Deep and Sand Creek drainage basins landform origins, southwest North Dakota, USA

Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

Deep and Sand Creek are Little Missouri River tributaries located in southwest North Dakota, USA. Although detailed topographic maps of the Deep and Sand Creek drainage basins have been available for fifty years detailed topographic map evidence has not previously been used to interpret Deep and Sand Creek drainage basin geomorphic history. The interpretation provided here is based entirely on topographic map evidence. Based on map evidence the Deep and Sand Creek drainage basins were eroded during immense flood events, the first of which flowed on a topographic surface at least as high as the highest points in the present-day Deep and Sand Creek drainage basins. Flood erosion ended when continued headward erosion of the deep Little Missouri 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 southwest North Dakota’s Deep and Sand Creek drainage basin 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 Deep and Sand Creek drainage basin landform evidence will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Deep Creek and Sand Creek location map

Figure 1: Deep Creek and Sand Creek location map (select and click on maps to enlarge). United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Deep Creek flows north-northwest and north-northeast to join the Little Missouri River. A Deep Creek tributary originates south of the Sand Creek headwaters and flows west to reach Deep Creek. Sand Creek begins as a west-oriented stream, but turns to flow in a north-northwest direction between Black Butte and Chalky Buttes and also reach the Little Missouri River. East of the Sand Creek drainage basin is the Cannonball River drainage basin. West of the Deep Creek drainage basin is the Little Missouri River drainage basin. East and south of Deep Creek headwaters area is the Grand River drainage basin. Note southeast-oriented tributaries flowing to the north-oriented Little Missouri River, and southeast-oriented streams in the Cannonball River drainage basin. This drainage alignment originated with a southeast-oriented flood movement across the region prior to Little Missouri River valley headward erosion. Black Butte, Chalky Buttes and White Butte represent some of the highest points in North Dakota and the presence of these erosional residuals defined the Deep Creek and Sand Creek routes. Prior to Little Missouri River valley headward erosion Black Butte and Chalky Buttes diverted southeast-oriented flood waters to flow south around the butte area. For this reason two parallel south-southeast oriented flood flow routes developed on either side of Black Butte. When the deep Little Missouri River valley eroded south to behead the southeast-oriented flood flow, flow on the Sand Creek route was beheaded first and reversed direction to flow back to the newly eroded deep Little Missouri River valley. Flood flow on the Deep Creek route was beheaded next and also reversed direction to flow back to the newly eroded deep Little Missouri River valley.

Deep Creek and Sand Creek where they enter the Little Missouri River valley

Figure 2: Deep Creek and Sand Creek where they enter the Little Missouri River valley. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 2 provides a detailed view of the northern Deep Creek and Sand Creek drainage basins. Both streams flow to a deep west to east oriented Little Missouri River valley segment near the point where the Little Missouri River valley turns to become a north-oriented valley. Note how Little Missouri River tributaries east of Sand Creek flow in a northwest direction while Sand Creek and Deep Creek have north-northwest orientations. The tributary valleys east of Sand Creek were eroded by reversals of beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes that existed north of Chalky Buttes, while the Sand Creek valley was eroded by reversals of beheaded southeast-oriented flood water that was diverted to flow in a south-southeast direction to move around the Chalky Buttes south end and the Deep Creek valley was eroded by reversals of southeast-oriented flood water that was diverted to flow in a south-southeast direction around both Black Butte and Chalky Buttes. The northeast-oriented Deep Creek segment probably eroded southwest to capture southeast-oriented flood water, but that southeast-oriented flow was beheaded when the deep Little Missouri River valley eroded across the south-southeast oriented Sand Creek and Deep Creek flood flow routes and captured what had been southeast-oriented flood flow moving to what was then the newly formed northeast-oriented Deep Creek valley. Note the southeast-oriented Deep Creek tributaries that were systematically beheaded as the deep Little Missouri River valley eroded west and then south.

Sand Creek-Cannonball River drainage divide located north of Chalky Buttes

Figure 3: Sand Creek-Cannonball River drainage divide located north of Chalky Buttes. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

The drainage divide between the north-northwest oriented Sand Creek and northeast-oriented Cannonball River headwaters can be observed in figure 3. Sand Creek drains the west side of Chalky Buttes while the Cannonball River drains the east side. A west and northwest-oriented Sand Creek tributary drains  the basin of a west-oriented abandoned headcut between Chalky Buttes and Amidon. This west-oriented headcut was eroded by reversals of southeast-oriented flood flow moving to southeast-oriented North Cedar Creek headwaters further to the southeast. The flood flow reversals occurred when the deep Little Missouri River valley beheaded the southeast-oriented flood flow. As the west-oriented Sand Creek tributary valley was being eroded by the flood reversals the northeast-oriented Cannonball River valley captured the reversed flow to end the valley erosion and establish drainage routes we see today. The north-northwest Sand Creek valley between Black Butte (see figure 4) and Chalky Buttes suggests it was eroded first as a south-southeast-oriented valley and then, when the Little Missouri River valley beheaded the south-oriented flood flow, by the reversed north-northwest oriented flood flow moving to the newly eroded deep Little Missouri River valley. The Chalky Buttes east face probably was eroded as a northeast-oriented Cannonball River valley head. Both interpretations imply flood waters originally flowed on a topographic surface at least as high as the present-day butte tops and the surrounding bedrock was stripped to produce the present-day landscape when the southeast-oriented flood waters eroded broad and deep valleys into that high topographic surface.

Drainage divides at White Butte

Figure 4: Drainage divides at White Butte. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

White Butte is today North Dakota’s highest point. Elevations at Chalky Buttes and Black Butte (west of Tepee Butte) are almost as high. Figure 4 illustrates Sand Creek headwaters at White Butte. Note how Sand Creek begins south of White Butte and flows southwest and west before turning northwest to flow between Chalky Buttes and Slide Butte. Also note the west oriented Sand Creek tributary at Duff Gulch. These west oriented Sand Creek headwaters originated when southeast-oriented flood waters flowed south between Slide Butte and Chalky Butte and then east and northeast to reach the northeast-oriented Cannonball River tributary valleys. West-oriented Deep Creek tributaries can be seen in figure 4 south of Tepee Butte and also west of Rattlesnake Butte. These west oriented Deep Creek tributaries had a similar origin as the west-oriented Sand Creek tributaries and are reversals of flow routes that moved southeast-oriented flood waters around the Black Butte-Chalky Buttes upland south end. The deep valleys carved between the buttes suggest flood waters first moved across a topographic surface at least as high as the present-day butte tops. The valleys were initiated as east-oriented valleys by flood waters moving south-southeast and then east as Cannonball River drainage basin valleys eroded northwest and then southwest into the region. The present-day west- and north-northwest Sand Creek and Deep Creek valleys were eroded when the deep Little Missouri River valley beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow to the Cannonball River valley system and flood waters reversed direction to flow back towards the newly eroded deep Little Missouri River valley.

Through valleys across the Deep Creek-Sand Creek drainage divide

Figure 5: Through valleys across the Deep Creek-Sand Creek drainage divide. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Multiple through valleys cross the Deep Creek-Sand Creek drainage divide indicating water once moved from one drainage basin to the other. Note how in figure 5 many of the Deep Creek tributaries are northwest-oriented and many, but not all of the Sand Creek tributaries are northeast-oriented. Like elsewhere in the region the northwest-oriented Deep Creek tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of southeast-oriented flood waters when those southeast-oriented flood flow routes were beheaded so water could flow back into the newly eroded deep north-oriented Deep Creek valley. However, the south-southeast oriented Sand Creek flood flow route was beheaded before the deep Little Missouri River valley beheaded the south-oriented Deep Creek flood flow route. Flood waters on the Sand Creek flood flow route reversed direction to flow back to the newly eroded deep Little Missouri River valley while flood water was still moving south-southeast along the Deep Creek flood flow route. South-southeast oriented Deep Creek flood flow route water was captured by the new north-northwest oriented Sand Creek valley. The result was flood waters moved southeast from the Deep Creek flood flow route and then were captured by newly developed northeast-oriented Sand Creek tributaries. There are some complications to this pattern. For example, headwaters of the northwest-oriented Deep Creek tributary beginning in section 20 (figure 5) are linked by a through valley to headwaters of a Sand Creek tributary flowing northeast in section 21 and 22. A northwest-oriented tributary joins this northeast-oriented Sand Creek tributary in section 23. This northwest-oriented tributary is a relic of the southeast-oriented flood flow prior to reversal of flood flow on the Sand Creek route.  Note the through valley between the northwest-oriented tributary headwaters and the north-northwest oriented Sand Creek.

Deep Creek-Cedar Creek drainage divide

Figure 6: Deep Creek-Cedar Creek drainage divide. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

The Deep Creek drainage basin extends further south than the Sand Creek drainage basin and northwest-oriented Deep Creek tributaries are linked by through valleys to southeast-oriented Cedar Creek headwaters (Cedar Creek is a Cannonball River tributary). Figure 6 illustrates some of those northwest-to-southeast oriented through valleys in a region south of Black Butte and Chalky Buttes. Figure 6 through valleys represent just a small segment of a much larger northwest-to-southeast oriented anastomosing channel complex carved by flood waters moving from the Deep Creek drainage basin to the Cedar Creek drainage basin and then back. Through valleys can be as much as 100 feet (30 meters) deep at the present-day Deep Creek-Cedar Creek drainage divide and deepen in both directions. The through valleys are at different elevations indicating flood waters originally flowed on a topographic surface at least as high as the highest valley elevations (evidence north of figure 6 suggests flood waters flowed on a much higher topographic surface elevation). These anastomosing through valleys provide evidence why the regional aligned drainage pattern needs to be explained by a large southeast-oriented flood that was locally beheaded so flood waters reversed direction to flow northwest. The landscape in figure 6 was originally carved by southeast-oriented flood waters moving from the present-day Deep Creek drainage basin to the present-day Cedar Creek drainage basin. The southeast-oriented flood flow was reversed when the deep Little Missouri River valley beheaded south-southeast oriented flood flow on the Deep Creek flood flow route. Reversed flood waters flowing back to the deep and newly eroded Little Missouri River valley eroded the northwest-oriented Deep Creek tributary valleys and the north-northwest oriented Deep Creek valley.

South end of the Deep Creek drainage basin

Figure 7: South end of the Deep Creek drainage basin. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 7 map area illustrates the south end of the Deep Creek drainage basin. The West Fork Deep Creek flows in a north-northeast direction from north of Rhame. The East Fork Deep Creek flows in a northwest direction in the northeast corner of figure 7. Spring Creek flows in a southeast direction along the highway to reach the southeast-oriented North Fork of the Grand River. Flowing west from Rhame is another Spring Creek, which eventually reaches the north-oriented Little Missouri River. Tributaries flowing east to reach the north-oriented West Fork Deep Creek generally flow in a southeast direction and are barbed tributaries. Tributaries flowing west to West Fork Deep Creek generally flow in a northwest direction and their valleys were formed by reversals of southeast-oriented flood waters when the north-oriented West Fork Deep Creek headcut beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow routes. Some tributaries flowing from the west to East Fork Deep Creek are northeast-oriented and suggest the north-oriented East Fork Deep Creek valley eroded south to capture the southeast-oriented flood waters before the West Fork Deep Creek valley did. Note through valleys linking the West Fork Deep Creek headwaters with headwaters of the southeast-oriented Spring Creek, the northwest-oriented West Fork Deep Creek tributaries with the east and northeast-oriented East Fork Deep Creek tributaries, and the southeast-oriented Spring Creek with the west-oriented Spring Creek. An unusual anastomosing channel complex can be seen in the through valley system linking the West Fork Deep Creek valley with the East Fork Deep Creek valley.

Deep Creek-Grand River drainage divide at Rhame

Figure 8: Deep Creek-Grand River drainage divide at Rhame. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 8 illustrates a detailed map of the Rhame area and the drainage divide between the north-oriented West Fork Deep Creek, the southeast-oriented Spring Creek, which flows to the North Fork Grand River, and a southwest-oriented stream that turns west to eventually reach the Little Missouri River (figure 7 provides a big picture view of the same area). A few of the multiple through valleys linking what are today three separate drainage basins are shown. The maze of through valleys in this region is a flood-eroded anastomosing channel complex. Through valleys linking the north-oriented West Fork Deep Creek headwaters with the southeast-oriented Spring Creek headwaters tend to be northwest to southeast oriented and were eroded by southeast-oriented flood waters being captured by headward erosion of the southeast-oriented Spring Creek valley. The north-oriented West Fork Deep Creek tributary was eroded by reversals of flow when the deep north-oriented Little Missouri River valley beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow moving to the Deep Creek drainage basin. Southwest oriented streams (south and southwest of Rhame) flowing to the west-oriented western Spring Creek probably represent reversals of northeast-oriented flood flow moving from southeast-oriented flood flow routes to the newly eroded and deep southeast-oriented Spring Creek valley. This northeast-oriented flood flow reversed direction when the deeper north-oriented Little Missouri River valley beheaded the southeast-flow routes and caused a reversal of flood flow to create the west-oriented Spring Creek drainage network.

West Fork Deep Creek elbow of capture

Figure 9: West Fork Deep Creek elbow of capture. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

While Sand Creek and East Fork Deep Creek tributaries from the west are frequently northeast oriented (see figure 5 discussion) West Fork Deep Creek tributaries typically flow in a southeast direction to join the northeast and north oriented West Fork Deep Creek. Figure 9 illustrates the southeast-oriented West Fork Deep Creek headwaters and the elbow of capture where the southeast-oriented stream becomes a northeast-oriented stream. Also shown are two southeast-oriented West Fork Deep Creek tributaries and a southeast jog the northeast-oriented West Fork Deep Creek makes. The southeast-oriented West Fork Deep Creek tributaries are linked by through valleys to northwest and west-oriented Little Missouri River tributaries. The north and northwest-oriented West Fork Deep Creek tributaries are flowing north from the map area shown in figure 8. These north and northwest-oriented tributaries are reversals of flood flow routes to the deep southeast-oriented Spring Creek valley, which had eroded headward from the North Fork Grand River to the Rhame area shown in figure 8. Southeast-oriented flood flow to the Spring Creek valley was captured when the deeper north-oriented West Fork Deep Creek valley eroded headward into the region. Southeast-oriented flood flow to the West Fork Deep Creek valley was beheaded when the deeper Little Missouri River valley headcut eroded southward and captured all the southeast-oriented flood flow.

Summary of Deep Creek and Sand Creek geomorphic history

  • Deep Creek and Sand Creek both flow north-northwest in Slope County to join the deep Little Missouri River valley near where it turns from being an east-oriented valley to being a north-oriented valley. There appears to be a relationship between the present-day location of a cluster of high buttes including Black Butte, Slide Butte, Chalky Buttes and White Butte (the highest point in North Dakota) and the location and orientation of the Deep Creek and Sand Creek drainage basins. The north-northwest oriented Deep Creek route is west of Black Butte while the north-northwest Sand Creek route is between Slide Butte (east of Black Butte) and Chalky Buttes. Both the Deep Creek and the Sand Creek routes are interpreted to have originated when southeast-oriented flood waters eroded deep headcuts into a topographic surface at least as high as the present-day tops. The present-day buttes were left as erosional residuals when the southeast-oriented flood waters eroded deep headcuts that stripped the regional landscape and channeled flood waters south and west of, and also between, the resistant butte rock masses. Most southeast-oriented flood waters moved in a south and southeast-oriented maze of anastomosing channels to the present-day Cedar Creek drainage basin, although until flood flow in the Cedar Creek drainage basin was captured by headward erosion of a deep northeast-oriented Cannonball River drainage basin (see Cannonball River drainage basin essay found under North Dakota Missouri Slope on sidebar category list), the flood water flowed southeast beyond the Cedar Creek drainage basin to the Grand River headcut.
  • Flood waters moving in a southeast direction in the southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex that later became the Sand Creek and Deep Creek routes were captured by headward erosion of the deep north-oriented Little Missouri River valley. Flood waters moving on what became the Sand Creek route were beheaded first and flood waters already moving south-southeast on that route reversed direction to flow back to the newly eroded deep Little Missouri River valley. This flood flow reversal was responsible for eroding the deep north-northwest oriented Sand Creek valley. For a time, while reversed flood waters were eroding a north-northwest oriented valley on the Sand Creek route, southeast-oriented flood waters continued on the south-southeast oriented anastomosing channels occupying the Deep Creek route and flow on some of those southeast-oriented channels was captured by the new and deeper north-northwest oriented Sand Creek valley. These captures resulted in new northeast-oriented Sand Creek tributaries. When southeast-oriented flood flow to the Deep Creek channels was also beheaded and the deep north-oriented Deep Creek valley beheaded southeast flood flow feeding the new northeast-oriented Sand Creek tributaries, the southeast-oriented flood flow east of the Deep Creek valley also reversed direction to flow back into the north-oriented Deep Creek valley, eroding the present-day northwest-oriented Deep Creek tributary valleys. Because the Deep Creek valley eroded south across the southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex, flood flow moving south of the Deep Creek valley head continued to move southeast and to supply a new source of flood waters to feed newly developed and rapidly growing deeper north-oriented valleys located to the north and east.

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 the detailed 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 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.

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