Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area landform origins, South Dakota and Nebraska, USA

· Keya Paha River, Nebraska, Niobrara River
Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

The Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area discussed here is located along the South Dakota-Nebraska border, USA. Although detailed topographic maps of the Keya Paha River-Niobrara 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 Keya Paha River-Niobrara 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 deep east-oriented White River valley captured all southeast-oriented flood flow.

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 South Dakota and Nebraska Keya Paha River-Niobrara 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 South Dakota and Nebraska Keya Paha-Niobrara River drainage divide area landform evidence will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide general location map

Figure 1: Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide general location map. National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 1 provides a general location map for the Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area. Nebraska is the state in the lower half of figure and South Dakota is the state in the figure 1 north half. The Niobrara River flows roughly east from the figure 1 west edge in Nebraska just south of the state line and joins the southeast oriented Missouri River at Niobrara, Nebraska. The Keya Paha River is a Niobrara River tributary which begins near Hidden Timber, South Dakota and flows southeast into northern Nebraska where it joins the Niobrara River. North of the Keya Paha River is the east oriented White River and the White River-Keya Paha River drainage divide area essay addresses evidence there. West of the Keya Paha River headwaters is the east, southeast and north-northeast oriented Little White River, which is a White River tributary and the White River-Little White River drainage divide area essay addresses evidence in that region. South of the Niobrara River are headwaters of southeast-oriented Loup River tributaries (in the west half of the region discussed here) and of the southeast-oriented Elkhorn River (in the east half of the region discussed here). Essays addressing these nearby drainage divide areas can be found under appropriate river names on the sidebar category list. Landform evidence in the Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area are interpreted here to have originated during an immense southeast-oriented flood that was systematically captured by headward erosion of deep valleys as the present day drainage network evolved. Prior to headward erosion of the Niobrara River valley flood waters moved southeast across the figure 1 region to the Elkhorn River and the Calamus River valleys (among others) northwest. Headward erosion of the east-oriented Niobrara River valley then captured southeast-oriented flood water that was moving to the Elkhorn River and Calamus River valleys and diverted the water further north and east. The southeast-oriented Keya Paha River valley eroded northwest shortly after headward erosion of the Niobrara River valley and captured southeast-oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Niobrara River valley. Subsequently a deep (and large) east-oriented White River valley eroded west and beheaded all flood flow routes to the newly eroded eastern Niobrara River valley. The north-northeast oriented Little White River eroded south-southwest from the newly eroded and deep White River valley and beheaded flood flow routes to the actively eroding Keya Paha River valley and also captured southeast-oriented flood flow routes to newly eroded Niobrara River valley.

Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide detailed location map

Figure 2: Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide 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 Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area. Todd, Tripp and Gregorgy Counties are located in South Dakota and Keya Paha and Boyd Counties are located in Nebraska (Cherry County is the Nebraska county south of Todd County, South Dakota). The Niobrara River flows northeast from the figure 2 west edge to the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge area (east of Valentine, Nebraska) and then turns southeast to Riverview, Nebraska, where it turns northeast again to flow to join the southeast-oriented Keya Paha River where it turns southeast again. The Keya Paha River originates in Todd County on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and flows southeast through the Tripp County southwest corner and the Keya Paha County northeast corner into Boyd County, where it joins the Niobrara River.  A Niobrara River tributary at Valentine, Nebraska is southeast-oriented Minnechaduza Creek. This essay begins by looking at evidence the Minnechaduza Creek valley was eroded by southeast-oriented flood water coming from the Little White River drainage basin (the north-northeast oriented Little White River valley eroded south-southwest to behead the Minnechaduza Creek flood water source). The essay next looks at north-oriented Keya Paha River tributaries, which drain the region between the Niobrara and Keya Paha River valleys. Topographic maps illustrate how Rock Creek, Sand Creek, Holt Creek, and Burton Creek eroded southwest to capture southeast-oriented flood flow. The essay concludes by looking at topographic map evidence of the east end of the Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area, near where the Keya Paha River joins the Niobrara River. Evidence presented here is not adequate to determine the flood water source, although by using evidence presented in many different Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project essays (published on this website) it is possible to trace flood waters headward to a North American ice sheet location. Rapid melting of a thick North American ice sheet that had created a deep “hole” in the continent would both explain the flood water source and why southeast-oriented-oriented flood waters might be systematically be captured and diverted further and further east and north as documented by this and other essays.

Little White River-Niobrara River through valley at west end of Keya Paha River drainage basin

Figure 3: Little White River-Niobrara River through valley at west end of Keya Paha River drainage basin. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 3 illustrates the Spring Creek-Minnechaduza Creek through valley linking the Little White River drainage basin in the figure 3 northwest quadrant with the Niobrara River drainage basin in the figure 3 south half. Hills in the figure 3 southwest quadrant are probably sand dunes and post date development of the regional drainage network. The figure 3 map area is located just west of the Keya Paha River headwaters area and southeast-oriented flood water flowing along the Spring Creek-Minnechaduza Creek valley route to the what was then the actively eroding Niobrara River valley was never captured by Keya Paha River headward erosion. Instead southeast-oriented flood water on this flow route was captured by north-northeast oriented Little White River valley headward erosion, which eroded south-southwest from what was then a deep and large actively eroding east oriented White River valley. By capturing flood flow moving southeast in the Spring Creek-Minnechaduza Creek through valley the Little White River valley gained a large east and southeast-oriented drainage basin along what is today the Pine Ridge Escarpment crest. It is important to remember, prior to headward erosion of the deep and large east-oriented White River valley to the north of the figure 3 map area the topographic surface north of the figure 3 map area was at least as high as the figure 3 topographic surface and the Pine Ridge Escarpment did not exist. The northwest-oriented Spring Creek valley was eroded by reversed flow on the northwest end of the beheaded Spring Creek-Minnechaduza Creek through valley. The reversed flow not only eroded the northwest-oriented Spring Creek valley, but it also created the present day Little White River-Niobrara River drainage divide. Minnechaduza Creek flows southeast to join the Niobrara at Valentine, Nebraska (see figure 6 below), which is located south of the figure 4 map area.

Rock Creek drainage basin area

Figure 4: Rock Creek drainage basin area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 4 illustrates the south end of the northeast-oriented Rock Creek drainage basin. Rock Creek flows northeast to the southeast-oriented Keya Paha River. The South Dakota-Nebraska state line is the west-to-east line along the figure 4 south edge. The east and northeast-oriented stream in the figure 4 northwest corner is Antelope Creek, which turns northwest and then north to flow to Mission, South Dakota, where it enters a large southeast-oriented valley to flow southeast to join northeast-oriented Rock Creek at Hidden Timber, South Dakota, where the combined flow becomes the southeast-oriented Keya Paha River (see figure 2). East of figure 4 southeast-oriented Sand Creek, located in the figure 4 southeast quadrant, turns northeast and flows to the southeast-oriented Keya Paha River (see figures 5 and 7). Northeast-oriented Eagle Creek also flows to the southwest-oriented Keya Paha River. Figure 4 overlaps some with figure 6 below and figure 6 shows the figure 4 map area relationship with the Niobrara River valley. Note how northeast-oriented Rock Creek has numerous southeast-oriented tributaries and also has northwest-oriented tributaries. These tributaries are evidence the northeast-oriented Rock Creek valley eroded southwest to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes, such as might be found in a southeast-oriented anastomosing flood formed anastomosing channel complex. The southeast-oriented tributary valleys were eroded headward along southeast-oriented flood flow routes from what was then the newly eroded Rock Creek valley. The northwest-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flow on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes. For example, headward erosion of the Rock Creek valley beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow to the southeast-oriented Sand Creek valley in the figure 4 southeast corner and reversed flow on the northwest end of the beheaded flood flow route eroded a northwest-oriented valley (a through valley also links the Rock Creek drainage basin and the Sand Creek drainage basin where the southeast-oriented flood water once flowed). Subsequently headward erosion of the Antelope Creek valley beheaded flood flow to the Rock Creek drainage basin and the figure 4 landscape has changed little since.

Sand Creek drainage basin area (south)

Figure 5: Sand Creek drainage basin area (south). United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 5 illustrates the Eagle Creek and Sand Creek drainage basins east of the figure 4 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 4. Northeast-oriented Rock Creek crosses the figure 5 northwest corner. Note how Eagle Creek flows northeast, southeast and then northeast  and north and has multiple southeast and northwest-oriented tributaries. The elbows of capture and the northwest-southeast orientation of the tributaries is evidence the Eagle Creek valley eroded headward across multiple southeast oriented flood flow routes. Note also how Sand Creek flows east-southeast before turning northeast to flow to the southeast oriented Keya Paha River. Elbows of capture such as the Sand Creek elbow of capture are evidence the northeast oriented Sand Creek valley eroded southwest to capture southeast oriented flood flow. The east-southeast oriented Sand Creek valley eroded headward from what was then the newly eroded northeast oriented Sand Creek valley until flood flow responsible for its erosion was beheaded by headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Rock Creek valley to the west. Further note how northeast-oriented Sand Creek, like Eagle Creek, has numerous southeast and northwest oriented tributaries. The southeast and northwest-oriented tributaries are evidence the northeast oriented Sand Creek valley, like the Eagle Creek valley, eroded southwest across what must have been a southeast oriented anastomosing channel complex. The southeast oriented tributary valleys eroded headward along southeast oriented flood flow routes from what was then the newly eroded northeast-oriented Sand Creek valley and the northwest-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flood flow on the northwest ends of the beheaded southeast oriented flood flow routes. The sequence of erosion of the northeast oriented valleys was from east to west and is consistent with the sequence expected as what was then the deep southeast oriented Keya Paha River valley to the north of figure 5 eroded to the northwest. The northeast oriented Sand Creek valley would have eroded southwest prior to the northeast oriented Eagle Creek valley, which was eroded southwest before the northeast-oriented Rock Creek valley. Subsequently heaward erosion of the deep White River valley to the north and of the Little White River valley to the west beheaded all southeast-oriented flood flow to the Keya Paha River drainage basin.

Sand Creek-Niobrara River drainage divide near Valentine, Nebraska

Figure 6: Sand Creek-Niobrara River drainage divide near Valentine, Nebraska. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 6 illustrates the Sand Creek (and Rock Creek) drainage divide area with the east-oriented Niobrara River near Valentine, Nebraska. The Niobrara River flows north in the figure 6 south enter and then turns east to flow to the figure 6 southeast corner. Minnechaduza Creek is the southeast-oriented stream flowing in the figure 6 southwest quadrant to Valentine, Nebraska and then turning northeast to join the Niobrara River (see figure 3 to see the Spring Creek-Minnechaduza Creek through valley located to the northwest of figure 6). East-southeast-oriented Sand Creek headwaters are located in the figure 6 northeast quadrant. Headwaters of northeast-oriented Rock Creek can be just barely seen east of the highway along the figure 6 north edge. Note how multiple short southeast-oriented valleys have been eroded into the Niobrara River north valley wall. These southeast-oriented valleys were eroded by southeast-oriented flood water at the time the east-oriented Niobrara River valley was being eroded headward into the region. The fact these valleys are short suggests there was not much time between headward erosion of the east-oriented Niobrara River valley and headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Sand Creek and Rock Creek valleys (from what was then the newly eroded southeast-oriented Keya Paha River valley), which beheaded the southeast-oriented flood flow routes to the newly eroded Niobrara River valley. Headward erosion of the Keya Paha River valley and its tributary valleys never captured southeast-oriented flood flow on the Minnechaduza Creek valley route and flood waters continued to erode that valley headward until it was beheaded by headward erosion of the north-northeast oriented Little White River valley further to the northwest (see figure 3).

Sand Creek drainage basin area (north)

Figure 7: Sand Creek drainage basin area (north). United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 7 illustrates where northeast-oriented Sand Creek joins the southeast oriented Keya Paha River and includes significant overlap areas with figure 5. The Keya Paha River flows southeast across the figure 7 northeast corner. Eagle Creek flows southeast and then north in the figure 7 northwest corner. Sand Creek flows northeast from the figure 7 south edge to Keyapaha, South Dakota and then to the southeast oriented Keya Paha River. Shadley Creek flows north-northeast in the figure 7 southeast quadrant. Again note how northeast-oriented Keya Paha River tributaries have southeast-oriented and northwest-oriented tributaries. The southeast- and northwest-oriented tributaries are evidence the northeast-oriented valleys eroded headward across multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes as would be expected in a southeast-oriented 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 routes. Note also how the landscape has been streamlined in a northwest-southeast direction with northwest-southeast oriented through valleys crossing drainage divides between the northeast-oriented valleys. These through valleys are evidence water once flowed southeast in multiple channels across present day drainage divides. The drainage divides were created as the northeast-oriented valleys eroded headward to capture the southeast-oriented flood flow. The through valleys are also evidence the southeast-oriented flood waters originally flowed on a topographic surface at least as high as the highest figure 7 elevations today and the southeast-oriented Keya Paha River valley and its northeast-oriented tributary valleys eroded headward into that higher level topographic surface.

Holt Creek drainage basin area

Figure 8: Holt Creek drainage basin area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 8 illustrates the Holt Creek, Timber Creek, and Cottonwood Creek drainage basins east of the figure 7 map area and there is no overlap area with previous figures. The Keya Paha River flows southeast in an 60-80 meter deep valley from the figure 8 north center edge across the figure 8 northeast corner. Lost Creek flows northeast across the figure 8 northwest corner and joins the Keya Paha River north of the figure 8 map area. Progressing east from Lost Creek is Cottonwood Creek, which begins with east-oriented headwaters and then flows north-northwest and north to reach the Keya Paha River. Timber Creek is located in the figure 8 north center and begins as a northwest-oriented stream, but turns north to flow to the Keya Paha River. Holt Creek begins as an east-oriented stream, then flows north-northwest, northeast, southeast, northeast, and finally north to reach the southeast-oriented Keya Paha River. East Holt Creek flows north-northwest and north-northeast to reach Holt Creek. Finally in the figure 8 northeast quadrant Jordan Creek flows north-northeast to reach the Keya Paha River and north- and northeast-oriented Burton Creek is located in the figure 8 southeast corner (figure 9 better illustrates Burton Creek). Note how Timber Creek headwaters are aligned with a southeast-oriented Holt Creek tributary. Events recorded in figure 8 evidence include the north-northeast oriented Jordan Creek valley eroding headward to capture yet to be captured (by headward erosion of the Keya Paha River valley) southeast-oriented flood flow using the southeast-oriented Holt Creek alignment (and also a northwest-oriented Holt Creek valley alignment). Headward erosion of the north-oriented Holt Creek valley next reversed flow on a segment of a southeast-oriented flow route to the newly eroded Jordan Creek valley (leaving a through valley across the newly created drainage divide) and then captured southeast-oriented flow on the southeast-oriented Holt Creek segment (beheading all flood flow to the Jordan Creek valley and leaving another through valley across the newly created drainage divide). The Holt Creek valley then eroded southwest to capture more southeast-oriented flood flow routes (to the newly eroded East Holt Creek valley) and then eroded south-southeast assisted by what probably was reversed flow on the northwest ends of beheaded flood flow routes and finally eroded west to capture still more southeast-oriented flood flow. Headward erosion of the deep Keya Paha River valley and the Timber Creek valley and Cottonwood Creek subsequently captured all southeast-oriented flood flow moving to the Holt Creek drainage basin.

Burton Creek drainage basin area near Springview, Nebraska

Figure 9: Burton Creek drainage basin area near Springview, Nebraska. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 9 illustrates the Burton Creek drainage basin east of the figure 8 map area and includes overlap areas. Headwaters of short southeast oriented tributaries to the east oriented Niobrara River similar to those seen in figure 6 (and in figure 10 below) are located in the figure 9 southeast corner. Holt Creek flows southeast and then north in the figure 9 northwest corner and East Holt Creek flows north from Springview in the figure 9 southwest corner to join north oriented Holt Creek. Also beginning near Springview is east, southeast and northeast-oriented Burton Creek, which flows through the figure 9 center to reach the Keya Paha River in the figure 9 north center. Northeast-oriented Spring Creek flows to the Keya Paha River in the figure 9 northeast corner. Note the large through valleys linking the East Holt Creek valley and the Holt Creek valley to the north with the Burton Creek valley and also linking the Burton Creek valley with the Spring Creek valley further east (note how Spring Creek has east oriented tributaries flowing from one of those through valleys and Burton Creek has an east and northeast-oriented tributary flowing from another through valley). These through valleys, while they present a somewhat complicated pattern, were eroded by flood water and are evidence flood water once flowed in multiple channels east and southeast across what are now drainage divides between north and northeast-oriented valleys. Further, the through valleys are evidence the north and northeast-oriented valleys eroded headward across multiple anastomosing channel flood flow routes to capture southeast oriented flood waters and to the divert the flood waters to what was then the newly eroded and deeper Keya Paha River valley. Burton Creek, like northeast-oriented Keya Paha River tributaries to the west, has southeast-oriented and northwest-oriented tributaries in addition to northeast-oriented tributaries. The southeast and northwest-oriented tributaries are additional evidence the Burton Creek valley eroded headward across multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes and the northeast-oriented tributaries are evidence the newly eroded Burton Creek captured flood flow routes and diverted the water northeast.

Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area south of Brocksburg, Nebraska

Figure 10: Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area south of Brocksburg, Nebraska. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 10 illustrates the southeast-oriented Keya Paha River and northeast oriented Niobrara River as they are converging near the east end of the Keya Paha River-Niobrara River drainage divide area and is located east of the figure 9 map area (and includes overlap areas with figure 9). Note how short southeast-oriented tributary valleys have been eroded into the Niobrara River valley north wall. Southeast-oriented flood flow that was eroding these southeast-oriented Niobrara River tributary valleys was captured by headward erosion of the southeast-oriented Keya Paha River valley and its northeast oriented Spring Creek tributary valley. The topographic surface into which the Niobrara River valley, the Keya Paha River valley, and the Spring Creek valley were eroded was at least as high as the elevations between Spring Creek and the Niobrara River in the figure 10 southwest corner. The Niobrara River valley floor is 130-140 lower than that surface, the Keya Paha River valley is 120-130 meters lower, and the Spring Creek valley floor in the Figure 10 west center is 30 to 40 meters lower. In other words the Niobrara River valley was at least 130-140 meters deep as it eroded southwest across the region, the Keya Paha River valley was at least 120-130 meters deep as it eroded northwest, and the Spring Creek valley was at least 30-40 meters deep as it eroded southwest. Southeast-oriented flood flow removed much of the higher level topographic surface near where the Keya Paha River and the Niobrara River valleys converge in the figure 10 east half and also between the north-oriented Spring Creek valley, the north-oriented Coon Creek valley, and northeast and east-oriented Oak Creek valleys (all tributary valleys to the southeast-oriented Keya Paha River).

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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