Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide landform origins, northeast Wyoming, USA

· Powder River, Powder River Basin, Wyoming
Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

The Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area discussed here is located in northeastern Wyoming, USA. Although detailed topographic maps of the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River 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 Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River 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. Flood erosion ended when headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Clear Creek valley captured southeast-oriented flood flow east of the Bighorn Mountains and headward erosion of the deep southeast-oriented North Fork Powder River valley captured all east-oriented flood flow to the Crazy Woman Creek valley.

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 northeast Wyoming Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area landform origins. 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 northeast Wyoming Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area landform evidence will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area general location map

Figure 1: Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area general location map. National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 1 provides a Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area general location map. The South Fork Powder River begins southwest of Powder River, Wyoming and flows northeast to join the southeast-oriented North Fork and northeast-oriented Middle Fork Powder River east of Kaycee, Wyoming and the combined Powder River then flows north and northeast into Montana where it joins the northeast-oriented Yellowstone River (not shown in figure 1). The southeast-oriented North Fork Powder River originates west of the Bighorn Mountain crest. Crazy Woman Creek is a southeast and northeast-oriented Powder River tributary located east and south of Buffalo, Wyoming. Southeast-oriented Crazy Woman Creek headwaters also originate in the Bighorn Mountains. The Crazy Woman-Powder River drainage divide area discussed here is located in the Powder River Basin east of the Bighorn Mountains. East of the Crazy Woman-Powder River drainage divide area addressed here are the Powder River-Belle Fourche River and Wyoming’s Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide areas. North and west of the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area is northeast-oriented Clear Creek the Clear Creek-Crazy Woman Creek drainage divide area evidence. Essays describing these and other regional drainage divide areas can be found under Powder River or other appropriate river names on the sidebar category list. Landform evidence in the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area is interpreted here to have originated during an immense southeast-oriented flood where flood waters moved southeast from Montana to flow across the Powder River Basin to what is now the east-oriented Cheyenne River drainage basin, where headward erosion of deep valleys around the Black Hills south end captured the flood waters and diverted the flood waters east and northeast into South Dakota. Headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River next captured the flood waters and diverted at least some flood waters around the Black Hills north end. Next headward erosion of the deep north and northeast-oriented Powder River valley captured the flood waters and diverted flood flow further northeast and north. Headward erosion of the Crazy Woman Creek valley next captured flood waters to the newly eroded north-oriented Powder River valley and subsequently headward erosion of the Clear Creek valley captured flood flow moving to the newly eroded Crazy Woman Creek valley. However, the essay concludes with evidence some flood waters eroding the Crazy Woman Creek valley flowed southeast across what is today the Bighorn Mountain crest south end (along what is today the North Fork Powder River valley route) and those flood waters were captured by deep North Fork Powder River valley headward erosion.

Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area detailed location map

Figure 2: Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area detailed location map. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 2 provides a detailed location map for the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area. The north-oriented Powder River divides figure 2 in half. Crazy Woman Creek begins as a southeast-oriented stream in the Bighorn Mountains southwest of Buffalo, Wyoming (figure 2 west center) and then turns north-northeast and northeast to flow to the Powder River northeast of Buffalo (figure 2 north center). The Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area discussed here is north of east-oriented Ninemile Creek, which flows to the Powder River southeast of Four Corners, Wyoming. East of the Powder River the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River flows from the Pumpkin Buttes area to the figure 2 east center edge and then around the Black Hills north end. Southeast-oriented drainage in the figure 2 southeast corner flows to the Cheyenne River and around the Black Hills south end. Note the many northwest-oriented Powder River tributaries. Those northwest-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flood flow on the northwest ends of southeast-oriented flood flow routes beheaded by headward erosion of the north-oriented Powder River valley. Reversed flood flow not only eroded the northwest-oriented tributary valleys, but also created the Powder River-Belle Fourche River drainage divide (and further south the Powder River-Cheyenne River drainage divide). West of the Powder River northeast-oriented Crazy Woman Creek also has northwest-oriented tributaries and those tributary valleys were also eroded by flood water reversals on the northwest ends of flood flow beheaded by headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Crazy Woman Creek valley. Both Crazy Woman Creek and the Powder River also have southeast-oriented tributaries and those tributary valleys were probably eroded by southeast-oriented flood flow moving into what was then deep and newly eroded north-oriented valleys. Southeast-oriented Crazy Woman Creek headwaters and headwaters of southeast-oriented Crazy Woman Creek tributaries begin in the high Bighorn Mountains, which suggests at least some southeast-oriented flood water came from the Bighorn Mountains (or from west of the Bighorn Mountains). This essay does not address Bighorn Mountain evidence and only addresses evidence found in the Powder River Basin to the east of the Bighorn Mountains.

North end of the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area

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

Figure 3 illustrates the region where northeast-oriented Crazy Woman Creek joins the north-northeast oriented Powder River. Note how almost all Crazy Woman Creek tributaries from the north are southeast-oriented and join Crazy Woman Creek as barbed tributaries and almost all Crazy Woman Creek tributaries from the southeast are northwest oriented. Also note how, with the exception of Crazy Woman Creek, almost all Powder River tributaries from the west are southeast-oriented and join the north-oriented Powder River as barbed tributaries and almost all Powder River tributaries from the east are northwest-oriented. In addition note how there are shallow valleys eroded into the ridge that now serves as the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder drainage divide. These shallow valleys are evidence multiple channels of water (probably moving in a southeast direction) once crossed what is now the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide. The northwest-southeast drainage orientation is also evidence the deep Powder River valley eroded south across multiple southeast-oriented flood flow channels, such as might be found in a large-scale anastomosing channel complex, to capture the southeast-oriented flood flow and to divert the flood waters north and northeast. Further the drainage orientation is evidence the deep northeast-oriented Crazy Woman Creek valley eroded southwest from what must have been the newly eroded the deep Powder River valley across the same multiple southeast-oriented flood flow channels and captured the southeast-oriented flood flow before the flood waters could reach the newly eroded Powder River valley further to the southeast. Northwest-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flood flow on the northwest ends of beheaded flood flow routes. Often reversed flow on the northwest ends of beheaded flood flow channels captured southeast-oriented flood flow from yet to be beheaded flood flow routes further to the south or southwest (remember the deep Powder River valley eroded south and the deep Crazy Woman Creek valley eroded southwest)

Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area near Flying E Creek

Figure 4: Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area near Flying E Creek. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 4 illustrates the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide south of the figure 3 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 3. Crazy Woman Creek flows north along the figure 4 west edge and the north oriented Powder River flows north along the figure 4 east edge. Crazy Woman Creek tributaries from the east are almost all northwest oriented, suggesting headward erosion of the deep Crazy Woman Creek valley beheaded multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes, which resulted in reversals of flood flow so as to flow northwest into the newly eroded and much deeper Crazy Woman Creek valley. Powder River tributaries from the west are almost all southeast-oriented. One exception is Flying E Creek, which flows north  and northeast from the figure 4 south center before turning east-southeast to flow to the north oriented Powder River. However, north and northeast-oriented Flying E Creek valley segments have southeast-oriented tributary valleys, such as Bear Draw, and northwest-oriented tributary valleys, suggesting the deep Flying E Creek valley eroded southwest and south to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes. Shallow through valleys eroded into the ridge that now serves as the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide are further evidence multiple southeast-oriented flood flow once crossed what is today the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide. The source of the flood water cannot be determined from evidence presented here. However, by using evidence from many different Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project essays it is possible to trace the flood waters headward to a North American ice sheet location. Rapid melting of a thick North American ice sheet located in a deep “hole” would be a logical flood water source and would also explain why deep valleys eroded headward into the Powder River Basin to capture the southeast-oriented flood water and to divert the flood flow further and further to the northeast and north into space the rapidly melting ice sheet had once occupied.

Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area north of Indian Creek Divide

Figure 5: Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area north of Indian Creek Divide. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 5 illustrates the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area south of the figure 4 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 4. The north-oriented Powder River is located along the figure 5 east edge. The north-northeast-oriented Crazy Woman Creek is located in the figure 5 northwest corner. The Powder River here has two major northeast-oriented tributaries. Northeast-oriented Dry Creek flows to join the Powder River in the figure 5 northeast corner. Tributary valleys to Dry Creek are mostly southeast-oriented from the north and west and north and north-northwest oriented from the south and east providing evidence the Dry Creek valley eroded headward across multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes. Indian Creek is located south of the highway and north of Indian Creek Divide and flows southeast before turning northeast to flow to the Powder River. The Indian Creek elbow of capture probably resulted when headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Indian Creek valley captured a major southeast-oriented flood flow route. Drainage to  north-northeast oriented Crazy Woman Creek is northwest and north-northwest oriented and is linked by through valleys to southeast-oriented Powder River tributaries. These through valleys are again evidence flood waters flowed southeast through the figure 5 region prior to being captured by headward erosion of the north-northeast-oriented deep Crazy Woman Creek valley. Again, northwest-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flood flow on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented  flood flow routes.

Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area near Fourmile Creek

Figure 6: Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area near Fourmile Creek. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 6 illustrates the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area south of the figure 5 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 5. North-northeast oriented Crazy Woman Creek is located in the figure 6 northwest corner. The north-oriented Powder River is located just east of the figure 6 east edge and two Powder River meanders can be seen along the figure 6 east edge. East-oriented Fourmile Creek is the major figure 6 Powder River tributary. Tributaries from the north and west to the Fourmile Creek valley are southeast-oriented. Southeast-oriented Cat Creek eroded its valley headward across what were probably several south-southeast oriented flood flow routes. The North Fork Fourmile Creek begins as a north-oriented stream at the figure 6 south edge and then turns northeast and finally east to reach the Powder River. The drainage divide between Crazy Woman Creek and the North Fork Fourmile Creek has been streamlined in a north-northwest to south-southeast direction by flood waters that were captured by North Fork Fourmile Creek valley headward erosion prior to headward erosion of the Crazy Woman Creek valley. Through valleys across the Crazy Woman Creek-North Fork Fourmile Creek drainage divide provide evidence flood waters flowed in multiple channels to the south-southeast before those flood routes were beheaded, causing reversals of flood flow on the northwest ends of the beheaded flood flow routes so flood waters flowed northwest to the newly erode and deeper Crazy Woman Creek valley. Prior to headward erosion of the North Fork Fourmile Creek valley the South Fork valley had eroded southwest to capture the same southeast-oriented flood flow further to the east (and prior to South Fork valley headward erosion the north-northeast oriented Whiskey Draw valley had eroded headward to capture the flood flow, and prior to Whiskey Draw valley headward erosion headward erosion of the north-oriented Powder River valley had captured flood waters from the same flood flow routes).

Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area north of Ninemile Creek

Figure 7: Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area north of Ninemile Creek. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 7 illustrates the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide area south of the figure 6 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 6. The north-oriented Powder River is located along the figure 7 east edge. Trabing Dry Creek in the figure 7 northwest corner flows to the Crazy Woman Creek elbow of capture area. West of the figure 7 map area (to be explored in figures 8, 9 and 10 below) is the southeast and then north-northeast-oriented South Fork Crazy Woman Creek valley and further west is the southeast oriented North Fork Powder River. A high erosion surface named The Mesa separates the two drainage basins and provides evidence immense quantities of flood water flowed southeast and east from the Bighorn Mountains in this area. Ninemile Creek is the major east oriented Powder River tributary flowing along the figure 7 south edge. The deep Ninemile Creek valley probably was eroded west by flood waters flowing east from the The Mesa, until that east-oriented flood flow was captured by headward erosion of the deep Powder River-Middle Fork Powder River-North Fork Powder River valley (see figures 1 and 2). Ninemile Creek tributaries from the north are almost all south-southeast oriented indicating the Ninemile Creek valley eroded headward across multiple south-southeast oriented flood flow routes. Headward erosion of the South Fork Fourmile Creek valley captured several south-southeast oriented flood flow routes to what was then the newly eroded Ninemile Creek valley. Shallow through valleys link the north-oriented South Fork Fourmile Creek headwaters with south-southeast oriented Ninemile Creek tributaries and are evidence south-southeast oriented flood flow once moved across the present day drainage divide to what was then the actively eroding Ninemile Creek valley. Further west shallow through valleys link the north-northwest oriented Trabing Dry Creek valley with south-southeast oriented Horse Creek and other Ninemile Creek tributaries (Horse Creek is also linked to the north-northeast oriented South Fork Fourmile Creek). South of the figure 7 map region the Powder River (and or the North Fork Powder River) is east- (and further west even southeast-) oriented (see figures 1 and 2).

South Fork Crazy Woman Creek-North Fork Powder River drainage divide

Figure 8: South Fork Crazy Woman Creek-North Fork Powder River drainage divide. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 8 illustrates the region west of the figure 7 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 7. Southeast-oriented Antelope Draw (south of Reno Hill–figure 8 center) and northeast-oriented Penny Draw and Frost Draw flow to east-oriented Ninemile Creek (figure 8 southeast quadrant). The North Fork of Ninemile Creek begins slightly north of the figure 8 center as a northeast-oriented stream and then turns east to flow through a water gap and then turns southeast to flow to east-oriented Ninemile Creek in the figure 8 southeast quadrant. The South Fork Crazy Woman Creek flows southeast and then northeast in the figure 8 northwest quadrant. Northeast-oriented Horn Creek flows from the figure 8 west edge to Horn Reservoir and then northeast to the South Fork Crazy Woman Creek. Southeast of Horn Reservoir is The Mesa where the stream in Corpe Draw originates and flows to south-southeast oriented Dry Creek, which flows to the figure 8 south edge (next to the highway) and then to the southeast-oriented North Fork Powder River to the south (see figures 1 and 2 above to understand how the North Fork and Middle Fork Powder River flow  before turning northeast and north). Figures 9 and 10 below illustrate the North Fork Powder River-Horn Creek-Corpe Draw Creek drainage divide in detail. The north-oriented South Fork Crazy Woman Creek valley was probably eroded by flood flow moving southeast in what is now the southeast-oriented North Fork Powder River valley and then east across The Mesa and then north from The Mesa to the South Fork Crazy Woman valley. Horn Creek, Tex Springs Creek, and Schlict Draw today drain a north-facing escarpment that is probably the abandoned headcut which was eroding the deep South Fork Crazy Woman Creek valley south-southwest. The Mesa is complex because headward erosion of a south-oriented headcut along the south-oriented Dry Creek valley (see highway at figure 8 south edge) also captured east-oriented flood flow moving across The Mesa and diverted the captured flood waters south to what was then the newly eroded deep North Fork Powder River valley. Headward erosion of the deep North Fork Powder River valley next beheaded east-oriented flood flow across The Mesa, leaving The Mesa as an erosion surface remnant between a north-facing abandoned headcut and several south-facing abandoned headcuts.

Detailed maps of North Fork Powder River-Crazy Woman Creek (Horn Creek)-North Fork Powder River (Corpe Draw Creek) drainage divide

Figures 9 above and 10 below: Detailed map of The Mesa and the North Fork Powder River-South Fork Crazy Woman Creek (Horn Creek)-North Fork Powder River (Corpe Draw) drainage divide. United States Geological Survey maps digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figures 9 and 10 above provide detailed map of the Crazy Woman Creek-Powder River drainage divide at The Mesa (see figure 8 above). The southeast-oriented North Fork Powder River is located in the figure 10 southwest corner. Horn Creek flows southeast in the figure 10 map area from its origin along the northeast side of the deep southeast-oriented North Fork Powder River valley carved into the Bighorn Mountain front and then turns north to flow to the South Fork Crazy Woman Creek (see figure 8). Horn Creek Reservoir in figure 9 is more than 240 feet lower than The Mesa erosion surface to the south and the North Fork Powder River is approximately 300 feet lower than The Mesa erosion surface in figure 10. Corpe Draw Creek originates on The Mesa with one branch originating at the rim of the north-facing escarpment just south of Horn Creek Reservoir and flows east-northeast before turning south to flow to Dry Creek and then to the southeast-oriented North Fork Powder River (southeast of figure 8). Headward erosion of the deep north-northeast Crazy Woman Creek valley and its tributary South Fork Crazy Woman Creek captured Horn Creek, while headward erosion of the north-oriented Powder River valley further east captured the southeast-oriented North Fork Powder River. The North Fork Powder River originates on the west side of the high Bighorn Mountain Range and flows south and southeast across south end of the Bighorn Mountain crest to figure 10 and then southeast to join the southeast-oriented Middle Fork Powder River before turning east to join the northeast-oriented South Fork Powder River and then flow north-northeast across the Powder River Basin floor. Obviously immense quantities of flood water flowed southeast from somewhere west of the Bighorn Mountains to erode the The Mesa erosion surface and then to erode the deep North Fork Powder River valley into that erosion surface. The source of that flood water cannot be determined from evidence presented here. However, a thick North American ice sheet might cause crustal warping that could explain how immense south-oriented melt water floods could cross what is today a high mountain range (as the ice sheet’s tremendous weight caused crustal warping in surrounding regions and as deep melt water erosion removed great thickness of bedrock to further accelerate the crustal warping as flood waters flowed across a rising mountain range).

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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