Bad River-White River drainage divide area landform origins, western South Dakota, USA

Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

The Bad River-White River drainage divide area discussed here is located in western South Dakota, USA. Although detailed topographic maps of the Bad River-White 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 Bad River-White 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 of the drainage divide area ended when headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Bad River valley captured the 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 western South Dakota Bad River-White 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 western South Dakota Bad River-White River drainage divide area landform evidence will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Bad River-White River drainage divide area general location map

Figure 1: Bad River-White River drainage divide area general location map. National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 1 provides a Bad River-White River drainage area general location map. The Bad River flows northeast from the Badlands National Park area to the southeast-oriented Missouri River at Fort Pierre, South Dakota. The White River begins west of Chadron, Nebraska and flows northeast until it reaches Interior, South Dakota and then turns to flow east, northeast, southeast, and east to join the south and southeast-oriented Missouri River south of Oacoma, South Dakota. This essay focuses on the Bad River-White River drainage divide area located west of Murdo, South Dakota and a different essay (found under Bad River on the sidebar category list) addresses the Bad River-Medicine Creek and the Medicine Creek-White River drainage divide areas east of Murdo. North of the northeast-oriented Bad River drainage basin is the northeast-oriented Cheyenne River drainage basin. Other essays address landform evidence along the Cheyenne River-Bad River drainage divide and along most other major northwest South Dakota, southwest North Dakota, and southeast Montana drainage divides and can be found under appropriate river names on the sidebar category list. South of the White River drainage basin is northern Nebraska’s east-oriented Niobrara River drainage basin. This essay interprets Bad River-White River drainage divide evidence in the context of an immense southeast-oriented flood that flowed over most if not all of the figure 1 map area and was systematically captured by headward erosion of deep northeast-oriented valleys to divert flood waters further and further to the northeast and north. Essays published on this website can be used to trace the flood headward towards the location of a North American ice sheet. Rapid melting of a thick North American ice sheet in a deep “hole” would not only provide a logical explanation for the flood water source, but also for the systematic sequence of flood capture events, which would enable ice sheet melt water to flow in a northeast and eventually north direction into space the rapidly melting ice sheet had once occupied and by melting was opening up.

Bad River-White River drainage divide area detailed location map

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

Figure 2 provides a Bad River-White River drainage area detailed location map. The White River flows from the figure 2 southwest corner to Interior, South Dakota and then flows east, northeast, southeast, and east to the figure 2 southeast quadrant and east edge. The Bad River originates in the Wall, South Dakota area north of Badlands National Park in the figure 2 west center and then flows northeast through Phillip and Midland to reach the Missouri River at Fort Pierre, South Dakota (just east of the figure 2 northeast corner). This essay addresses landform evidence along the Bad River-White River drainage divide west of the Murdo, South Dakota area (figure 2 east center). Most Bad River tributaries from the north are southeast-oriented, which supports an interpretation the Bad River valley eroded headward to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes such as might be found in a large southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. However, most Bad River tributaries from the south shown on figure 2 are northeast-oriented and, like the northeast-oriented Bad River valley, could have eroded southwest from an actively eroding Bad River valley head to capture yet to be beheaded (by headward erosion of the Bad River valley) southeast-oriented flood flow routes, however figure 2 evidence is not adequate to make that determination. Several northeast-oriented Bad River tributaries appear to begin very close to the White River, suggesting the presence of an asymmetric drainage divide, although inspection of detailed maps is required to better see evidence. Headward erosion of the southeast-oriented White River valley segment east of Stamford, South Dakota appears to have captured a northeast-oriented valley that was probably being eroded southwest from the northeast-oriented Bad River valley, perhaps from the Van Metre, South Dakota area. Several White River tributaries from the south appear to be north-northwest oriented suggesting their valleys were originally eroded by reversals of flood waters on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes.

Bad River-White River drainage divide area in Badlands National Park

Figure 3: Bad River-White River drainage divide area in Badlands National Park. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 3 illustrates the west end of the Bad River-White River drainage divide in the Badlands National Park region. Northwest-oriented drainage in the figure 3 northwest corner flows to the northeast oriented Cheyenne River. South-oriented drainage along the figure 3 south edge flows to the northeast and east-oriented White River. East-oriented Whitewater Creek in the figure 3 north center and northeast quadrant (and tributaries from the southwest) flows to the South Fork Bad River as do unnamed northeast oriented headwaters of northeast oriented Big Buffalo Creek located in the figure 3 southeast corner. Interior, South Dakota is located just south of the figure 3 southeast corner. Note how the Kimball Creek valley eroded southwest from the east-oriented oriented Whitewater Creek valley to capture multiple southeast-oriented streams. This evidence is best interpreted if during a southeast-oriented flood moving across the figure 3 map area the Kimball Creek valley eroded southwest from an actively eroding east-oriented Whitewater Creek valley head to capture southeast-oriented flood flow routes that had not yet been captured by Whitewater Creek valley headward erosion. The Conata Basin is located in a south-southeast oriented escarpment-surrounded basin that today drains to the northeast- and east-oriented White River. That escarpment-surrounded basin is an abandoned headcut eroded by large volumes of southeast-oriented flood water prior to headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Cheyenne River valley (northwest of the figure 3 map area). A similar, but smaller escarpment-surrounded basin or abandoned headcut is located in the figure 3 southeast quadrant just east of Norbeck Pass. Prior to headward erosion of the east-oriented Whitewater Creek valley and the northeast-oriented Kimball Creek valley, southeast-oriented flood water flowed across the figure 3 map area to what was then the actively eroding White River valley. Headward erosion of the Whitewater Creek-Kimball Creek valley captured that southeast-oriented flood flow and subsequently headward erosion of the east-oriented Whitewater Creek valley beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Kimball Creek valley. Finally headward erosion of the deep northeast-oriented Cheyenne River valley captured all flood flow routes across the figure 3 map area and flood waters on the northwest ends of beheaded flood flow routes reversed flow direction to erode the northwest-oriented Cheyenne River tributary valleys seen in the figure 3 northwest corner.

Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Weta, South Dakota

Figure 4: Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Weta, South Dakota. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 4 illustrates the Bad River-White River drainage divide area immediately east of the figure 3 map area. Big Buffalo Creek flows northeast from the figure 4 southwest corner to Cactus Flats and then turns north to flow to the northeast-oriented South Fork Bad River (north of figure 4). Further east Little Buffalo Creek flows north-northeast from the Chamberlain Pass area to join the South Fork Bad River as a barbed tributary. The Little Buffalo Creek north-northwest-orientation can be explained by the reversal of flood water on the northwest end of a southeast-oriented flood flow route beheaded by South Fork Bad River valley headward erosion. While the Bad River-White River drainage divide is marked by a well-defined escarpment, through valleys link headwaters of northwest-oriented streams with headwaters of southeast-oriented drainage. These through valleys are evidence multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes were eroding headcuts or valleys into the White River valley north wall prior to beheading of the southeast-oriented flood flow routes by headward erosion of northeast-oriented Bad River tributary valleys (e.g. Big Buffalo Creek valley). South-oriented drainage flows to the east-oriented White River south of the figure 4 map area. Note how the Fifteen Creek drainage basin originates in a southeast-oriented escarpment-surrounded basin or abandoned headcut that had been eroded by southeast-oriented flood water prior to its capture by headward erosion of the Big Buffalo Creek valley. Note also southeast-oriented and northwest-oriented Big Buffalo Creek tributaries. These tributaries are evidence southeast-oriented flood water flowed across the figure 4 map area and the Big Buffalo Creek valley eroded south and southwest from what was then an actively eroding South Fork Bad River valley to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes that had not yet been captured by South Fork Bad River valley headward erosion. Headward erosion of the South Fork Bad River valley (and the Whitewater Creek valley) subsequently beheaded all southeast-oriented flood flow to the figure 4 map area.

Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Kadoka, South Dakota

Figure 5: Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Kadoka, South Dakota. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 5 illustrates the Bad River-White River drainage divide area immediately east of the figure 4 map area and includes an overlap area. A northeast-oriented White River valley segment is located in the figure southeast corner. The Bad River-White River drainage divide is an asymmetric drainage divide suggesting the deep White River valley eroded headward across a topographic surface on which multiple southeast-oriented flood flow route routes were flowing. The multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes began to erode southeast-oriented tributary valleys into the newly eroded northeast-oriented White River northwest valley wall, however before those southeast-oriented valleys could erode very far the southeast-oriented flood flow was systematically beheaded by headward erosion of northeast-oriented Bad River tributary valleys. North-northeast oriented Indian Creek flows to the figure 5 northeast corner and then to the northeast-oriented Bad River (north of figure 5) and northeast-oriented Franklin Creek flows to north-northeast-oriented White Willow Creek in the figure 5 north center and then to the Bad River. Note how Indian Creek has eroded south-southwest to capture and behead multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes (evidence of which are the multiple southeast-oriented and northwest-oriented tributaries, with northwest-oriented tributaries having been formed by flood flow reversals on northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes). Also note how White Willow Creek and Franklin Creek have multiple southeast-oriented and northwest-oriented tributaries, which provide evidence the White Willow Creek and Franklin Creek valleys eroded south-southwest and southwest to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes. Headward erosion of the Indian Creek valley beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow to what was then the newly eroded White River valley in figure 5 east of Kadoka and headward erosion of the White Willow Creek-Franklin Creek valley beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Indian Creek valley and also to the figure 5 White River valley west of Kadoka. Subsequently headward erosion of Bad River tributary valleys west of figure 5 captured all flood flow moving to the figure 5 map area.

Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Stamford, South Dakota

Figure 6: Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Stamford, South Dakota. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 6 illustrates the Bad River-White River drainage divide area immediately east of the figure 5 map area. The northeast-oriented White River is located in the figure 6 southeast corner. The town located along the south edge without a name is Belvidere, South Dakota. Note how the asymmetric drainage divide continues east along the northeast-oriented White River valley segment and how headward erosion of the north-northeast oriented Brave Bull Creek valley captured southeast-oriented flood flow routes to the northeast-oriented White River valley segment shown in figure 6. Prior to headward erosion of the Brave Bull Creek valley the Ash Creek valley eroded south from what was then the actively eroding Bad River valley head to capture southeast-oriented flood flow to the newly eroded White River valley. Northwest-oriented Ash Creek tributaries and headwaters developed as a result of reversals of flood flow on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes. The lack of southeast-oriented Ash Creek tributaries is probably because the Brave Bull Creek valley eroded south-southwest almost as fast as the Ash Creek valley eroded south-southwest and captured the southeast-oriented flood water before there was time to erode southeast-oriented tributary valleys. West Fork of Brave Bull Creek eroded west and southwest to capture southeast-oriented flood water moving to the newly eroded Brave Bull Creek valley, which had previously captured the southeast-oriented flood water moving to the newly eroded White River valley. Headward erosion of the Bad River valley north of the figure 6 map area and of Bad River tributary valleys further west next captured all southeast-oriented flood flow to the Brave Bull Creek drainage basin and flood flow across the figure 6 area ceased.

Bad River valley north of Stamford and south of Midland, South Dakota

Figure 7: Bad River valley north of Stamford and south of Midland, South Dakota. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 7 illustrates the Bad River valley north of figure 6 and includes significant overlap areas. North-oriented Brave Bull Creek joins the northeast-oriented Bad River just west of Midland, South Dakota while north oriented Ash Creek flows to the Bad River just east of Midland. The north and northeast-oriented South Creek drainage basin is east of the Ash Creek drainage basin and north and northeast-oriented Dry Creek flows from figure 7 south edge to the figure 7 east center edge. South Creek flows to the Bad River north of the figure 7 map area and Dry Creek flows to the Bad River northeast of the figure 7 map area. Note the numerous southeast oriented (barbed) tributaries to north-oriented Brave Bull Creek and southeast (barbed) tributaries to northeast-oriented Dry Creek in the figure 7 northeast corner. Also note the numerous northwest-oriented tributaries to Brave Bull Creek, Ash Creek, and Dry Creek. Events recorded by the figure 7 evidence begin with southeast-oriented flood flow moving over the entire figure 7 map area probably flowing in a large-scale and ever-changing anastomosing channel complex that was being captured to the southeast by headward erosion of the deep White River valley. Shortly thereafter headward erosion of the Bad River-Dry Creek valley captured the southeast-oriented flood flow and probably in fairly rapid succession headward erosion of the Bad River-Ash Creek valley captured southeast-oriented to the newly eroded northeast-oriented Dry Creek valley and headward erosion of the Bad River-Brave Bull Creek valley captured southeast-oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Ash Creek valley. Northwest-oriented tributary valleys to the Dry Creek, Ash Creek, and Brave Bull Creek valleys were eroded by reversed flood flow on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes. Subsequently headward erosion of the Bad River valley and northeast-oriented tributary valleys further to the west captured all flood flow moving to the newly eroded Brave Bull Creek valley.

Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Okaton, South Dakota

Figure 8: Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Okaton, South Dakota. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 8 illustrates the Bad River-White River drainage divide area immediately east of the figure 6 map area and southeast of the figure 7 map area and includes overlap areas with both previous figures. Stamford, South Dakota is just west of the figure 8 west edge. The White River elbow capture is located in the figure 8 southwest corner (see figures 1 and 2 for big picture view). At this elbow of capture the northeast-oriented White River valley turns to become a southeast-oriented valley and tributaries to the southeast-oriented White River become longer as the valley progresses east, which means the Bad River-White River drainage divide becomes less asymmetric. Northeast-oriented Dry Creek headwaters drain the area immediately north of the White River valley west of Okaton and north-oriented Ash Draw, which flows to Dry Creek, is located in the figure 8 northeast corner. The area south of Okaton is drained by southeast-oriented Cottonwood Creek, which is the longest White River tributary from the north seen so far in this essay. Southeast-oriented flood water that was eroding the Cottonwood Creek valley headward was captured by Dry Creek valley headward erosion, however the northeast-oriented White River valley alignment and the northeast-oriented Dry Creek valley alignment suggest the northeast-oriented White River valley may have been a shallow extension of the northeast-oriented Dry Creek valley and was captured by headward erosion of the much deeper southeast-oriented White River valley segment. The northeast-oriented Bad River today flows to the southeast-oriented Missouri River as a barbed tributary (see figure 1). The northeast-oriented Bad River-Dry Creek valley eroded southwest to capture southeast-oriented flood water and divert that flood water to east and north of the present day Bad River-Missouri River confluence location. The White River does not enter the Missouri River as a barbed tributary (at least not as obviously so as the Bad River) and the White River valley probably was being eroded west and northwest from some early Missouri River valley version. Headward erosion of the two competing valleys reached the figure 8 location at approximately the same time and before the northeast-oriented Dry Creek valley captured all of the southeast-oriented flood flow. By beheading the northeast-oriented Dry Creek valley before it eroded further southwest, the deeper White River valley was able to erode southwest and west to capture southeast-oriented flood flow routes before headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Bad River valley and its tributary valleys could behead those southeast-oriented flood flow routes.

Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Murdo, South Dakota

Figure 9: Bad River-White River drainage divide area near Murdo, South Dakota. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 9 illustrates the Bad River-White River drainage divide immediately east of the figure 8 map area and includes overlap areas with figure 8. North-oriented White Clay Creek drains the area immediately north of Murdo to the northeast-oriented Bad River. The East Branch of White Clay Creek flows north in the figure 9 north center. South and southeast oriented drainage flows to the southeast and east-oriented White River south of the figure 9 map area. The Bad River-White River drainage divide in figure 9 is no longer an asymmetric drainage divide. Shallow through valleys link the north-oriented drainage routes with the south and southeast-oriented drainage routes and are evidence multiple flow routes once crossed the present day drainage divide. Southeast and northwest-oriented tributaries to the north-oriented trunk streams are evidence those north-oriented trunk stream valleys eroded south to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes and to behead flood flow routes that had been eroding the south and southeast-oriented valleys headward. While the figure 9 evidence looks different from the previous figure evidence the events recorded by this figure 9 evidence are very similar to the events recorded by previous figure evidence.

Bad River valley north of Murdo, South Dakota

Figure 10: Bad River valley north of Murdo, South Dakota. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 10 illustrates the Bad River valley north of the figure 9 map area and Murdo, South Dakota is located directly south of Union township located in the figure 10 south center. The northeast-oriented Bad River flows across the figure 10 northwest corner. north-northeast and north-oriented Dry  Creek (referred to in the figure 7 and 8 discussions) joins the Bad River along the figure 10 north center edge. Further east north-northwest-oriented White Clay Creek flows to the figure 10 north edge and then joins the Bad River north of the figure 10 map area. Still further east northwest-oriented Camp Creek flows across the figure 10 northeast quadrant to reach the northeast-oriented Bad River as a barbed tributary. The northwest-southeast orientation of tributaries to the major north-oriented Bad River tributaries is evidence those tributary valleys eroded south to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes and flood waters on the northwest ends of beheaded flood flow routes reversed flow direction to flow northwest and create northwest-oriented tributary valleys. The small lakes in the figure 10 northeast corner and west center are a landscape feature not seen previously in this essay. Evidence on maps of the scale used here is limited, but it is possible the lakes are evidence a decaying ice sheet remnant was present as flood water eroded the region. If so the flood water probably helped remove most of the decaying ice sheet remnant as it eroded the regional landscape. Similar evidence is seen further north and is described and interpreted in the eastern Grand River-Moreau River drainage divide area landform origins essay. Northeast of this figure 10 map area tributaries to the northeast-oriented Bad River tend to be northwest-oriented like Camp Creek in the figure 10 map area. This northwest-orientation of major Bad River tributaries suggests headward erosion of the Bad River valley was beheading major southeast-oriented flood flow routes and flood waters on the northwest ends of those beheaded flood flow routes were reversing flow direction to erode what are today the northwest-oriented Bad River tributary valleys.

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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