-northeast to flow to the figure 10 northeast corner. Mosier Gulch is the northeast and east-oriented Clear Creek tributary valley in the figure 10 northwest corner. Note the deep notch carved in the north-south ridge separating the north-northeast oriented Grommund Creek-Clear Creek valley from the southeast-oriented Bull Creek valley. That notch is directly opposite the point where southeast-oriented Clear Creek flows to north-northeast oriented Grommund Creek.  Also note the east-southeast oriented dry valley carved in the ridge south of Bald Ridge just north of the figure 10 south edge. That dry valley is aligned with the southeast-oriented Clear Creek valley upstream from Grommund Creek and the notch in the ridge between the north-northeast oriented Grommund-Clear Creek valley and the southeast-oriented Bull Creek valley. The notch and dry valley provide evidence water flowed east-southeast across what is now the deep southeast-oriented Bull Creek headwaters valley. Next note the high level through valley at the head of southeast-oriented Bull Creek drainage basin linking the Bull Creek drainage basin with the east-northeast oriented Clear Creek valley to the north. Events recorded here begin with flood waters flowing in a high level valley on east-southeast oriented Clear Creek-notch-dry valley alignment. Headward erosion of deep southeast-oriented valleys from what may have been the newly eroded deep Crazy Woman Creek valley to the southeast resulted in headward erosion of the southeast-oriented Bull Creek valley to capture east-oriented flood flow coming from the Bighorn Mountains. At the same time headward erosion of the deep northeast-oriented Clear Creek valley also reached the region. Apparently for a time there was enough flood water to erode both the northeast and southeast valleys headward, although in the end the Clear Creek valley eroded deeper and captured all of the flood flow. However, the southeast-oriented Bull Creek valley (or abandoned headcut) is evidence the volumes of flood water here must have been immense and it is hard to imagine how flood water reached this location unless the flood water flowed from the Bighorn Mountains to the west. .

Additional information and sources of maps studied

This essay has provided only a sample of the detailed topographic map evidence supporting the flood erosion interpretation. Many additional illustrations could be provided. Readers are encouraged to look at mosaics of detailed topographic maps to see the abundance of available data. Maps used in this study were created and published by the United States Geologic Survey and can be obtained directly from the United States Geological Survey and/or from dealers offering United States Geological Survey maps. Hard copy maps can also be observed at United States Geological Survey map depositories which are located throughout the United States and elsewhere. Illustrations used here were created using National Geographic Society TOPO software and digital map data. TOPO software and map data can be obtained from the National Geographic Society and/or dealers offering National Geographic Society digital map data.

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