Owl Creek-Wind River drainage divide area landform origins in the Owl Creek Mountains, Wyoming, USA

Authors

 

Abstract:

This essay uses topographic map evidence to interpret landform origins in the region between Owl Creek and the Wind River in the Owl Creek Mountains, Wyoming. The Wind River flows in a southeast direction between the Owl Creek Mountains and the Wind River Range into the Wind River Basin where it turns to flow in a north direction across the Owl Creek Mountain through Wind River Canyon . Once north of the Owl Creek Mountains the Wind River becomes the north oriented Bighorn River, which eventually joins the northeast oriented Yellowstone River in Montana. Owl Creek is an east oriented Bighorn River tributary draining the Owl Creek Mountains north flank. Cottonwood Creek, Muddy Creek, and Fivemile Creek are south-southeast and east oriented Wind River tributaries draining the Owl Creek Mountains south flank and flowing to the north oriented Wind River south of Wind River Canyon. Passes cross the Owl Creek Mountains west of Wind River Canyon and link valleys north of the Mountains with valleys south of the Mountains. These passes combined with valley orientations and elbows of capture provide evidence the Owl Creek Mountains emerged as immense south oriented floods were captured and diverted in a north direction. Floodwaters are interpreted to have been derived from the western margin of a thick North American ice sheet and were flowing from western Canada to and across the study region. At least initially present day mountain ranges had not emerged and floodwaters could freely flow across what are today high mountain regions. Through deep glacial erosion and ice sheet related crustal warping the ice sheet created a deep “hole” in which it was located. As south and southeast oriented floodwaters flowed across the emerging Owl Creek Mountains they were concentrated into fewer and fewer flood flow channels, with the developing valley on the Wind River Canyon alignment becoming the primary south oriented flood flow channel, which south of the Owl Creek Mountains converged with a southeast oriented flood flow channel on the present day southeast oriented Wind River alignment. Headward erosion of the deep northeast oriented Yellowstone River valley from space in the deep “hole” being opened up by ice sheet melting beheaded a south oriented flood flow channel supplying floodwaters to the Wind River Canyon flood flow channel. Floodwaters on the north end of the beheaded flood flow channel reversed flow direction to create the north oriented Bighorn River drainage route, which captured the southeast oriented flood flow channel on the southeast oriented Wind River alignment. South and southeast oriented flood flow from west of the actively eroding Yellowstone River valley head then continued to carve the Owl Creek Mountains drainage divide west of Wind River Canyon. South oriented flood flow crossing the emerging mountains eroded the Wind River Basin as the floodwaters flowed in a southeast and east direction to the newly reversed flood flow channel through Wind River Canyon. Headward erosion of the Owl Creek valley (and other valleys) north of the Owl Creek Mountains captured the south oriented flood flow and diverted the floodwaters in a northeast and east direction along the Owl Creek Mountains north flank and in the process help erode the Bighorn Basin on the north side of the Owl Creek Mountains.

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 the Owl Creek-Wind River drainage divide area landform origins in the Owl Creek Mountains, 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 Owl Creek-Wind River drainage divide area landform evidence in the Owl Creek Mountains will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Owl Creek-Wind River drainage divide area location map

Figure 1: Owl Creek-Wind 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 Owl Creek-Wind River drainage divide area in the Owl Creek Mountains and illustrates a region in west-central Wyoming. The southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park is located in the northwest corner of figure 1. The Absaroka Range is located along the Yellowstone National Park eastern border and extends in a southeast direction to the Owl Creek Mountains. The Yellowstone River flows in a north-northwest direction into the Park and north and west of figure 1 primarily flows in a northwest direction into Montana. Once in Montana the Yellowstone River turns to flow in more of an east and northeast direction in the region north of figure 1. The Wind River originates near Togwotee Pass (south of the Yellowstone River headwaters) and flows in a southeast direction to Riverton in the Wind River Basin where the Wind River turns to flow in a northeast and north direction to near Thermopolis where the river names changes to become the Bighorn River. Between Boysen Reservoir and Thermopolis the Wind River flows through Wind River Canyon, which is a deep canyon eroded across the Owl Creek Mountains. North of Thermopolis the Bighorn River flows in a north direction through the Bighorn Basin to the north edge of figure 1 at the town of Basin. North of figure 1 the Bighorn River flows in a north and north-northeast direction to join the northeast oriented Yellowstone River in Montana. Owl Creek is a Bighorn River tributary located on the north side of he Owl Creek Mountains and originates near Washakie Needles and joins the Bighorn River near Thermopolis. Muddy Creek and Fivemile Creek are southeast and east oriented Wind River tributaries located on the south side of the Owl Creek Mountains. The Owl Creek-Wind River drainage divide in the Owl Creek Mountains investigated in this easy is located west of Wind River Canyon, south of Owl Creek, east of Washakie Needles, and north and west of the Wind River (south of the Owl Creek Mountains).

Prior to development of the present day drainage system and as the present day drainage system evolved massive south and southeast oriented melt water floods flowed across the region seen in figure 1. Floodwaters were derived from the western margin of a thick North American ice sheet and were flowing from western Canada to and across the region seen in figure 1. At least initially the mountain ranges seen in figure 1 had not emerged and floodwaters could easily flow across what are today high mountain regions. Emergence of the mountain ranges and intervening basins occurred as floodwaters flowed across them and was related to ice sheet related crustal warping and to the melt water flood erosion and deposition. Ice sheet related crustal warping combined with deep glacial erosion of regions under the ice sheet created a deep “hole” in which the ice sheet was located. The region seen in figure 1 was located on the southwest rim of that deep “hole”, which was raised by the crustal warping, but which was also deeply eroded by the south and southeast oriented melt water flood flow from the ice sheet’s western margin. As the Owl Creek Mountains emerged south oriented floodwaters were channeled into fewer and fewer south oriented valleys, which were being eroded deeper and deeper by flood flow channels into the rising mountain mass. In time much of the south and southeast oriented flood flow entering the present day Bighorn Basin area was funneled to a deep south oriented valley on the present day north oriented Wind River Canyon alignment. South of the emerging Owl Creek Mountains that south oriented flood flow channel converged with a major southeast oriented flood flow channel, which had developed between the emerging Owl Creek Mountains and the emerging Wind River Range.

Eventually ice sheet melting opened up space in the south end of the deep “hole” and the deep northeast oriented Yellowstone River valley in Montana eroded headward from that newly opened up space to capture the immense south and southeast oriented floods flowing across Montana. Captured floodwaters were diverted in a northeast direction into the southern end of the deep “hole”, which for a significant period of time drained in a south direction using flood flow channels east of figure 1. Headward erosion of the deep Yellowstone River valley beheaded a south oriented flood flow channel supplying floodwaters to the Bighorn Basin. Floodwaters on the north end of the beheaded flood flow channel reversed flow direction to create the north oriented Bighorn River drainage route. East and northeast oriented tributary valleys eroded headward from the newly reversed and much deeper Bighorn River drainage route to eventually capture all south and southeast oriented flood flow entering the Bighorn Basin. At the same time the newly reversed Bighorn River drainage route captured previously developed southeast oriented routes both north and south of the emerging Owl Creek Mountains, including the southeast oriented flood flow channel on the present day southeast oriented Wind River alignment. Captured south and southeast oriented flood flow from west of the actively eroding Yellowstone River valley head continued to flow to the newly reversed Bighorn River drainage route until Yellowstone River valley headward erosion beheaded a south and southeast oriented flood flow channel to the Yellowstone National Park region. Floodwaters on the north and northwest end of that beheaded flood flow channel reversed flow direction to create the northwest oriented Yellowstone River headwaters drainage route seen in the northwest corner of figure 1 and ended all flood flow in the figure 1 region.

Detailed location map for Owl Creek-Wind River drainage divide area

Figure 2: Detailed location map Owl Creek-Wind 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 Owl Creek-Wind River drainage divide area in the Owl Creek Mountains. Brown colored areas are Wind River Indian Reservation lands. The Wind River flows from the west edge of figure 2 (south of center) to the south edge of figure 2 (slightly west of center) and south of figure 2 turns to flow in a northeast and north direction to Boysen Reservoir (lake in southeast quadrant of figure 2). From Boysen Reservoir the Wind River flows through Wind River Canyon to reach Thermopolis where the river name changes to become the Bighorn River, which then flows to the north edge of figure 2. The South Fork Owl Creek flows from the north edge of figure 2 (near northwest corner) along the north edge of the Wind River Indian Reservation in a southeast and east-northeast direction to join the southeast oriented North Fork Owl Creek and to form Owl Creek, which then flows in an east direction along the Wind River Indian Reservation north edge before turning to flow in a northeast direction to join the Bighorn River just north of figure 2. Mud Creek with its North, Middle, and South Forks and Red Creek are the labeled northeast oriented Owl Creek tributaries flowing from the Owl Creek Mountains. North, northwest, north, and east oriented Red Canyon and its north and northeast oriented tributaries drains the north slope of the Owl Creek Mountains west of Wind River Canyon and south of Mud Creek. The south slope of the Owl Creek Mountains west of Wind River Canyon is drained by south-southeast and east oriented Cottonwood Creek and its south and south-southeast oriented tributaries. Further west the south slope of the Owl Creek Mountains is drained southeast and east oriented Muddy Creek and its southeast and south-southeast oriented tributaries. Still further west the south slope of the Owl Creek Mountains is drained by southeast oriented streams flowing to southeast and east oriented Fivemile Creek and still further west by streams flowing to south-southeast oriented Dry Creek, which flows to the southeast oriented Wind River. Note the south, south-southeast, and southeast oriented drainage routes in figure 2 all flowing to the north oriented Wind (Bighorn) River. The U-turns made by these south oriented drainage routes as they enter the north oriented Wind (Bighorn) River valley is evidence of a massive drainage reversal. The south, south-southeast, and southeast oriented drainage routes originated as south, south-southeast, and southeast oriented flood flow channels moving to a south or southeast oriented flood flow route in the region south of the southeast corner of figure 2. The reversal of flood flow through Wind River Canyon captured the south, south-southeast, and southeast oriented flood flow channels west of Wind River Canyon to create the U-turns seen today.

Red Canyon Creek-Stagner Creek drainage divide area near the Bighorn River

Figure 3: Red Canyon Creek-Stagner Creek drainage divide area near the Bighorn River. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 3 provides a topographic map of the Red Canyon Creek-Stagner Creek drainage divide area near Wind River Canyon. The yellow colored region is Wind River Indian Reservation land,, although the use of the yellow color is not consistent on all maps in this essay. The Wind River flows in a north direction through Wind River Canyon near the east edge of figure 3. The map contour interval for figure 3 is 20 meters and elevations at Boysen Peak (just west of Wind River Canyon) exceed 2260 meters. The pool elevation at Boysen Reservoir at the south end of Wind Canyon is 1440 meters and elevations decrease in the Canyon in a north direction. These elevations indicate Wind River Canyon is at least 800 meters deep and is indeed a narrow valley eroded across the west-to-east oriented Owl Creek Mountains. North of the Owl Creek Mountains Red Canyon Creek originates near Red Springs (in north center area of figure 3) and flows in a west-northwest and north-northwest direction to the north edge of figure 3 (west of center). North and north-northeast drainage routes west of Red Springs drain the north slope of the Owl Creek Mountains to the north oriented Red Canyon valley. East of Red Springs is north-northwest, north, and northeast oriented Johnson Draw, which drains to the Wind River just north of figure 3. The south slope of the Owl Creek Mountains is drained by numerous south oriented streams, which flow to the south edge of figure 3 and then to east oriented Cottonwood Creek, which joins the north oriented Wind River at Boysen Reservoir. There is a radio tower near the center of figure 3 on top of the high Owl Creek Mountain ridge. Nicholson Springs is located a short distance west of the radio tower. Stagner Creek originates at Nicholson Springs and flows in a southwest and south direction to the south edge of figure 3 (west of center) and then to Cottonwood Creek. The road from Nicholson Springs goes in a north direction through a pass eroded across the Owl Creek Mountain high ridge. The pass elevation is between 2100 and 2120 meters. The radio tower is located on a high point at least 2280 meters high and the high point immediately west of the pass reaches at least 2240 meters suggesting the pass is at least 120 meters deep. While today the pass is approximately 800 meters higher than the floor of Wind River Canyon the pass is evidence of a former south oriented flood flow channel. At one time the Owl Creek Mountains were crossed by numerous south oriented flood flow channels, with the Wind River Canyon south oriented flood flow channel being just one of many such channels. As the Owl Creek Mountains emerged the south oriented flood flow became concentrated on the Wind River Canyon route, which was able to erode its valley faster than flood flow channels on other routes could erode their valleys. In time headward erosion of deep east oriented valleys north of the emerging Owl Creek Mountains enabled the Wind River Canyon flood flow channel capture all of the south oriented flood flow that had previously been moving across the Owl Creek Mountains seen in figure 3 west of Wind River Canyon.

Red Canyon Creek-Johnson Draw drainage divide area

Figure 4: Red Canyon Creek-Johnson Draw drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 4 provides a topographic map of the Red Canyon Creek-Johnson Draw drainage divide area and is located north of figure 3 and includes an overlap area with figure 3. The Wind River flows through the north end of Wind River Canyon in a north direction from the southwest corner of figure 4 to near Thermopolis and the north edge of figure 4. Note the river name change north of Wind River Canyon. Red Springs is located near the south center edge of figure 4. Red Canyon Creek originates near Red Springs and flows in a northwest and north direction around the west side of Nostrum Mountain before turning to flow in an east direction to join the north oriented Wind River at the point where the Wind River becomes the Bighorn River. East of Red Springs is north and northeast oriented Johnson Draw, which drains to the north oriented Wind River. Note how the Red Canyon Creek headwaters near Red Springs are linked by a deep through valley on the south side of Nostrum Mountain with the Johnson Draw valley. The map contour interval for figure 4 is 50 meters and the through valley floor elevation at the drainage divide is 1870 meters. Nostrum Mountain to the north rises to 2050 meters while as seen in figure 3 the Owl Creek Mountains to the south rise to more than 2200 meters. These elevations suggest the through valley is at least 180 meters deep. The through valley was eroded by south oriented flood flow west of Nostrum Mountain that was captured by headward erosion of an east oriented valley from what at first was probably a south oriented flood flow channel on the present day north oriented Wind River Canyon alignment. At that time Wind River Canyon was not as deep as it is today and elevations north of Nostrum Mountain were higher than they are today, in fact the valley floor was several hundred meters higher than it is today. At some point in the process the direction of flood flow through Wind River Canyon was reversed, although large volumes of north oriented floodwaters then moved through the Canyon and kept eroding the Wind River Canyon floor deeper and deeper. The northeast oriented Johnson Draw valley segment probably was formed after the flood flow reversal. As the Wind River Canyon valley floor was eroded deeper and deeper the east oriented Red Canyon valley eroded headward to capture the south oriented flood flow west of Nostrum Mountain. Floodwaters on the north end of the beheaded flood flow channel west of Nostrum Mountain reversed flow direction to create the north and northwest oriented Red Canyon Creek headwaters drainage route. Headward erosion of the deeper east oriented Owl Creek valley and its tributary valleys north of figure 4 next beheaded south oriented flood flow to the Red Canyon Creek drainage route and floodwaters on north ends of beheaded flood flow routes reversed flow to create north oriented drainage routes such as those seen in the Sweetwater Basin area in the northwest quadrant of figure 4.

Red Canyon Creek-Mexican Draw drainage divide area

Figure 5: Red Canyon Creek-Mexican Draw drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 5 provides a topographic map to illustrate the Red Canyon Creek-Mexican Draw drainage divide area and is located west and north of figure 3 and includes overlap areas with figures 3 and 4. The map contour interval is 20 meters in the yellow colored area and 50 meters in the region north of the yellow colored area. The Owl Creek Mountains extend in a southeast direction from the northwest corner of figure 5 to the south center area of figure 4 and then in an east direction in the southeast quadrant of figure 5. Red Canyon Creek flows in a north direction along the east edge of the northeast quadrant of figure 5 and north of figure 5 turns to flow in an east direction to the north oriented Bighorn River. Kates Basin is a named location in the northwest quadrant of figure 5. The north-northeast oriented stream originating near Kates Basin and flowing to the north edge of figure 5 is the South Fork Mud Creek, with Mud Creek being a tributary to east oriented Owl Creek, which is located north of figure 5. Other drainage routes east of the South Fork Mud Creek and north of the Owl Creek Mountains are Red Canyon Creek tributaries. The south oriented stream flowing to the southwest corner of figure 5 is the East Fork Sheep Creek, which flows to southeast and east oriented Muddy Creek. The south oriented streams between East Fork Sheep Creek and Jenkins Mountain are headwaters of Cottonwood Creek, which south of figure 5 turns to flow in an east direction. Mexican Draw is a south oriented Cottonwood Creek tributary originating near Mexican Pass (located east of Arrowhead Ridge). Mexican Pass is another deep north-to-south oriented pass eroded across the Owl Creek Mountains. The pass elevation is between 1900 and 1950 meters. Elevations west of Mexican Pass rise to 2238 meters and as seen in figure 3 elevations to east rise to at least 2280 meters. These elevations suggest Mexican Pass may be as much 300 meters deep. The Mexican Pass valley was also eroded as a south oriented flood flow channel until the south oriented flood waters were captured by headward erosion of east oriented valleys from the much deeper Wind River Canyon flood flow channel. Perhaps at first floodwaters flowed south of Nostrum Mountain to a south oriented flood flow channel in the Wind River Canyon valley. However, following reversal of flood flow in Wind River Canyon floodwaters were captured by the east oriented Red Canyon Creek valley north of Nostrum Mountain and diverted in a northeast direction to that east oriented valley. The north and northeast oriented Red Canyon Creek tributary drainage routes may have formed as captured floodwaters, which were diverted in northeast directions, eroded deeper and deeper valleys on the north side of the emerging Owl Creek Mountains to reach the Red Canyon Creek valley.

Owl Creek Mountains-Cottonwood Creek drainage divide area near Mexican Pass

Figure 6: Owl Creek Mountains-Cottonwood Creek drainage divide area near Mexican Pass. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 6 illustrates a the Owl Creek Mountains-Cottonwood Creek drainage divide area near Mexican Pass south of figure 5 and includes overlap areas with figure 5 and with figure 3. Cottonwood Creek flows in a south-southeast, southeast, and east direction from the northwest corner of figure 6 to near the southeast corner of figure 6 and east of figure 6 flows to the north oriented Wind River at Boysen Reservoir. Mexican Draw drains in a south direction from near the north center edge of figure 6. Note other south oriented Cottonwood Creek tributaries originating in the Owl Creek Mountains near the north edge of figure 6. These south oriented drainage route alignments were probably established as south oriented flood flow channels at a time when south oriented floodwaters flowed freely across the emerging Owl Creek Mountains and had not yet been concentrated into deeper the valleys (or present day passes). Headward erosion of east oriented valley north of the Owl Creek Mountains captured these south oriented flood flow channels in sequence from east to west, which means floodwaters continued to flow across the western half of figure 6 after flood flow routes across the eastern half of figure 6 had been beheaded. South oriented flood flow crossing the Owl Creek Mountains entered what is now the Wind River Basin and initially flowed in a south or southeast direction across the Wind River Basin into and across central Wyoming. Floodwaters eroded the Owl Creek Mountains south flank as they eroded the Wind River Basin deeper and deeper (and perhaps deposited flood transported materials in the Wind River Basin as crustal warping lowered the Basin floor). When flood flow through Wind River Canyon was reversed there probably was still south oriented flood flow crossing at least some of drainage divide now seen in figure 6. The deep east oriented Cottonwood Creek valley eroded headward on the south side of the Owl Creek Mountains to capture that south oriented flood flow and to divert the floodwaters to the newly reversed north oriented flood flow channel in Wind River Canyon. Headward erosion of the east oriented Muddy Creek and Fivemile Creek valleys south of figure 6 captured floodwaters moving across the Owl Creek Mountains further to the west and the southeast oriented Wind River valley captured south and southeast oriented flood flow moving further to the west, which for a time were still flowing across the emerging Absaroka Mountains.

Red Creek-Shotgun Creek drainage divide area

Figure 7: Red Creek-Shotgun Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 7 provides a topographic map of the Red Creek-Shotgun Creek drainage divide area north and west of figure 5 and includes an overlap area with figure 5. Anchor Reservoir is the small lake located near the northwest corner of figure 7. The South Fork Owl Creek flows into Anchor Reservoir from west of figure 7 and then flows in an east and northeast direction to the north edge of figure 7 (west half). Red Creek is the north-northwest, north, and northeast oriented stream flowing to the north edge of figure 7 east of the South Fork Owl Creek (slightly west of center) and joins the South Fork Owl Creek north of figure 7. Other streams flowing to the north edge of figure 7 are South Fork Owl Creek tributaries. The northeast oriented stream flowing to the east edge of figure 7 (near northeast corner) is the North Fork Mud Creek, with Mud Creek being an Owl Creek tributary. Blondy Pass is north-to-south oriented pass crossing the Owl Creek near the west center edge of figure 7 and is better seen in figure 8. Holland Creek flows in a south direction from near Blondy Pass to join southeast, southeast, and east oriented Dry Muddy Creek south of figure 7. The south oriented stream originating south of the Red Creek headwaters is Shotgun Creek, which flows to the south edge of figure 7 and then to Dry Muddy Creek with dry Muddy Creek then flowing to southeast and east oriented Fivemile Creek. Note how the north oriented Red Creek valley is linked by a north-to-south oriented pass with the south oriented Shotgun Creek valley. The map contour interval for figure 7 is 50 meters and the pass elevation is between 2500 and 2550 meters. Owl Creek-Muddy Creek drainage divide elevations west of the pass rise to 3010 meters while elevations east of the pass rise to more than 2900 meters. These elevations suggest the pass is at least 350 meters deep. Additional shallower passes can be seen crossing the drainage divide further to the east. Passes illustrated in figure 7 are more examples of valleys eroded by south oriented flood flow channels prior to headward erosion of the deeper east oriented South Fork Owl Creek valley. Headward erosion of the deep South Fork Owl Creek valley beheaded the south oriented flood flow channels and floodwaters on north ends of the beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to create north oriented South Fork Owl Creek tributary drainage routes.

South Fork Owl Creek-Sagwup Draw drainage divide area

Figure 8: South Fork Owl Creek-Sagwup Draw drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 8 provides a detailed topographic map of the South Fork Owl Creek-Sagwup Draw drainage divide area west of figure 6 and includes an overlap area with figure 7. The South Fork Owl Creek flows in a southeast direction from the west edge of figure 8 (near northwest corner) along the north edge of the yellow colored area to near the Hot Springs-Fremont County line and then turns to flow in a northeast direction to Anchor Reservoir and the east edge of figure 8 (near northeast corner). Sagwup Draw originates in the Red Basin area (south of the county line and west of center of figure 8) and drains in a southeast, east, and southeast direction to join Dry Muddy Creek south of figure 8. Holland Creek originates south of Blondy Pass (near east center edge of figure 8) and flows in a south direction to join Dry Muddy Creek south of figure 8. Bargee Creek (unlabeled in figure 8) originates near the center of figure 8 (east of Red Basin and south of the county line) and flows in a southeast and south direction to join Dry Muddy Creek near the south edge of figure 8. Dry Muddy Creek (”Creek” in figure 8) flows from the west edge of figure 8 (near county line) in a south-southeast and east-southeast direction to the south center edge of figure 8 and south of figure 8 flows to Fivemile Creek. A pass just east of the yellow colored area links the southeast and northeast oriented South Fork Owl Creek valley with Red Basin and the Sagwup Draw headwaters valley. The map contour interval for figure 8 is 50 meters and the pass elevation is shown as 2346 meters. Spring Mountain to the west rises to 2960 meters and an elevation of 3010 meters is located along the east edge of figure 8. Blondy Pass has an elevation of between 2450 and 2500 meters. Between the through valley and Blondy Pass the drainage divide elevations rise to more than 2600 meters. These elevations suggest there is a broad north-to-south oriented through valley between Spring Mountain and the high elevation near the east edge of figure 8 that is 600 meters deep at it deepest point. The South Fork Owl Creek-Sagwup Draw through valley is the deepest point and probably represents a deeper channel eroded into the floor of the much broader south oriented flood flow channel. Blondy Pass also represents what was once a deeper channel in the floor of that former south oriented flood flow channel. At the time the south oriented flood flow valley was eroded the South Fork Owl Creek valley did not exist north of the present day drainage divide. The south oriented flood flow channel(s) was (were) eroded into an erosion surface as high, if not higher, than the highest points seen in figure 8 today. Headward erosion of the deep South Fork Owl Creek valley across the south oriented flood flow channel(s) beheaded the south oriented flood flow routes and diverted the floodwaters in an east direction on the north side of what were then the emerging Owl Creek Mountains.

Detailed map of South Fork Owl Creek-Sagwup Draw drainage divide area

Figure 9: Detailed map of South Fork Owl Creek-Sagwup Draw drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 9 provides a detailed topographic map of the South Fork Owl Creek-Sagwup Draw drainage divide area seen in less detail in figure 8. The contour interval for figure 9 is 20 feet in the darker colored area (in the southeast region of figure 9) and is 40 feet elsewhere. The South Fork Owl Creek flows in an east-southeast and east direction from near the northwest corner of figure 9 to the east edge of figure 9 (near northeast corner) and is north of the Hot Springs-Fremont County line. Red Basin is labeled and is located near the south edge of figure 9. Sagwup Draw drains the Red Basin area in a southeast direction to the south edge of figure 9 (east half), and south of figure 9 Sagwup Draw drains to Dry Muddy Creek. A pass in the northwest quadrant of section 3 links a north oriented tributary valley to the east oriented South Fork Owl Creek valley with the southeast oriented Sagwup Draw valley. The pass elevation is 7697 feet. Elevations on the drainage divide west of the pass seen in figure 9 rise to more than 8400 feet and Spring Mountain located west of figure 9 rises to 9710 feet. Elevations in section 12 to the east rise to 8263 feet and east of figure 9 (and east of Blondy Pass) elevations rise to 9788 feet. These elevations suggest the pass is approximately 600 feet deep based on elevations seen in figure 9 and more than 1000 feet deep based on more distant elevations. The  pass was eroded by southeast oriented flood flow channel moving floodwaters across the emerging Owl Creek Mountains to the developing Wind River Basin. The Wind River Basin was being eroded as floodwaters eroded the deep Fivemile Creek valley and its tributary Dry Muddy Creek valley and their tributary valleys headward along and into the emerging Owl Creek Mountains. Southeast oriented flood flow to the Dry Muddy Creek drainage system was beheaded by headward erosion of the deep east and northeast oriented South Fork Owl Creek valley on the north side of the Owl Creek Mountains. Significant factors in the Owl Creek Mountains emergence were headward erosion of the deep Fivemile Creek-Dry Muddy Creek valley and their tributary valleys along the Owl Creek Mountains south flank and subsequent headward erosion of the deep South Fork Owl Creek valley along the Owl Creek Mountains north flank.

South Fork Owl Creek-Dry Muddy Creek drainage divide area

Figure 10: South Fork Owl Creek-Dry Muddy Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 10 provides a topographic map of the South Fork Owl Creek-Dry Muddy Creek drainage divide area west and north of figure 9 and includes an overlap area with figure 8. The South Fork Owl Creek flows in a southeast direction from the north edge of figure 10 along the north edge of the yellow colored area to the east edge of figure 10 (just north of the county line). East of figure 10 the South Fork Owl Creek turns to flow in a northeast and east direction to flow on the north side of the Owl Creek Mountains with water eventually reaching the north oriented Bighorn River. Crow Creek is the south oriented stream flowing from the northwest corner of figure 10 to the southwest corner of figure 10 and south of figure 10 flows to the southeast oriented Wind River. Dry Muddy Creek originates south of Monument Peak and flows in a southeast and south direction across the center of figure 10 to the south edge of figure 10. South of figure 10 Dry Muddy Creek turns to flow in a southeast direction and eventually flows to southeast, east, and northeast oriented Fivemile Creek, which flows to the north oriented Wind River at the south end of Boysen Reservoir. Monument Peak and Spring Mountain are high points labeled in figure 10. The map contour interval for figure 10 is 50 meters. The Monument Peak elevation is 3501 meters and the Spring Mountain elevation is 2960 meters. Follow the drainage divide between Monument Peak and Spring Mountain and note at several locations elevations drop to less the 2550 meters. These low points on the drainage divide are evidence of former flood flow channels that once crossed the region. The through valley closest to Spring Mountain suggests east oriented flood flow at one time moved from the Dry Muddy Creek headwaters area to an east oriented South Fork Owl Creek valley head, which was probably eroding headward toward the Spring Mountain area. Headward erosion of a south oriented tributary valley from what was probably the actively eroding south and south-southeast oriented Dry Muddy Creek valley captured the east oriented flood flow and diverted the floodwaters to the south side of the emerging Owl Creek Mountains. The two low points further to the northwest suggest parallel north-to-south oriented flood flow channels moved floodwaters to the south-southeast and south oriented Dry Muddy Creek valley. These south oriented flood flow channels were beheaded by headward erosion of the east oriented Cherry Creek valley, which eroded headward from the actively eroding southeast oriented South Fork Owl Creek valley head. These subtle through valleys crossing present day high mountain ridges provide evidence that headward erosion of deep east oriented valleys north and south of the emerging Owl Creek Mountains were competing with each other to capture the south and southeast oriented flood flow moving across the region and were carving the present day South Fork Owl Creek-Wind River drainage divide along the Owl Creek Mountains crest  as they did so.

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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