Yellowstone River-Gibbon River drainage divide area landform origins in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

Authors

Yellowstone River-Gibbon River drainage divide area landform origins in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

 

Abstract:

This essay uses topographic map evidence to interpret landform origins in the region between the Yellowstone and Gibbon Rivers in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. North of Yellowstone Lake the Yellowstone River flows in a north-northwest, northeast, and northwest direction to Gardner, Montana on the north edge of Yellowstone National Park. The Gibbon River is a west, south-southwest, and west oriented tributary to the west and north oriented Madison River and originates south of the northwest oriented Yellowstone River segment. The Gardner River is a northeast, south-southeast, north-northeast, and north oriented tributary joining the Yellowstone River at Gardner, Montana. The Gardner River is not unique and other south and north oriented streams with V-shaped drainage routes are present in addition to barbed tributaries flowing in a south direction to join the north oriented Yellowstone and Gardner Rivers and flowing in a southeast direction to join the west oriented Gibbon River. Several well-defined north-to-south oriented through valleys link valleys of north oriented Yellowstone River tributaries with valleys of south oriented Gibbon River tributaries. The V-shaped drainage routes, barbed tributaries, and through valleys provide evidence of south oriented diverging and converging flood flow channels that once crossed the region. Floodwaters were derived from the western margin of a melting thick North American ice sheet and were flowing from western Canada to and across the present day Yellowstone National Park region. At that time the Yellowstone Plateau and regional mountain ranges were not higher in elevation than regions to the north and floodwaters could freely flow in south and southeast directions from western Canada to and across the Yellowstone Plateau region. Uplift of the Yellowstone Plateau region occurred as floodwaters were flowing across it. The Yellowstone River drainage route originated as a south oriented flood flow channel, which as it eroded deeper and deeper beheaded south oriented flood flow channels to the Gibbon River tributary valleys. Floodwaters on north ends of the beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to create what are today north oriented Yellowstone River tributary drainage routes. Headward erosion of the much deeper northeast and east oriented Yellowstone River valley across Montana from space in the deep “hole” the melting ice sheet had occupied, and which was being opened up by ice sheet melting, beheaded the south oriented flood flow channel on the Yellowstone River alignment. Floodwaters on the north end of the beheaded flood flow channel, aided by the ongoing  Yellowstone Plateau and regional mountain range uplift, reversed flow direction to create the north oriented Yellowstone River drainage route north of Yellowstone Lake.

Preface

The following interpretation of detailed topographic map evidence is one of a series of essays describing similar evidence for all major drainage divides contained within the Missouri River drainage basin and for all major drainage divides with adjacent drainage basins. The research project is interpreting evidence in the context of a previously unexplored deep glacial erosion paradigm, which is fundamentally different from most commonly accepted North American glacial history interpretations. 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 Yellowstone River-Gibbon River drainage divide area landform origins in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 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 and/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 new geomorphology 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 other Missouri River drainage basin landform origins research project essays is a thick North American ice sheet, comparable in thickness to the Antarctic ice sheet, occupied the North American region usually recognized to have been glaciated, and through its weight and erosive actions created a deep North American “hole”. The southwestern rim of that deep “hole” is today preserved in the high Rocky Mountains. The ice sheet 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 Yellowstone River-Gibbon River drainage divide area landform evidence in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Yellowstone River-Gibbon River drainage divide area location map

Figure 1: Yellowstone River-Gibbon 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 location map for the Yellowstone River-Gibbon River drainage divide in Yellowstone National Park and illustrates in the north a region of south-central Montana with northwest Wyoming in the southeast quadrant with a slice of Idaho west of Wyoming along the south edge of the southwest quadrant. Yellowstone National Park is labeled and is primarily located in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The Yellowstone River flows in a north-northwest direction from the south edge of figure 1 (east of center) to Yellowstone Lake. From Yellowstone Lake the Yellowstone River flows in a northwest, north-northeast, and northwest direction into Montana where it turns to flow in a north-northeast direction to Livingston. From Livingston the Yellowstone River flows in an east-northeast and east-southeast direction to the east edge of figure 1. East of figure 1 the Yellowstone River turns to flow in a northeast direction to join the Missouri River. The Gibbon River is not labeled in figure 1, but is the stream originating west of Canyon (north of Yellowstone Lake) and flowing in a west, south, and west direction toward the town of West Yellowstone. Before reaching West Yellowstone the Gibbon River joins the north oriented Firehole River (not shown in figure 1) to form the west and northwest oriented Madison River, which flows to Hebgen Lake (a labeled reservoir north of West Yellowstone). From Hebgen Lake the Madison River makes a southwest jog through Earthquake Lake before turning to flow in a north direction to the north edge of figure 1 where it joins the north and northwest oriented Gallatin River and the northeast oriented Jefferson River to form the north oriented Missouri River. Further north the Missouri River turns to flow in a northeast and eventually an east direction to be joined by the northeast oriented Yellowstone River with water eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico. The Yellowstone River-Gibbon River drainage divide area investigated in this essay is located south and west of the Yellowstone River segment extending from Canyon, Wyoming to Gardner, Montana and generally north of the west, south, and west oriented Gibbon River.

Looking at the big picture erosion history the regional drainage routes developed as immense south and southeast oriented melt water floods flowed across the region, which occurred at approximately the same time as crustal warping raised the Yellowstone Plateau area. Floodwaters were derived from the western margin of a melting thick North American ice sheet and were flowing in a south and southeast direction to and across the region shown in figure 1. The melting ice sheet was located in deep “hole”, which was being opened up gradually as the ice sheet melted. The deep “hole” was located north and east of the figure 1 map area and the map area in figure 1 is located along the deep “hole’s” deeply eroded southwest wall. The east and northeast oriented Yellowstone River valley (east and north of figure 1) eroded headward from the deep “hole” to capture immense south and southeast oriented ice marginal floods flowing from western Canada across Montana and then further to the south and southeast. Following headward erosion of the deep Yellowstone River valley the deep northeast oriented Missouri River valley eroded headward from the deep “hole” and beheaded the flood flow routes to the newly eroded Yellowstone River valley and then beheaded flood flow channels west of the actively eroding Yellowstone River valley head. Floodwaters on north ends of beheaded flood flow routes reversed flow direction to create present day north oriented Yellowstone and Missouri River tributary drainage routes and north and northwest oriented Yellowstone River and Missouri River valley segments.

At that time mountain ranges in the figure 1 map area, including the Yellowstone Plateau, did not stand high above the surrounding regions and floodwaters could freely flow to and across the entire figure 1 map area. Over time uplift of the Yellowstone Plateau and of the regional mountain ranges channeled the huge south and southeast oriented melt water floods into valleys or basins between the rising mountains. One such flood flow channel was between the rising Gallatin and Absaroka mountain ranges along the valleys now used by the northwest and north-northeast oriented Yellowstone River. This large south oriented flood flow channel was eventually beheaded and reversed by continued crustal warping and by headward erosion of deep northeast and east oriented Yellowstone River valley from the deep “hole” the melting ice sheet had once occupied. Beheading of the large south oriented flood flow channel on the present day north oriented Yellowstone River alignment probably took place in the Livingston, Montana area and the entire Yellowstone River valley upstream from Livingston was probably eroded by a massive flood flow reversal as the ongoing Yellowstone Plateau uplift continued. Other major south oriented flood flow channels were located on the present day north oriented Gallatin and Madison River alignments. Flood flow to these flood flow channels was beheaded by headward erosion of the much deeper northeast oriented Missouri River valley (north of figure 1). Floodwaters on north ends of the beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to create the north oriented Gallatin and Madison River drainage systems.

Detailed location map for Yellowstone River-Gibbon River drainage divide area

Figure 2: Detailed location map Yellowstone River-Gibbon River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 2 provides a more detailed location map for the Yellowstone River–Gibbon River drainage divide area in Yellowstone National Park. The tip of Yellowstone Lake can be seen in the southeast corner of figure 2. The Yellowstone River flows in a northwest direction from Yellowstone Lake to Canyon Junction where it turns to flow in a northeast and north direction to Tower Junction. From Tower Junction the Yellowstone River flows in a northwest direction to Gardner, Montana (on north boundary of Yellowstone National Park) and then to the north edge of figure 2 (slightly east of center). Labeled Yellowstone River tributaries of interest in this essay are north and northeast oriented Tower Creek, north oriented Lava Creek, and the northeast, south-southeast, north-northeast, and north-northwest oriented Gardner River. The Gallatin River originates north of Mount Holmes (near center of figure 2) and flows in a northwest and north-northwest direction to the north edge of figure 2 (west of center). Note southwest oriented tributaries to the north oriented Gallatin River. The Gibbon River originates at Grebe Lake (north and west of Canyon Junction) and flows in a southwest and northwest direction to Norris Junction. From Norris Junction the Gibbon River flows in a south-southwest and west-southwest direction to join the north oriented Firehole River at Madison Junction and to form the Madison River. From Madison Junction the Madison River flows in a west and northwest direction to Hebgen Lake and then in a southwest direction to near Cliff, Montana where it turns to flow in a north-northwest and north direction to the northwest corner of figure 2. Note south oriented (and barbed) Madison River tributaries especially in the Hebgen Lake and Earthquake Lake areas.  There are no labeled Gibbon River tributaries shown in figure 2, although two unlabeled south oriented tributaries are shown. East of Grebe Lake there is an unlabeled east and south oriented stream (Cascade Creek) flowing to the north oriented Yellowstone River as a barbed tributary at Canyon Junction. The Gibbon River could also be considered a barbed tributary as it flows in a south direction to reach the north oriented Madison River. Barbed tributaries seen in figure 2, including the Gardner River U-turn provide evidence of a major reversal of drainage direction that occurred as south oriented floodwaters flowing across the region were reversed to flow in a north and northeast direction to space the deep “hole” the melting ice sheet had previously occupied. Similar flood flow reversals occurred in the Gallatin and Madison River drainage basins.

Gardener River-Gardner River drainage divide area

Figure 3: Gardner River-Gardner River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 3 provides a topographic map of the Gardner River-Gardner River drainage divide area in northern Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone River flows in a northwest direction in Black Canyon across the northeast corner of figure 3. Blacktail Deer Creek is a north oriented stream flowing from the south edge of figure 3 (near southeast corner) across the Blacktail Plateau to join the northwest oriented Yellowstone River. Rescue Creek is a southeast oriented Blacktail Deer Creek tributary and is aligned with northwest oriented Turkey Pen Creek, which flows to the Yellowstone River. A “Pack Trail” traverses the northwest-to-southeast oriented through valley linking the Turkey Pen Creek valley with the Rescue Creek valley. The map contour interval for figure 3 is 50 meters and the through valley floor elevation at the drainage divide is between 2050 and 2100 meters. Elevations to the east rise to 2269 meters and to the west to more than 2300 meters suggesting the through valley is more than 150 meters deep. The through valley was eroded by a southeast oriented flood flow channel, which was behead by headward erosion of a much deeper flood flow channel on the present day northwest oriented Yellowstone River alignment. Perhaps even more interesting is the Gardner River, which flows in a northeast direction from the west center edge of figure 3 and then makes an abrupt turn to flow in a south-southeast direction almost to the south edge of figure 3 (near highway) before making another abrupt turn to flow in a north-northeast and north direction to the north center edge of figure 3 and to join the Yellowstone River north of figure 3. This “V” shaped drainage route originated as two converging south oriented flood flow channels. The eastern flood flow channel was beheaded by headward erosion of a much deeper flood flow channel on the Yellowstone River alignment. Floodwaters on the north end of the beheaded eastern flood flow channel reversed flow direction to create a north oriented drainage route, which then captured the south oriented flood flow in the western flood flow channel. Note the north-to-south oriented through valley west of Sepulcher Mountain in the northwest quadrant of the figure 3. South of the through valley is the south-southeast oriented Gardner River valley and headwaters of southeast oriented Glen Creek. The north oriented stream draining Cache Lake is Reese Creek, which joins the Yellowstone River north of figure 3. The through valley floor elevation at the drainage divide is between 2350 and 2400 meters. Sepulcher Mountain rises to 2947 meters while Electric Peak to the west rises to 3343 meters suggesting the through valley is at least 500 meters deep. The through valley was eroded by a south oriented flood flow channel prior to being beheaded by headward erosion of a much deeper flood flow channel on the Yellowstone River alignment. The north oriented Reese Creek drainage route was established by a reversal of flood flow on the north end of the beheaded flood flow channel.

Detailed map of Glen Creek-Gardner River drainage divide area

Figure 4: Detailed topographic map of the Glen Creek-Gardner River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 4 provides a detailed topographic map of the Glen Creek-Gardner River drainage divide area seen in less detail in figure 3 above. Mammoth is the community seen in the northeast quadrant of figure 4. The Gardner River flows in a south direction near the west edge of figure 4 and south of figure 4 turns to flow a northeast direction in Sheepeater Canyon in the southeast quadrant of figure 4 before turning to flow in a north direction (east of Mammoth) to the north edge of figure 4. Glen Creek flows in a southeast direction from the northwest corner of figure 4 before turning to flow in a south direction along the west side of Terrace Mountain. At the south end of Terrace Mountain Glen Creek makes an abrupt turn to flow in a northeast direction through Golden Gate Canyon to join the north oriented Gardner River. Near the north center edge of figure 4 Clematis Creek flows in a south-southeast, northeast, and east direction from the north edge of figure 4 to Mammoth. Each of these V-shaped drainage routes originated in a similar manner as converging south oriented flood flow channels where the eastern flood flow channel was beheaded and reversed by headward erosion of a much deeper flood flow channel on the present day north oriented Yellowstone River alignment. Reversed flow in the beheaded flood flow channel then captured south oriented flood flow still moving in the western flood flow channel. Regional uplift and crustal warping that was occurring as floodwaters flowed across the region probably contributed to these local flood flow reversals and definitely contributed to a much larger-scale flood flow reversal in the Yellowstone River valley. That larger-scale flood flow reversal was triggered by headward erosion of what was then a much deeper northeast and east oriented valley from space in the deep “hole” the melting ice sheet had occupied and which beheaded the south oriented flood flow channel on the Yellowstone River alignment. Regional uplift of the Yellowstone Plateau created a situation where floodwaters on the north and northwest end of that beheaded flood flow channel reversed flow direction to create the north oriented Yellowstone River drainage system seen today.  South oriented drainage routes seen in figure 4 are evidence of the former south oriented flood flow channels.

Straight Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area

Figure 5: Straight Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 5 illustrates the Straight Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area south and slightly west of figure 3 and does not include an overlap areas with figure 3. The Gibbon River flows in a west, south, northwest, southwest, and south direction in the southeast quadrant of figure 5. Solfatara Creek is the south oriented stream originating near the Gas Vents (near north edge of figure 5-east half) and joining the Gibbon River near Norris Junction in the southeast quadrant of figure 5. East of south oriented Solfatara Creek is north oriented Arrow Canyon Creek, which north of figure 5 flows to north and northwest oriented Lava Creek, which in turn flows to the north oriented Gardner River. The north oriented stream west of south oriented Solfatara Creek adjacent to the highway is Obsidian Creek, which north of figure 5 flows to the Gardner River at the southernmost point of the Gardner River “V”. West of Obsidian Creek is north oriented Straight Creek, which north of figure 5 joins Obsidian Creek to flow to the southernmost point of the Gardner River “V”. Note the unnamed south and east oriented Gibbon River tributary flowing through the Gibbon River Geyser Basin (near south center edge of figure 5). This south and east oriented Gibbon River tributary originates south of the north oriented Straight Creek headwaters. A north-to-south oriented through valley links the north oriented Straight Creek valley with the south oriented Gibbon River tributary valley. The map contour interval for figure 5 is 50 meters and the through valley is defined by at least two contour lines on each side (four contour lines on a side in the Straight Creek headwaters area). Depending on where one measures the through valley could be more than 100 meters deep. The through valley is a water-eroded valley and was eroded by south oriented flood flow moving from the present day north oriented Yellowstone River valley to a south oriented flood flow channel on the present day Gibbon River alignment (south of the Gibbon Geyser Basin). The south oriented flood flow made a jog to the east in the Gibbon Geyser Basin area and eroded the valley in which the Gibbon Geyser Basin is located. Other south oriented flood flow channels were located on the alignments of present day north oriented Obsidian Creek and Arrow Canyon Creek. The reversal of flood flow that created the Gardner River “V” reversed the flood flow in the Straight Creek, Obsidian Creek, and Arrow Canyon Creek flood flow channels. The south oriented flood flow channel on the Solfatara Creek alignment had been beheaded previously and was no longer an active south oriented flood flow channel at the time the other flood flow channels were reversed.

Detailed map of Straight Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area

Figure 6: Detailed map of Straight Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 6 illustrates a detailed topographic map of the Straight Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area seen in less detail in figure 5. Straight Creek is the north oriented stream in the northwest quadrant of figure 6 and north of figure 6 flows to north oriented Obsidian Creek, which flows to the north oriented Gardner River, which then flows to the northwest oriented Yellowstone River. The south oriented stream in the southwest quadrant of figure 6 is a Gibbon River tributary, which south of figure 6 turns to flow in an east direction to the south and west oriented Gibbon River, which flows to the west and north oriented Madison River. Note how the north oriented Straight Creek valley is linked by a through valley with the south oriented Gibbon River tributary valley. The map contour interval for figure 6 is 40 feet except in the southwest quadrant where the contour interval is 20 feet. The through valley floor elevation at the drainage divide is between 7640 and 7660 feet. Immediately to the east elevations rise to 7955 feet while elevations to west rise to 8145 feet suggesting the through valley is approximately 300 feet deep. The through valley is a water-eroded valley and was eroded by south oriented flood flow coming from the present day north oriented Yellowstone River valley and flowing to a south oriented flood flow channel on the present day south oriented Gibbon River alignment. The Norris Geyser Basin is located in the southeast corner of figure 6 and the Gibbon River flows in a west and south direction around the Norris Geyser Basin. Note the south oriented Gibbon River tributary originating at Twin Lakes near the north edge of figure 6 and joining the south oriented Gibbon River just west of the Norris Geyser Basin. Just west of the valley in which the Twin Lakes are located is the north oriented Obsidian Creek valley, which converges (or diverges) with or from the Twin Lakes valley at the north edge of figure 6. The through valley linking the north oriented Obsidian Creek valley with the south oriented Gibbon River tributary valley can be seen north of Twin Lakes along the north edge of figure 6. The through valley floor elevation at the drainage divide is between 7520 and 7560 feet. Elevations at Roaring Mountain to the east rise to 8152 feet while an elevation of 8185 feet can be seen near the Straight Creek valley to the west. These elevations suggest the through valley may be as much as 600 feet deep. These two parallel through valleys suggest multiple south oriented flood flow channels crossed the region, which is typical of large-scale anastomosing flood formed channel complexes. Interestingly the flood flow reversal that created the north oriented drainage system reversed flow in the Obsidian Creek valley (which has a higher elevation), but did not reverse flood flow in the lower elevation Twin Lakes valley.

Arrow Canyon Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area

Figure 7: Arrow Canyon Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 7 illustrates the Arrow Canyon Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area east and slightly north of figure 5. Grebe Lake is located in the south center area of figure 7. The Yellowstone River flows in an east-northeast direction in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in the southeast corner of figure 7. East of figure 7 the Yellowstone River turns to flow in a north and northwest direction. Cascade Creek originates at Cascade Lake and flows in an east and south direction to join the Yellowstone River near the south edge of figure 7 (south of Canyon Junction). Tower Creek originates north of Observation Peak and flows in a north and northeast direction to the north edge of figure 7 (east half) and joins the Yellowstone River north and east of figure 7. Carnelian Creek is the northeast and north oriented stream joining Tower Creek near the north edge of figure 7. The Gibbon River originates at Grebe Lake and flows in a southwest direction to the south edge of figure 7 (west half) and then turns to flow in a northeast and southwest direction around Norris Junction in the southwest corner of figure 7. Solfatara Creek is the south oriented stream joining the Gibbon River near Norris Junction. The north oriented stream east of Solfatara Creek is Arrow Canyon Creek, which joins north and northwest oriented Lava Creek (not labeled in figure 7). North of figure 7 Lave Creek flows to the northwest oriented Yellowstone River. A north-to-south oriented through valley can be seen linking the north oriented Tower Creek headwaters valley with the south oriented Cascade Creek valley. The map contour interval for figure 7 is 50 meters and the through valley floor elevation at the drainage divide is between 2550 and 2600 meters. Observation Peak to the west rises to 2854 meters and Dunraven Peak to the east rises to more than 3000 meters suggesting the through valley may be as much as 250 meters deep. Through valleys linking the north oriented Lava Creek and Arrow Canyon Creek headwaters valleys with the west oriented Gibbon River valley are present, but are defined by only one contour line on a side. Figure 8 below provides a more detailed map of those through valleys to better illustrate the evidence. The north-to-south oriented through valleys seen in figure 7 provide evidence that south oriented flood flow moved across the entire region, which means at that time there was no deep northwest oriented Yellowstone River valley north of figure 7. Headward erosion of a deep southeast oriented flood flow channel on the present day northwest oriented Yellowstone River valley (north of figure 7) beheaded and reversed the south oriented flood flow channels to create the north oriented Lava Creek, Arrow Canyon Creek, Tower Creek, and Carnelian Creek drainage routes seen today.

Detailed map of Arrow Canyon Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area

Figure 8: Detailed map of Arrow Canyon Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 8 illustrates a detailed topographic map of the Arrow Canyon Creek-Gibbon River drainage divide area seen in less detail in figure 7. The Gibbon River flows in a southwest direction, with a jog to Wolf Lake, in the southeast corner of figure 8. Solfatara Creek flows in a south direction near the west edge of figure 8 and joins the Gibbon River south and slightly west of figure 8. Note how north of the west center edge area Solfatara Creek flows in westernmost of two valleys surrounding an erosional residual. The contour interval for figure 8 is 20 feet and the eastern through valley floor elevation is between 7560 and 7580 feet. The erosional residual to the west rises to 7692 feet suggesting the through valley is approximately 110 feet deep. The through valley provides evidence of south oriented anastomosing channels, which would be expected in a large south oriented flood. Further east Arrow Canyon Creek flows in a southwest, north, west, and north direction to the north edge of figure 8 (west of center) and north of figure 8 flows to north oriented Lava Creek, which flows to the north oriented Gardner River, which in turn flows to northwest oriented Yellowstone River.  Note how the north oriented Arrow Canyon Creek valley is linked by diverging through valleys with the south oriented Solfatara Creek valley and with the Gibbon River valley near Wolf Lake. A north and south-southwest and southwest oriented Solfatara Creek tributary can be seen directly south of the north oriented Arrow Canyon Creek valley segment and flows around a labeled high point with an elevation of 8201 feet. A deep north-to south oriented through valley links north end of the Solfatara Creek tributary “V” with the south end of the north oriented Arrow Canyon Creek valley segment. The through valley floor elevation at the drainage divide is between 7840 and 7860 feet. Elevations west of the through valley rise to 8196 feet while east of the through valley elevations rise to more than 8300 feet suggesting the through valley is at least 336 feet deep. A northwest-to-southeast oriented through valley with a higher floor elevation links the north oriented Arrow Canyon Creek valley with the Gibbon River valley at Wolf Lake and is drained in the southeast by a southeast oriented Gibbon River tributary, which flows to west oriented Gibbon River as a barbed tributary. The through valley floor elevation at the drainage divide is between 8380 and 8400 feet with elevations rising to 8600 feet to the southwest and even higher to the northeast. These elevations suggest the through valley is at least 200 feet deep. Streamlined erosional residuals surrounded by abandoned valleys can be seen along this southeast oriented through valley route. The best way to visualize formation of the through valley complex south of the north oriented Arrow Canyon Creek valley segment is to think of south oriented flood flow channels diverging from a south oriented flood flow channel on the present day north oriented Arrow Canyon Creek alignment. This concept also requires that the west oriented Gibbon River headwaters valley was at that time an east oriented flood flow channel. Differing elevations on these diverging flood flow channels suggests local crustal warping may have occurred as floodwaters crossed the region and after the flood flow ended.

Gibbon River-Yellowstone River drainage divide area

Figure 9: Gibbon River-Yellowstone River drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 9 illustrates the Gibbon River-Yellowstone River drainage divide area south of the figure 7 and includes a significant overlap area with figure 7. The Yellowstone River flows in a north-northwest direction from near the southeast corner of figure 9 before turning to flow in a northeast direction through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River to the east edge of figure 9 (near northeast corner). Cascade Creek originates at Cascade Lake (north and slightly west of Canyon Junction) and flows in an east and south direction to join the Yellowstone River at the point where it turns to flow in a northeast direction. Grebe Lake is west of Cascade Lake and the Gibbon River originates at Grebe Lake. From Grebe Lake the Gibbon River flows in a southwest direction to Wolf Lake and then to south of Ice Lake before turning to flow in a northwest direction to near Norris Junction and the west edge of figure 9. Solfatara Creek flows in a south direction from the north edge of figure 9 (near northwest corner) to join the Gibbon River near Norris Junction. As seen in figure 8 more detailed maps show evidence of southeast oriented flood flow channels heading to the Wolf Lake area, which implies the west oriented Gibbon River valley did not exist at that time and that floodwaters flowed across the Solfatara Plateau to join a south-southeast oriented flood flow channel on the present day north-northwest oriented Yellowstone River alignment. The contour interval for figure 9 is 50 meters and, if there is evidence of southeast oriented flood flow channels crossing the Solfatara Plateau, the evidence does not show up in figure 9. However, the south oriented Cascade Creek valley is linked by a north-to-south oriented through valley with the north oriented Tower Creek headwaters valley (see figure 7) and Cascade Creek joins the Yellowstone River as a barbed tributary. This evidence suggests south oriented flood flow once moved from the Tower Creek drainage basin to the south oriented Cascade Creek valley and then to a south-southeast oriented flood flow channel on the present day north-northwest oriented Yellowstone River alignment. Figure 10 below provides a more detailed topographic map of the Gibbon River-Cascade Creek drainage divide area to look for additional evidence of south and southeast oriented flood flow to what is today the north-northwest oriented Yellowstone River valley.

Detailed map of Gibbon River-Cascade Creek drainage divide area

Figure 10: Detailed map of Gibbon River-Cascade Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 10 provides a detailed topographic map of the Gibbon River-Cascade Creek drainage divide area seen in less detail in figure 9. The Yellowstone River flows in a north-northeast and east-northeast direction in the southeast corner area of figure 10 and is entering the deep Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River (note the Upper and Lower Falls). Cascade Creek originates at Cascade Lake and flows in an east and then south direction to Cascade Meadows where it turns to flow in a southwest and then southeast direction to join the north oriented Yellowstone River as a barbed tributary. The Gibbon River originates at Grebe Lake and flows in a west and southwest direction to Wolf Lake and the west edge of figure 10 (north of center) and eventually reaches the west and north oriented Madison River. Between the west and southwest oriented Gibbon River headwaters and the north oriented Yellowstone River valley is the Solfatara Plateau. The contour interval for figure 10 is 20 feet and the Solfatara Plateau appears at first to be relatively flat. However, a close look reveals shallow channels or through valleys eroded into the Solfatara Plateau surface. For example between Cascade Lake and Cascade Meadows there is a shallow southeast oriented channel providing evidence of a former southeast oriented flood flow channel. Further west there are several northwest oriented streams flowing to Grebe Lake and the west and southwest oriented Gibbon River.  Some of these northwest oriented Gibbon River tributaries have northeast oriented headwaters or northeast oriented segments, but a close look reveals they are linked by shallow channels or through valleys with southeast and east oriented Yellowstone River tributaries. In other words, there is evidence of multiple shallow and southeast oriented flood flow channels on the Solfatara Plateau surface, suggesting the Solfatara Plateau surface may be an erosion surface formed by immense volumes of southeast oriented flood flow moving to a south-southeast oriented flood flow channel on the north-northwest oriented Yellowstone River valley alignment (south and east of figure 10). Note also the deeper west-to-east oriented through valley linking Grebe Lake with Cascade Lake, or linking the west oriented Gibbon River valley with the east oriented Cascade Creek valley. The through valley floor elevation at the drainage divide is between 8060 and 8080 feet. Elevations on the Solfatara Plateau to the south rise to 8200 feet while much higher elevations are found immediately to the north of the through valley. These elevations suggest the through valley is at least 120 feet deep. The through valley is a water eroded feature and was eroded by east oriented flood flow moving to the south oriented Cascade Creek valley. In this case I suspect crustal warping enabled the a deeper west and southwest oriented Gibbon River headwaters valley to capture southeast oriented flood flow to the Wolf Lake area and in the process to reverse east oriented flood flow on the present day Gibbon River headwaters route between Grebe Lake and Wolf Lake, although other interpretations are possible.

Additional information and sources of maps studied

This essay has provided only a sample of the detailed topographic map evidence supporting the flood erosion interpretation. Many additional illustrations could be provided. Readers are encouraged to look at mosaics of detailed topographic maps to see the abundance of available data. Maps used in this study were created and published by the United States Geologic Survey and can be obtained directly from the United States Geological Survey and/or from dealers offering United States Geological Survey maps. Hard copy maps can also be observed at United States Geological Survey map depositories, which are located throughout the United States and elsewhere. Illustrations used here were created using National Geographic Society TOPO software and digital map data. TOPO software and map data can be obtained from the National Geographic Society and/or dealers offering National Geographic Society digital map data.

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