Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area landform origins west of Black Hills, northeast Wyoming, USA

Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

The Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area discussed here is located in Wyoming’s northeast quadrant. Although detailed topographic maps of this Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne 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. This Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne 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 Belle Fourche 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 northeast Wyoming  Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne 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 Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area landform evidence will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Wyoming Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide location map

Figure 1: Wyoming Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area location map (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 Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area. The Belle Fourche River begins in northeast Wyoming as a northeast-oriented stream and flows almost to the Montana state line where it turns abruptly to flow southeast along the Black Hills northeast flank into South Dakota where it joins the northeast-oriented Cheyenne River, which flows to the south and southeast-oriented Missouri River (just east of figure 1). The Cheyenne River also begins in Wyoming, south of the Belle Fourche River origin, and flows east and southeast into South Dakota where at the Black Hills south end it turns northeast to flow to its confluence with the Belle Fourche River and then to the south and southeast-oriented Missouri River. Major Cheyenne River tributaries shown on figure 1 include southeast-oriented Beaver and Black Thunder Creeks. Unnamed northwest-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries begin near the Beaver Creek and Black Thunder Creek headwaters. The Belle Fourche and Cheyenne River valleys almost completely encircle the Black Hills upland area. This essay address Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide landform evidence west and southwest of the Black Hills upland area (i.e. Belle Fourche River-Beaver Creek drainage divide area west and southwest of Beaver Creek including Belle Fourche River-Beaver Creek drainage divide area) and other essays address Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide landform evidence in the Black Hills upland area (northeast of the Belle Fourche River-Beaver Creek drainage divide-essays can be found under Black Hills on the sidebar category list). The interpretation presented here is immense southeast-oriented floods eroded what are today the Belle Fourche and Cheyenne River drainage basins. Headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Cheyenne River valley (east of the Black Hills) and then headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley (west of the Black Hills) captured the southeast-oriented floods. The flood water source cannot be determined from evidence presented here, although by use of evidence illustrated in other essays published on this website flood waters can be traced headward to a North American ice sheet location. Rapid melting of a thick North American ice sheet, which through its weight and erosive actions created a “hole” in the North American continent and caused significant crustal warping elsewhere (perhaps in the Black Hills area), would be a logical flood water source.

Detailed Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide location map

Figure 2: Detailed Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide location map. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 2 provides a detailed Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area location map for the region this essay addresses. Detailed maps below will begin with the Belle Fourche River-Beaver Creek drainage divide area which is located near Upton, Wyoming where multiple southeast-oriented Beaver Creek tributaries originate. Northwest of these Beaver Creek tributaries are headwaters of various northwest-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries. Next will be detailed maps of the drainage divide area between southeast-oriented Lodgepole Creek and northwest-oriented Raven Creek and Four Horse Creek (the unnamed Belle Fourche River tributary west of Raven Creek). Continuing southwest along the Belle Fourche River the essay next addresses Belle Fourche River-Black Thunder Creek drainage divide area evidence. The final detailed maps will address Belle Fourche River-Bates Creek drainage divide area evidence. Note the predominance of southeast-oriented Cheyenne River tributaries and northwest-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries flowing from the present day Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area. This northwest-southeast oriented drainage alignment is evidence southeast-oriented flood water flowed across the region in multiple channels characteristic of a large-scale southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Further this drainage alignment is evidence the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley eroded headward (or southwest) to capture the southeast-oriented flood flow that had been flowing to the Cheyenne River drainage basin and to divert that flood flow northeast and around the Black Hills north end. Northwest-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries originated with reversals of flood flow already on the northwest ends of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes. The reversed flood flow moved northwest on what had been southeast-oriented flood flow channels to the newly eroded northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley and by doing so created the present day Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide.

Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area east of Upton

Figure 3: Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area east of Upton. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 3 illustrates the Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area northeast of Upton, Wyoming. South and southeast-oriented streams are headwaters of tributaries flowing to southeast-oriented Beaver Creek, which flows to the Cheyenne River. Northwest-oriented streams are headwaters of northwest-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries. Note shallow through valleys connecting northwest-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries with south and southeast-oriented Beaver Creek tributaries. Figure 4 below will illustrate that Upton is located in a broad northwest-southeast oriented through valley, which is today drained to the northwest by Belle Fourche River tributaries and to the southeast by Beaver Creek and its tributaries. While this through valley may be related to geologic structures and underlying bedrock characteristics, large volumes of flood water once moved southeast through the valley to what was then the actively eroding and developing Cheyenne River drainage basin. This southeast flow of flood water ceased when the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley eroded headward and beheaded this major southeast-oriented flood flow route. Flood waters already on the northwest end of the beheaded flood flow route reversed their flow direction to flow northwest to the newly eroded Belle Fourche River valley and to create the Belle Fourche Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide that now separates the through valley northwest and southeast segments.

Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area west of Upton

Figure 4: Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area west of Upton. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 4 illustrates the region immediately west of the figure 3 map area with significant overlap. The combined figure 3 and 4 view better illustrates the northwest-southeast-oriented through valley linking the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River drainage basin with the southeast-oriented Cheyenne River drainage basin. Note the southeast-oriented Beaver Creek source area near Buffalo Reservoir located west of Upton. Beaver Creek flows to the Cheyenne River and most other southeast-oriented streams are Beaver Creek tributaries. Northwest-oriented Buffalo Creek begins south of figure 4 and flows across the figure 4 southwest corner to join the northwest-oriented Belle Fourche River. Buffalo Creek headwaters are linked to south-oriented tributaries to the southeast-oriented Lodgepole Creek, which flows to the Cheyenne River. Northeast-oriented streams near Thornton flow to the northwest-oriented Wind Creek, which flows to the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River. The drainage history recorded by the figure 4 evidence begins with southeast-oriented flood water flowing over the entire figure 4 map area. Floodwaters were able to erode a significant southeast-oriented valley along less resistant bedrock units headward from the actively eroding southeast-oriented Cheyenne River drainage basin. Southeast-oriented flood flow across the figure 4 map region ceased when headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley captured the flood flow and diverted the water to the northeast. Flood waters already on the northwest ends of the beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes reversed flow direction to flow in a northwest direction to the newly eroded Belle Fourche valley, to create the northwest-oriented Belle Fourche River tributary valleys, and to create the present day Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide.

Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area near Raven

Figure 5: Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide area near Raven. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 5 illustrates a Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide region southwest of the figure 4 map area (there is no overlap, but the northeast-oriented headwaters of West Fork of northwest-oriented Buffalo Creek seen in the figure 4 southwest corner are located in the figure 5 northeast corner). Figure 5 southeast-oriented drainage is to southeast-oriented Lodgepole Creek, which flows to the Cheyenne River. Headwaters of unnamed (on figure 5) Lodgepole Creek are located in the figure 5 south center just west of southeast-oriented Sage Creek. Northwest-oriented Raven Creek and northwest-oriented Four Horse Creek are independent northwest-oriented Belle Fourche River tributaries. Note through valleys linking headwaters of  northwest-oriented Raven and Four Horse Creeks with headwaters of southeast-oriented Lodgepole Creek and its tributaries. Drainage history events recorded by the figure 5 evidence begin with southeast-oriented flood flow moving across the entire figure 5 map area, probably along multiple southeast-oriented anastomosing channels. Headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River then beheaded and captured the southeast-oriented flood as it eroded to the southwest and caused flood waters already on the northwest ends of the beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes to reverse flow direction and to flow in a northwest direction to the newly eroded Belle Fourche River valley. Beheading of southeast-oriented flood flow routes did not occur simultaneously. Southeast-oriented flood flow on the Raven Creek alignment was beheaded first while southeast-oriented flood flow continued to move uninterrupted on the Four Horse Creek alignment. Reversed flood flow on the newly beheaded Raven Creek alignment captured southeast-oriented flood flow from the yet to be beheaded Four Horse Creek alignment. Evidence of these captures is preserved today in the form of east and northeast-oriented Raven Creek tributaries with through valleys linking the Four Horse Creek and Raven Creek drainage basins. The process was repeated over and over again as the actively eroding Belle Fourche River valley eroded further and further to the southwest.

Detailed map of Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide at Raven

Figure 6: Detailed map of Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide at Raven. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 6 is a detailed map of the Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide near Raven where headwaters of northwest-oriented Raven Creek are linked by multiple through valleys with headwaters of southeast-oriented Lodgepole Creek tributaries. Raven Creek is the stream flowing north at Raven and two east-oriented Raven Creek tributaries can be seen in the figure 6 northwest corner. Southeast-oriented streams in the figure 6 southeast corner are headwaters of southeast-oriented Lodgepole Creek tributaries. Note the multiple through valleys crossing the Raven Creek-Lodgepole Creek drainage divide. These multiple through valleys are evidence flood flow across the divide was moving in multiple channels typical of an anastomosing channel complex. Also note the northwest-southeast oriented streamlining of hills south of the drainage divide. The drainage divide here was created when headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley beheaded and captured southeast-oriented flood flow moving on the Raven Creek-Lodgepole Creek alignment. Flood flow already on the northwest end of that beheaded flood flow reversed direction to flow northwest to the newly eroded Belle Fourche River valley. That reversed flood flow captured southeast-oriented flood flow from yet to be beheaded flood flow routes further to the west and some of that captured water moved east along the east-oriented Raven Creek tributaries in figure 6.

Black Thunder Creek headwaters area

Figure 7: Black Thunder Creek headwaters area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 7 illustrates a Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide region southwest of the figure 6 map area and there is a small area of overlap (note Four Horse Creek headwaters in the figure 7 northeast corner). Northwest oriented streams from east to west are Four Horse Creek (figure 7 northeast corner), Dry Creek (figure 7 north center), and Coal Creek (figure 7 northwest corner). Southeast-oriented streams in the figure 7 southeast quadrant are Bacon Creek and Bacon Creek tributaries. Bacon Creek flows southeast to southeast-oriented Black Thunder Creek, which flows to the Cheyenne River (see figure 2). Black Thunder Creek originates as a southeast-oriented stream just east of Two Top in the figure 7 southwest corner. The northwest-southeast-oriented drainage alignment and shallow through valleys linking headwaters of the northwest-oriented streams with headwaters of the southwest-oriented streams provide evidence flood waters once flowed in multiple channels, typical of an anastomosing channel complex, across the figure 7 map area. Headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River (located north of the figure 7 map area) beheaded and captured the southeast-oriented flood flow routes. Evidence that beheading of the southeast-oriented flood flow routes occurred in sequence as the Belle Fourche River valley eroded southwest is present in the form of east-oriented tributaries to northwest-oriented Four Horse Creek. For example Jay Creek (figure 7 northeast corner) originates as a southeast-oriented stream, then flows east to a northeast-oriented Four Horse Creek segment, and north of the figure 7 northeast corner Four Horse Creek turns northwest to flow to the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River. What happened to produce this arrangement is reversed flood flow on the northwest end of the beheaded southeast-oriented Four Horse Creek alignment flood flow route captured southeast-oriented flood water continuing to flow on the yet to be beheaded southeast-oriented Yellow Hammer (not shown in figure 7) and Dry Creek alignments and that captured flood flow was responsible for eroding the Jay Creek valley west and northwest. Similar histories describe the origin the northeast-oriented South Fork Jay Creek valley and the east-oriented Corral Creek valley segment.

Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide near Reno Junction

Figure 8: Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide near Reno Junction. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 8 illustrates a Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide region southwest of the figure 7 map area (there is some overlap, the figure 7 southwest corner overlaps the figure 8 northeast corner). Headwaters of southeast-oriented Little Thunder Creek and tributaries are located east and southeast of Reno Junction. Little Thunder Creek flows southeast and east to southeast-oriented Black Thunder Creek and then to the Cheyenne River. Note how the Little Thunder Creek headwaters begin in an escarpment-surrounded basin. That escarpment-surrounded basin is an abandoned headcut that eroded northwest from the Cheyenne River valley as southeast-oriented flood waters deeply eroded the entire region. Northeast, north, and northeast-oriented Hay Creek turns north and north-northwest (north of figure 8) to flow to the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River. North-northeast oriented Rocky Butte Gulch turns northwest to flow to the north-northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River. East-oriented West Fork Hay Creek and Billie Creek (flowing to Hay Creek) provide evidence reversed flood flow moving north on the present day Hay Creek valley route to the newly eroded northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley captured southeast-oriented flood waters from yet to be beheaded flood flow routes. Events recorded by the figure 8 evidence begin with southeast-oriented flood flow moving across the entire figure 8 map region and headward erosion of what is today the large southeast-oriented Little Thunder Creek abandoned headcut. Headward erosion of the Little Thunder Creek abandoned headcut ceased when headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes causing a reversal of flow that captured continuing southeast-oriented flood flow from yet to be beheaded flood flow routes further to the southwest. The Hay Creek drainage basin was eroded by such captured flood waters moving to the newly eroded Belle Fourche River valley. As the Belle Fourche River eroded further southwest it beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow on the Rocky Butte Gulch (northwest-oriented segment) alignment and reversed flow on that alignment captured southeast-oriented flow moving to the newly developed Hay Creek drainage basin. Finally the Belle Fourche River valley eroded south to capture flood waters moving to the Rocky Butte Gulch and Hay Creek drainage basins and flood flow over the figure 8 map area ceased.

Belle Fourche-Cheyenne River drainage divide area near Pine Tree

Figure 9: Belle Fourche-Cheyenne River drainage divide area near Pine Tree. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 9 illustrates a Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide region southwest of the figure 8 map area (the highway can serve as a reference feature). The northeast-oriented South Prong of the Belle Fourche River is just north of the northeast-oriented highway. East-oriented All Night Creek and northeast-oriented South All Night Creek are the Belle Fourche River tributaries located in the figure 9 northwest quadrant. The Reno Flats area to the southeast of the South Prong Belle Fourche River is drained by headwaters of southeast-oriented Bates Creek and various Bates Creek tributaries. Bates Creek flows in a southeast direction to the east-oriented Antelope Creek and then to the Cheyenne River. Spring Creek flows southeast in the figure 9 southeast quadrant while in the figure 9 northeast quadrant Porcupine Creek flows southeast. Spring Creek and Porcupine Creek are independent southeast-oriented Antelope Creek tributaries, with Antelope Creek flowing east to the Cheyenne River. Events recorded by the figure 9 begin with southeast-oriented flood waters flowing across the entire figure 9 map area probably in an anastomosing complex of southeast-oriented flood flow channels. Large headcuts eroded northwest from the actively eroding Cheyenne River-Antelope Creek valley system along major southeast-oriented flow routes including routes that are now the southeast-oriented Porcupine Creek, Spring Creek, and Bates Creek valley routes. Headward erosion of the southeast-oriented headcuts ceased as headward erosion of the northeast-oriented South Prong Belle Fourche River valley progressively captured the various southeast-oriented flood flow routes. K Bar Draw was eroded by reversed flow on the northwest end of the beheaded Spring Creek alignment flood flow route. Headward erosion of the east-oriented All Night Creek valley captured all southeast-oriented flood flow moving to the South Prong Belle Fourche River and headward erosion of the South Prong Belle Fourche River ceased.

Detailed map of Belle Fourche River-Little Bates Creek drainage divide

Figure 10: Detailed map of Belle Fourche River-Little Bates Creek drainage divide. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 10 provides a detailed map of the Belle Fourche River (South Prong Belle Fourche River in figure 9)-Little Bates Creek drainage divide. The Belle Fourche River originates near the figure 10 west edge and flows northeast to the figure 10 north center. Little Bates Creek flows southeast in the figure 10 southeast quadrant. Headwaters of southeast-oriented North Bates Creek are located in the figure 10 southwest corner. Headwaters of southeast-oriented Spring Creek can be seen in the figure 10 northeast quadrant. Note how multiple through valleys link the southeast-oriented Little Bates Creek valley with the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley. These multiple through valleys are evidence the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River valley eroded headward or southwest to capture multiple southeast-oriented flood flow routes. Not only is there evidence of multiple major southeast-oriented flood flow routes such as the independent Spring Creek, Little Bates Creek, and North Bates Creek routes, but there is also evidence of multiple flow routes associated with each of those major flood flow routes. The Belle Fourche River-Cheyenne River drainage divide in this figure 10 region was created when headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Belle Fourche River progressively captured the southeast-oriented flood flow routes as Belle Fourche River valley erosion progressed to the southwest. North of the Belle Fourche River is evidence of southeast-oriented valleys that carried southeast-oriented flood flow to the eroding Belle Fourche River valley until those flood flow routes were captured by headward erosion of the All Night Creek valley (see figure 9). Once flood flow ceased to reach the figure 10 map area headward erosion of the Belle Fourche River valley also ceased.

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 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: