Solomon River drainage basin landform origins, Kansas, USA, overview essay

· Kansas, Overview essays, Solomon River
Authors

A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence

Abstract:

This essay provides highlights from more detailed essays using topographic map evidence to interpret Solomon River drainage basin landform origins. The detailed essays can be found under Solomon River on this website’s sidebar category list. All interpretations of Solomon River drainage basin history in this overview essay and in the more detailed essays are based on topographic map evidence and no effort has been made to introduce evidence from other sources. The North and South Forks Solomon River both begin in the same general region of western Kansas and flow in east-northeast and east directions into north central Kansas where the Solomon River is formed near Cawker City. The Solomon River then flows in an east-southeast and southeast direction to join the Smoky Hill River near Solomon, Kansas (east of Salina). The Smoky Hill River then flows to Junction City, Kansas where the Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers combine to form the Kansas River, which flows in an east direction to join the Missouri River at Kansas City, Missouri. Significant topographic map evidence illustrated and discussed in the detailed essays suggests the Solomon River valley and the North and South Fork Solomon River valleys eroded headward from what was then a newly eroded Smoky Hill River valley to capture immense south and southeast-oriented floods, which were moving across a topographic surface at least as high as the highest Solomon River drainage basin elevations today. Headward erosion of the South Fork Solomon River valley was slightly in advance of North Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion. Flood waters were probably derived from a rapidly melting North American ice sheet and flowed across Nebraska and into Kansas. Headward erosion of the Solomon River-South Fork Solomon River valley from the newly eroded Smoky Hill River valley beheaded flood flow routes to what was then the newly eroded Saline River valley. North Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion followed soon after and beheaded south oriented flood flow to the newly eroded South Fork Solomon River valley. Headward erosion of the east-oriented Republican River valley and northeast-oriented Republican River tributary valleys then beheaded south and southeast-oriented flood flow routes to the newly eroded North Fork Solomon River valley. Evidence supporting this flood origin interpretation is illustrated and described in the detailed essays and includes the positions and orientations of the Solomon River, South Fork Solomon River, North Fork Solomon River, Republican River valleys and their tributary valleys and numerous north-south oriented shallow through valleys crossing present day drainage divides.

Figure 1: Solomon River location map showing an area in northern west-central Kansas and an area of south central Nebraska (select and click on maps to enlarge). National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Solomon River drainage history

This essay provides an overview of more detailed essays illustrating and describing topographic map evidence to interpret Solomon River drainage basin landform origins. The detailed essays can be found under Solomon River on this website’s sidebar category list. Drainage history interpretations in this overview essay and in the more detailed essays are based on topographic map evidence and no effort has been made to include evidence from other sources. Interpretations are also based on a “thick ice sheet that melted fast” geomorphology paradigm, which is fundamentally different from geomorphology paradigms used by previously published interpretations. The North and South Forks of the Solomon River originate in western Kansas (near the figure 1 west edge) near Colby, Kansas. The North Fork Solomon River flows in an east-northeast and east-southeast direction and joins the east-northeast South Fork Solomon River near Cawker City, Kansas to form the east-southeast and southeast oriented Solomon River. The Solomon River then joins the Smoky Hill River near Solomon, Kansas (located east of Salina, Kansas in the figure 1 southeast quadrant). The Smoky Hill River then flows to Junction City to join the Republican River and to form the east-northeast oriented Kansas River. South of the Solomon River drainage basin is the east and east-southeast oriented Saline River drainage basin and south of the Saline River drainage basin is the east-oriented Smoky Hill River drainage basin. North and east of the Solomon River drainage basin is the east and south-southeast oriented Republican River drainage basin and west of the Solomon River drainage are northeast-oriented Republican River tributaries (with the east-oriented Republican River segments located in southern Nebraska near the Kansas state line). The Republican River, Solomon River, Saline River, and Smoky Hill River all originate in the same general region of western Kansas and eastern Colorado and then diverge to flow along different routes into central and eastern Kansas where they converge to form the east-oriented Kansas River. This divergence and convergence of valleys suggests the Republican, Solomon, Saline, and Smoky Hill River valleys and some of their major tributary valleys originated as channels in what was once a giant east-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Readers wanting to learn more about evidence in the other Kansas River tributary drainage basins are encouraged to look at essays under the following Kansas River tributary names (on this website’s sidebar category list): Republican River, Saline River, Smoky Hill River, Big Blue River, and Kansas River.

  • The giant east-oriented anastomosing channel complex was eroded headward across massive south and southeast-oriented flood flow, which was moving across Nebraska and Kansas to what were then actively eroding tributary valleys eroding headward from the newly eroded Arkansas River valley. The south and southeast-oriented flood waters were derived from a rapidly melting thick North American ice sheet, the southwest margin of which at that time was located roughly along the line of the present day Missouri River in South and North Dakota. The ice sheet when fully developed had been as large, if not larger, than the present day Antarctic Ice Sheet and had formed on a surface which no longer exists. At one time the ice sheet may have stood two or more kilometers above the surface on which it formed and may have had “roots” that extended a kilometer or more below the original non glaciated surface. The deep “hole” in which the ice sheet was located was formed by deep glacial erosion and by crustal warping caused by the ice sheet’s tremendous weight. Ice sheet caused crustal warping was also probably responsible for uplift of surrounding regions including Rocky Mountain uplift and regional uplift that raised eastern Colorado and western Kansas as melt water floods flowed across those regions. At the time of Kansas River tributary drainage basin formation considerable ice sheet melting had already occurred and probably in the south only the decaying ice sheet “roots” remained. Earlier melt water floods may have stripped hundreds of meters of bedrock material from the Kansas surface, although topographic map evidence provides no way to verify this possibility. At the time of Kansas River drainage basin formation immense floods were flowing directly south across eastern Kansas from the rapidly melting ice sheet and converging with immense southeast-oriented ice-marginal floods, some of which had originated in western Canada and had flowed in a southeast and south direction into Colorado as a giant melt water river along a route roughly corresponding with the present day east-west continental divide. The east-west continental divide was eroded as headward erosion of deep valleys from both the east and the west captured this immense melt water river. These captures began in the south and progressed to the north. The immense “Great Divide” melt water river was further dismembered as Rocky Mountain uplift, which also began in the south and progressed to the north, caused massive flood flow reversals and additional flood flow diversions to both the east and the west. In other words, at the time of Solomon River drainage basin formation south and southeast-oriented flood waters were flowing across the entire state of Kansas.
  • Kansas River drainage basin formation began with headward erosion of the deep Missouri River valley across the state of Missouri to the Kansas City location and then headward erosion of the east oriented Kansas River valley across the immense south and southeast-oriented flood flow, which at that time was flowing to actively eroding Osage River tributary valleys in eastern Kansas and to actively eroding Arkansas River tributary valleys further to the west. The Osage River tributary valleys had eroded headward from the newly eroded Osage River valley, which had eroded headward from the newly eroded Missouri River valley. The Arkansas River valley had previously eroded across southern Kansas to capture the immense south and southeast-oriented floods. Note on figure 1 how east of the south-southeast oriented Republican River segments is the south-southeast oriented Big Blue River and west of the south-southeast oriented Republican River segments is the southeast and south-southeast oriented Solomon River segment. Also note a north-oriented Smoky Hill River segment south of Salina, Kansas. The south-southeast oriented Kansas River tributary valleys were eroded headward along south- and southeast-oriented flood flow routes and the north-oriented Smoky Hill River valley segment was eroded by a reversal of flood flow on the north end of a beheaded flood flow route. The east and east-southeast oriented Smoky Hill River valley west of the north-oriented segment was eroded headward slightly in advance of Saline River valley headward erosion, with Saline River valley headward erosion beheading flood flow routes to the newly eroded Smoky Hill River valley (really to actively eroding Smoky Hill River tributary valleys). Solomon River-South Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion followed slightly behind Saline River valley headward erosion and beheaded flood flow routes to the newly eroded Saline River valley. North Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion occurred slightly after South Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion and beheaded flood flow routes to the newly eroded South Fork Solomon River valley. Republican River valley headward erosion (including headward erosion of northeast-oriented Republican River tributary valleys) followed slightly behind Solomon River-North Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion and beheaded flood flow to the Solomon River-North Fork Solomon River valley.

Figure 2: North and South Fork Solomon River headwaters area in western Kansas, which are located between northeast-oriented Republican River tributaries and southeast-oriented Smoky Hill River tributaries. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 2 provides a more detailed regional map (than figure 1) illustrating the North and South Fork Solomon River headwaters area in western Kansas. The North Fork Solomon River originates in Thomas County (south and west of Colby) and flows in an east-northeast direction across the Sheridan County northwest quadrant and the Decatur County southeast corner before flowing across southern Norton County to the figure 2 east edge. The parallel stream originating just north of the North Fork headwaters is Prairie Dog Creek and flows through Colby, across the Sheridan County northwest corner and Decatur County southeast quadrant before flowing to the figure 2 northeast corner. Prairie Dog Creek is a Republican River tributary as are other northeast-oriented streams located north and west of Prairie Dog Creek. The South Fork Solomon River originates a short distance west of the figure 2 map area and flows in an east direction across Thomas County (it is the stream directly south from the North Fork Solomon River headwaters), Sheridan County, and Graham County to the figure 2 east edge. The Saline River originates in the Thomas County southwest corner area and flows in an east direction across southern Thomas County and Sheridan County and then just south of the Graham County south border to the figure 2 east edge. Southeast-oriented streams located south of the Saline River are Smoky Hill River tributaries. Note how Republican River tributaries, the North and South Forks Solomon River, Saline River, and Smoky Hill River tributaries all diverge from the Thomas County southwest quadrant region. Each of these diverging streams flows in valleys which eventually converge in central and eastern Kansas to form the east-oriented Kansas River. This divergence and convergence of valleys is evidence of what was once a giant east-oriented anastomosing channel complex.

  • Note how Smoky Hill River tributaries are oriented in southeast directions suggesting headward erosion of the Smoky Hill River valley (located south of the figure 2 map area) may have captured southeast-oriented flood flow. Note also the numerous south-southeast oriented Saline River, South Fork Solomon River, and North Fork Solomon River tributaries. The south-southeast oriented Saline River tributaries suggest Saline River valley headward erosion beheaded numerous south-southeast oriented flood flow channels to what must have been actively eroding Smoky Hill River tributary valleys. The south-southeast oriented South Fork Solomon River tributaries suggest South Fork Solomon River valley headward erosion beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow channels to the newly eroded Saline River valley. Further, the south-southeast oriented North Fork Solomon River tributaries suggest North Fork Solomon River headward erosion beheaded south-southeast oriented flood flow routes to the newly eroded South Fork Solomon River valley. South-southeast oriented Prairie Dog Creek tributaries suggest Prairie Dog Creek valley headward erosion beheaded south-southeast flood flow to the newly eroded North Fork Solomon River valley. The northeast-oriented stream in flowing through Oberlin in Decatur County is Sappa Creek, which has south-southeast and north-northwest oriented tributaries near the figure 2 north center edge. These Sappa Creek tributaries suggest the Sappa Creek valley beheaded south-southeast oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Prairie Dog Creek valley, with flood waters on north ends of beheaded flood flow routes reversing flow direction to erode the north-northwest oriented tributary valleys. This sequence continues across western Kansas and is much better seen in topographic maps contained in the detailed essays included in this Solomon River drainage basin landform origins and also in essays for the adjacent Republican, Saline, and Smoky Hill Rivers.

Figure 3: East-oriented North and South Forks Solomon River join at Waconda Lake (in northwest Mitchell County) to form southeast-oriented Solomon River, which joins Smoky Hill River near figure 3 southeast corner. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software. 

Figure 3 provides a more detailed regional map (than figure 1) showing where the diverging drainage routes seen in figure 2 begin to converge so as to form the east-oriented Kansas River. The North Fork Solomon River flows in an east-southeast direction to join the east-oriented South Fork Solomon River at Waconda Lake in northwest Mitchell County. The resulting Solomon River flows in an east-southeast and southeast direction to join the north and east-northeast oriented Smoky Hill River near the figure 3 southeast corner (the Smoky Hill River flows north from the figure 3 south edge to Salina and turns to flow in an east-northeast direction to join the Solomon River at Solomon located on the county border). The Saline River flows in an east-southeast direction to Wilson Lake in Russell County and then across central Lincoln County and the Ottawa County southwest corner before joining the Smoky Hill River just east of Salina. The east-oriented Smoky Hill River can be seen in southern Russell County before making a jog to the southeast (and south of the figure 3 map area) and where the Smoky Hill River makes an abrupt turn to flow in a north direction to Salina. The Republican River is located in the figure 3 northeast corner area and flows in a south-southeast direction to Concordia in Cloud County and then in an east direction to the figure 3 east edge. Just east of figure 3 the Republican River turns to flow in a south-southeast direction to join the Smoky Hill River and to form the east-oriented Kansas River. In other words, all diverging streams seen in figure 2 converge either in this figure 3 map area or a short east of the figure 3 map area. At one time east-oriented flood flow was moving simultaneously in all of these diverging and converging Kansas River tributary valleys, although headward erosion of Republican River tributary valleys eventually beheaded flood flow to the Solomon River and Saline River valleys and subsequently to the Smoky Hill River valley. Some time later Platte River-South Platte River valley headward erosion beheaded all flood flow routes to the newly eroded Republican River tributary valleys.

  • Also seen in figure 3 is evidence of south and southeast-oriented flood flow routes captured by headward erosion of the various east oriented Kansas River tributary valleys. Note numerous south and north-oriented tributaries to the east and southeast-oriented Smoky Hill, Saline, Solomon, and Republican Rivers and to their major southeast oriented tributaries (Salt Creek is the southeast-oriented Solomon River tributary originating in Mitchell County and flowing across the Lincoln County northeast corner before joining the Solomon River in Ottawa County). The north and south orientation of these tributary valleys is evidence the major valleys were eroded headward in sequence (from south to north) across multiple south-oriented flood routes or channels. In other words figure 3 is showing evidence that an enormous east-oriented anastomosing channel complex captured flood flow from an equally large south-oriented anastomosing channel complex. The south-oriented tributary valleys were eroded headward along newly captured south-oriented flood flow routes and the north-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flood flow along the north ends of beheaded flood flow routes. Solomon River drainage basin essays and essays related to the adjacent Saline, Smoky Hill, and Republican River drainage basins include numerous topographic maps to illustrate evidence for the massive south-oriented floods which preceded headward erosion of the east-oriented Kansas River tributary valleys. Included in the evidence are numerous north-south oriented through valleys eroded across the present day east-west oriented drainage divides. The through valleys provide evidence of multiple south-oriented flood flow channels that existed prior to headward erosion of the deeper east-oriented Kansas River tributary valleys.

Figure 4: South Fork Solomon River and Solomon River drainage divide with south-oriented Saline River tributaries and southeast-oriented Salt Creek headwaters. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.  

Figure 4 is a reduced size topographic map illustrating an example of north-south oriented through valleys eroded across the Solomon River-Saline River drainage divide. Osborne is the town located in the figure 4 northwest corner and the east-oriented South Fork Solomon River flows from Osborne to Waconda Lake (the south margin of which can be seen in the figure 4 north center area). North-oriented streams flowing to Waconda Lake and the figure 4 north edge are Solomon River tributaries. South and south-southeast oriented streams flowing to the figure 4 south edge are Saline River tributaries. The southeast-oriented stream flowing to the figure 4 east edge (south half) is Salt Creek, which is a Solomon River tributary. Note how deep valleys link the north-oriented Solomon River tributary valleys with the south-oriented Saline River tributary valleys. For example in the figure 4 southwest corner area Cheyenne Gap is a deep north-south oriented valley linking a north-oriented South Fork Solomon River tributary valley with a south-oriented Saline River valley. Study of the Cheyenne Gap area reveals other north-south oriented through valleys (though not as deep) nearby. Continuing east and northeast along the Solomon River-Saline River drainage divide other through valleys can be seen, with some of the through valleys being much larger than the Cheyenne Gap through valley. These through valleys were eroded by multiple channels of south-oriented flood flow moving to what was then the newly eroded Saline River valley (located south of the figure 4 map area). At that time the deep Solomon River-South Fork Solomon River valley did not exist, nor did the east-oriented Republican River valley exist further to the north. Flood waters were at that time free to flow in a south direction from the decaying ice sheet in the north to the newly eroded Saline River valley just south of the figure 4 map area. Headward erosion of the deep Solomon River-South Fork Solomon River valley beheaded the south-oriented flood flow channels in sequence from east to west. Flood waters on north ends of the beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to erode the north-oriented Solomon River-South Fork Solomon River tributary valleys. Because flood flow channels were beheaded one at a time from east to west and because flood flow channels were anastomosing (or interconnected) reversed flood flow in a newly beheaded flood flow channel could capture flood flow from channels further to the west. Such captures of flood water provided the water volumes required to erode the north-oriented Solomon River-South Fork Solomon River tributary valleys.

  • This overview essay has provided only a sample of the much more detailed and specific topographic map evidence contained in the Solomon River drainage basin landform origins detailed essays and in essays related to the adjacent river drainage basins. The south-oriented melt water floods can be traced using essays published on this website headward to the ice sheet margin and to the mouths of what were once giant ice-walled and bedrock-floored canyons carved into the decaying ice sheet’s surface. Southeast-oriented floods can be traced headward (using evidence illustrated in essays published on this website) across Nebraska, western South and North Dakota, northeast Wyoming, and eastern and central Montana. Essays published on this website provide thousands of topographic map illustrations to support the “thick ice sheet that melt fast” geomorphology paradigm. While this geomorphology paradigm has not been previously considered, it deserves serious consideration. Unlike the commonly accepted geomorphology paradigm, which has been used in most previously published interpretations, the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” geomorphology paradigm explains valley orientations, through valleys, escarpment-surrounded basins, barbed tributaries, elbows of captures, aligned drainage patterns, and much more.

Introduction to Missouri River drainage basin research project essay series

  • This Solomon River drainage basin landform origins overview essay and its related detailed essays is one of a series of overview essays and related detailed essays in the Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project. The research project  goal is to use topographic map evidence to describe the evolution of drainage divides separating each significant present day Missouri River tributary valley and also to describe the evolution of drainage divides separating the present day Missouri River drainage basin from adjacent drainage basins. Each overview essay relates to a specific Missouri River tributary, tributary to a present day Missouri River tributary, or a present day Missouri River valley segment. Each essay illustrates and discusses detailed topographic map evidence describing the evolution of a secondary drainage divide separating specified Missouri River tributary valleys.
  • The Missouri River drainage basin research project introduces a new regional geomorphology paradigm. An essay titled “About the ‘thick ice sheet that melted fast’ geomorphology paradigm” provides a brief introduction to the new paradigm and how the new paradigm emerged. Detailed evidence illustrated and discussed in the Missouri River drainage basin research project builds a strong case for (1) deep glacial erosion of the North American continent by a thick North American ice sheet that created and occupied a deep “hole”, (2) rapid melting of that thick North American ice sheet, (3) immense floods of south-oriented melt water, (4) headward erosion of deep east, northeast and north-oriented valley systems to capture the south-oriented melt water floods and to divert the melt water further and further northeast into space the ice sheet had once occupied, (5) deep flood water erosion of the North American continent surface, and (6) crustal warping that resulted in uplift of mountain ranges as flood waters were deeply eroding what are now high mountain regions. This interpretation is fundamentally different from most previous interpretations. The Solomon River drainage basin evidence in this overview essay and its related detailed essays is presented for review and discussion by qualified research geomorphologists and geologists.

Additional information and sources of maps

This essay has only provided a sample of the drainage divide evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” geomorphology paradigm. Many additional examples could be provided, especially by using more detailed topographic maps. Readers are encouraged to look at mosaics of detailed topographic maps to see the abundance of supporting data. Maps used in this study were created by the United States Geological Survey and can be purchased in hard copy from the United States Geological Survey or from dealers offering United States Geological Survey maps. Hard copy maps can also be observed at United States Geological Survey map depositories located in major research libraries and elsewhere throughout the United States and in other countries. Illustrations used in this essay were created using National Geographic Society TOPO software and digital data. National Geographic Society digital maps can be purchased from the National Geographic Society or from dealers offering National Geographic Society digital maps.

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