A geomorphic history based on topographic map evidence
Figure 1: The South Dakota Bad River flows from the Badlands National Park region to the Missouri River near Pierre, South Dakota and joins the southeast-oriented Missouri River as a barbed tributary. North of the Bad River is the northeast-oriented Cheyenne River and south of the Bad River is the east-oriented White River. National Geographic Society map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.
South Dakota Bad River drainage basin drainage history
This essay provides a brief overview of more detailed essays interpreting topographic map evidence to determine Bad River drainage basin landform origins The detailed essays can be found under Bad River on this website’s sidebar category list. All interpretations made in this overview essay and the detailed essays are based entirely on topographic map evidence. Each detailed essay includes eight or more topographic maps to illustrate the evidence. The Bad River is a northeast-oriented Missouri River tributary located in western South Dakota between the northeast-oriented Cheyenne River drainage basin to the north and the east-oriented White River drainage basin to the south. Adjacent river basin essays can be found under Cheyenne River, White River, and SD Missouri River on the sidebar category list. The Bad River originates near Badlands National Park in the Wall, South Dakota area and flows in a northeast direction from Cottonwood to Phillip and Midland before joining the southeast-oriented Missouri River as a barbed tributary at Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Bad River tributaries shown on figure 1 from the north are oriented in a southeast direction as are many of the Cheyenne River tributaries from the north. Figure 1 shows a few north and northeast-oriented Bad River tributaries, but more detailed maps, such as figure 2 below, are needed to fully understand Bad River and adjacent river tributary orientations.
Figure 2: Regional map illustrating Bad River, Cheyenne River, White River, and Missouri River routes and orientations of their major tributaries. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.
Figure 2 provides a more detailed regional map illustrating Bad River, Cheyenne River, White River, and Missouri River routes and orientations of their major tributaries. Sully, Haakon, Stanley, Hughes, Jackson, Jones, and Mellette are South Dakota counties and the county boundaries are shown. In the figure 2 northeast quadrant the Missouri River forms the boundary between Sully and Hughes Counties to the east and Stanley County to the west. The red area in the figure 2 southwest quadrant is Badlands National Park and the orange area in the southwest corner is the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The orange area along the figure 2 north edge is Cheyenne River Indian Reservation land and the orange area near the figure 2 east center edge is the Lower Brule Indian Reservation on the west side of the Missouri River and Crow Creek Indian Reservation on the east side of the Missouri River. The Cheyenne River flows in a north-northeast direction from the figure 2 west center edge and then turns to flow in a northeast direction along the Haakon and Stanley County northern borders to reach the Missouri River at a large northwest and southeast-oriented meander near the figure 2 north edge. The Bad River originates north of Badlands National Park and flows in an east-northeast direction across southern Haakon County and the Jones County northwest corner before turning to flow in a northeast direction to join the Missouri River at Fort Pierre (Pierre is located on the Missouri River east side). The White River flows in an east-northeast, east-southeast, and east direction near the figure 2 south edge and forms the boundary between Jones and Mellette Counties. Note how most Bad River tributaries from the north are oriented in a southeast direction and many tributaries from the south (especially east of Jackson County) are oriented in a northwest direction. This southeast-northwest tributary orientation, which can also be seen for Cheyenne River and White River tributaries as well, is evidence the Bad River valley eroded headward across multiple southeast-oriented flood flow channels such as might be found in a southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. The southeast-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by southeast-oriented flood flow moving into the newly eroded Bad River valley. The northwest-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flood flow on northwest ends of beheaded flood flow channels. Bad River valley headward erosion beheaded flood flow to what was then the newly eroded White River valley and subsequently Cheyenne River valley headward erosion beheaded southeast-oriented flood flow to the newly eroded Bad River valley.
Figure 3: Deep Creek-North Fork Bad River drainage divide area north and east of Wall, South Dakota. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.
Figure 3 illustrates the type of topographic map evidence illustrated in the Bad River drainage basin detailed essays. The figure 3 map area is approximately 10 miles north and east of Wall South Dakota (see figures 1 and 2). Deep Creek flows in a north direction in the figure 3 northwest corner and joins the northeast-oriented Cheyenne River north of the figure 3 map area. The southeast-oriented stream in the figure 3 northeast quadrant is the North Fork Bad River, which east and south of the figure 3 map area joins the northeast-oriented South Fork Bad River to form the east-northeast and northeast oriented Bad River. Note how north-oriented Deep Creek headwaters are linked by a northwest-southeast oriented through valley with southeast-oriented tributaries to the southeast-oriented North Fork Bad River. The figure 3 map contour interval is 10 feet and the through valley floor elevation is between 2670 and 2680 feet. Hills on the northeast side of the through valley rise to elevations greater than 2880 feet, with hills to southwest rising slightly higher. In other words there is a 200-foot plus deep water eroded through valley linking the north-oriented Deep Creek valley with the southeast-oriented North Fork Bad River valley. The through valley is evidence of a southeast-oriented flood flow channel eroded prior to headward erosion of the deep northeast-oriented Cheyenne River valley. Flood waters were flowing across the figure 3 map area to what was at that time the actively eroding Bad River valley and more specifically the actively eroding southeast-oriented North Fork Bad River valley. Initially flood waters flowed on a topographic surface at least as high as the highest figure 3 elevations today. Headward erosion of the deep northeast-oriented Cheyenne River valley to the north of the figure 3 map area beheaded the southeast-oriented flood flow and flood waters south of the newly eroded Cheyenne River valley reversed flow direction to erode north-oriented Cheyenne River tributary valleys, such as the north-oriented Deep Creek valley. Because flood flow was beheaded from the northeast to the southwest and because flood flow routes were interconnected reversed flood flow on newly formed north-oriented flood flow routes could capture southeast-oriented flood flow from flood flow routes south and west of the actively eroding Cheyenne River valley head. The north-oriented Deep Creek valley has multiple southeast-oriented tributaries (not shown in figure 3) which provide evidence of southeast-oriented flood flow routes that supplied water to first erode the deep through valley and later to erode north-oriented Deep Creek valley.
Figure 4: Reduced size topographic map illustrating Cheyenne River-Bad River drainage divide area west of Missouri River. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.
Figure 4 uses a reduced size topographic map to illustrate the Cheyenne River-Bad River drainage divide west of the Missouri River. The south and southeast-oriented Missouri River is located along the figure 4 east edge (the Missouri River valley is flooded by Lake Oahe, a large reservoir formed behind Oahe Dam). The northeast-oriented river in the figure 4 northwest corner is the Cheyenne River (Lake Oahe Reservoir also floods a section of Cheyenne River valley). Hermaphrodite Creek is the north-oriented Cheyenne River tributary located near the figure 4 west edge. Note how Hermaphrodite Creek tributaries from the west are oriented in a northwest direction. Sansarc Creek is the north-oriented Cheyenne River tributary with the flooded valley in the figure 4 north center. Note how Sansarc Creek tributaries from the west are oriented in a northwest direction and how tributaries to northeast-oriented North Fork Sansarc Creek from the north are oriented in a southeast direction and from the south are oriented in a northwest direction. Chantler Creek is the southeast-oriented Missouri River tributary with a flooded valley located in the figure 4 southeast quadrant. Note how southeast-oriented Chantler Creek has tributaries oriented in a southeast direction and also in a northwest direction. The northwest oriented Chantler Creek tributaries are classic examples of barbed tributaries. Southeast-oriented streams flowing to the figure 4 south edge are Bad River tributaries, with the northeast-oriented Bad River being located south of the figure 4 map area. Study of the Chantler Creek-Bad River, Sansarc Creek-Bad River, and Hermaphrodite Creek-Bad River drainage divides reveals shallow through valleys linking northwest and north-oriented Cheyenne River tributary valleys with southeast-oriented Bad River tributary valleys. The northwest-southeast drainage alignment and northwest-southeast oriented through valleys both provide evidence the northeast-oriented Bad River valley eroded headward across multiple southeast-oriented flood flow channels such as might be found in a southeast-oriented anastomosing channel complex. Headward erosion of the deep southeast-oriented Chantler Creek valley then captured flood flow channels to the east end of the newly eroded Bad River valley and flood waters on northwest ends of some of beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to erode northwest-oriented Chantler Creek tributary valleys. Next headward erosion of the deep Cheyenne River-Sansarc Creek valley beheaded and reversed flood flow channels moving flood water to the newly eroded Chantler Creek and Bad River valleys. Headward erosion of the northeast-oriented North Fork Sansarc Creek valley next beheaded and reversed flow channels to the newly eroded Sansarc Creek valley (further to the south). Finally (at least for figure 4 map evidence) headward erosion of the Cheyenne River-Hermaphrodite Creek valley beheaded and reversed southeast-oriented flood flow channels to the newly eroded Sansarc Creek, North Fork Sansarc Creek, and Bad River valleys.
Figure 5: Bad River-Antelope Creek and Antelope Creek-Cedar Creek drainage divide areas west of Missouri River. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.
Figure 5 uses a reduced size topographic map to illustrate the Bad River-Antelope Creek and Antelope Creek-Cedar Creek drainage divide areas west of the Missouri River. The Missouri River flows from the Pierre, South Dakota area near the figure 5 northwest corner to the figure 5 east edge near the southeast corner. The Bad River is the northeast-oriented river joining the Missouri River at Fort Pierre (on west side of Missouri River from Pierre). Antelope Creek is the northeast-oriented stream joining the Missouri River in the figure 5 north center area. Cedar Creek is the east-oriented stream joining the Missouri River in the figure 5 southeast quadrant. Note how Bad River tributaries from the north are southeast oriented and from the south are northwest oriented. Note also how Antelope Creek and Cedar Creek tributaries are also oriented in southeast and northwest directions. The southeast and northwest orientations of tributary valleys west of the Missouri River is evidence the east-oriented Cedar Creek valley eroded headward across multiple southeast-oriented flood flow channels which were subsequently beheaded by headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Antelope Creek valley and still later beheaded by headward erosion of the northeast-oriented Bad River valley. Northwest-oriented tributary valleys were eroded by reversals of flood flow on northwest ends of beheaded flood flow channels. While difficult to see on figure 4 shallow through valleys link northwest-oriented tributary valleys with southeast-oriented tributary valleys. These shallow through valleys are best seen on more detailed topographic maps some of which are included in the detailed essays. Evidence presented in the detailed essays and also briefly illustrated and described in figures 1-5 above can best be explained in the context of immense southeast-oriented floods which once flowed across the entire Bad River drainage basin and which were captured and diverted to the northeast by Bad River valley headward erosion.
- Why would immense southeast-oriented floods be flowing across what is now the Bad River drainage basin? The Bad River drainage basin history began with development of a North American ice sheet comparable in size to the present day Antarctic Ice Sheet, if not larger. The ice sheet was thick, probably several kilometers thick, and was located in a deep “hole”, which the ice sheet had formed by a combination of deep glacial erosion and crustal warping caused by the ice sheet weight. When at its maximum size the ice sheet stood high above the pre-glacial surface, but also had roots that extended well below the pre-glacial surface, which no longer exists. Some or all of the present day Bad River drainage basin may have been located south and west of ice sheet’s southwest margin, although evidence for the ice sheet’s southwest margin has probably been removed by deep melt water flood erosion. The pre-glacial surface under the ice sheet was completely destroyed by deep glacial erosion and the pre-glacial surface adjacent to the ice sheet and elsewhere on the North American continent was deeply eroded by deep melt water flood erosion and was also probably significantly altered by crustal warping caused by the thick North American ice sheet presence.
- Events important to Bad River drainage basin history began as the ice sheet was rapidly melting and had melted to the point that in the south it no longer stood high above the surrounding non-glaciated surface, which had probably already been significantly lowered by deep melt water erosion. Immense melt water floods were flowing in a southeast direction along the ice sheet’s southwest margin and were just beginning to deeply erode the region between the Black Hills and the ice sheet’s southwest margin, which at that time was located north and east of today’s Bad River drainage basin. Flood waters were probably derived from immense southeast and south-oriented supra-glacial melt water rivers which carved giant ice-walled and ice-floored (later bedrock-floored) canyons into the decaying ice sheet surface and which flowed to the ice sheet’s southwest margin in present day Alberta and then in a southeast direction along the decaying ice sheet’s southwest margin. The surface on which the southeast-oriented floods were moving was significantly higher than the ice sheet floor elevation and probably no longer exists.
- How did the deep “hole” the ice sheet had been occupying open up so as to permit headward erosion of the deep northeast-oriented Bad River valley? Remember, the ice sheet was thick and had deep roots. The ice sheet roots may have extended more than a kilometer below the pre-glacial surface on which the ice sheet had formed. The deep “hole” had probably been formed by a combination of deep glacial erosion of the pre-glacial surface underlying the ice sheet and of crustal warping caused by the weight of an ice sheet several kilometers thick. The crustal warping, which almost certainly did not occur instantaneously, probably also affected regions elsewhere on the continent and may have contributed to uplift of the Black Hills and other North American mountain ranges and high plateau areas as flood waters flowed across them. In other words, not only was the rapidly decaying ice sheet located in a deep “hole” that was opening up as the ice sheet melted, but delayed crustal warping caused by the ice weight was raising mountain ranges and high plateaus regions south and west of the ice sheet margin. The combination of these two events created a situation where the gigantic southeast-oriented melt water river flowing along the decaying ice sheet’s southwest margin was systematically captured by headward erosion of deep northeast-oriented valleys, which were eroding headward from the decaying ice sheet location.
- Why are the Bad River and Cheyenne River valleys northeast oriented when the Cheyenne and Bad Rivers flow to the southeast oriented Missouri River? In the case of the Cheyenne River and Bad River valleys they eroded headward from a huge southeast and south-oriented ice-walled and ice-floored (later bedrock-floored) canyon which was carved by an immense southeast and south-oriented supra-glacial melt water river north and east of the ice sheet southwest margin. The Missouri Escarpment in North and South Dakota and in Saskatchewan is today what remains of that giant canyon’s west and southwest wall. The ice floor of that giant southeast and south-oriented ice-walled canyon was significantly lower in elevation than the bedrock surface south and west of the decaying ice sheet margin and the huge melt water river flowing in that southeast and south-oriented ice-walled canyon represented the region’s major drainage route, which captured the immense southeast-oriented ice-marginal floods by eroding deep northeast and east-oriented tributary valleys headward across the ice sheet’s southwest margin and then headward into the adjacent bedrock surface. These deep northeast-oriented valleys diverted immense southeast-oriented ice-marginal floods into space the ice sheet had once occupied. Melting of what had been the thick ice sheet roots progressively lowered both the ice sheet surface, the ice-walled canyon floor, and the surrounding bedrock surface, creating a situation where new and even deeper northeast-oriented valleys repeatedly eroded headward to capture the immense southeast-oriented ice-marginal melt water floods.
- Between the Missouri River and the Missouri Escarpment, which is located east of the figure 1 map area, is the Missouri Coteau, which is a region covered with what appear on topographic maps to be glacial deposits. The Missouri Coteau area ranges in width, but in South Dakota can be more than 100 kilometers wide and is also crossed by what appear to be east and northeast oriented valleys. The Missouri Coteau, is illustrated and described in essays found under SD Missouri River and James River on the sidebar category list. The ice sheet’s southwest margin was detached when the deep southeast and south-oriented ice-walled canyon (of which the Missouri Escarpment is a remnant of the southwest and west wall) became a bedrock-floored canyon. This detached ice sheet southwest margin initially formed an ice barrier between the deep ice-walled canyon floor and the southeast-oriented ice-marginal floods flowing on the higher elevation bedrock surface south and west of the decaying ice sheet margin. In time flood waters from the southeast-oriented ice-marginal floods broke through the detached ice sheet margin barrier and deep east and northeast oriented valleys eroded headward from the deeper ice-walled canyon floor to capture the immense southeast-oriented ice-marginal floods and to divert flood waters into space being opened up in the deep “hole” the melting ice sheet had once occupied. Late in the ice sheet melt down history headward erosion of deep ice-walled and bedrock-floored canyons on the ice sheet floor intersected to create new northeast and north oriented flood water outlets which captured the south-oriented flood flow which had been moving to the Gulf of Mexico. The new flood water outlets moved flood waters to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and later to what is now Hudson Bay. These northeast-oriented and north-oriented flood flow routes were located in ice-walled and bedrock-floored canyons located between decaying thick ice sheet remnants.
- The deep northeast-oriented valleys we see today were probably eroded late in the ice sheet melt down history and were probably preceded by earlier, but similar northeast-oriented valleys which also diverted massive southeast-oriented ice-marginal floods onto the decaying ice sheet surface. Valleys were eroded headward in sequence, with valleys located in the east and south being eroded headward first. Subsequently a major climate change triggered by diversion of south-oriented melt water floods to become north oriented melt water floods caused a new thin ice sheet to form. The diversion of the south-oriented melt water floods from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Hudson Bay occurred as ice sheet melting opened up north and northeast-oriented drainage routes (or ice-walled and bedrock-floored canyons) between decaying thick ice sheet remnants. Flood water diversion drastically changed ocean circulation patterns and resulted in a cooling of Northern Hemisphere climates. The climate change also caused north-oriented flood waters to freeze on the former ice sheet floor, forming a wet based thin ice sheet with rejuvenated thick ice sheet remnants embedded in it. This new thin ice sheet blocked the new northeast-oriented rivers, which caused northeast-oriented drainage to spill over drainage divides along the new ice sheet’s southwest margin, which created segments of the southeast-oriented Missouri River valley in South and North Dakota and northeast Montana. The Missouri River valley location today approximates the location of decaying thick ice remnants (the Missouri Coteau marks where those remnants were located) that also formed the thin sheet’s southwest margin.
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.