Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek drainage divide area landform origins in the Wyoming Bighorn Mountains, USA

Authors

 

Abstract:

This essay uses topographic map evidence to interpret landform origins in the region between Paint Rock Creek and Tensleep Creek in the Wyoming Bighorn Mountains. Paint Rock Creek and Tensleep Creek originate in the high Bighorn Mountains and flow in southwest directions to join the northwest oriented Nowood River, which flows along the Bighorn Basin east margin to join the north oriented Bighorn River. Paint Rock Creek is located north of Tensleep Creek and the Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek drainage divide area extends westward from the Bighorn Mountains crest ridge to the north oriented Nowood River valley at the base of the Bighorn Mountains steeply sloping west flank. Barbed tributaries and through valleys crossing drainage divides are found at all elevations from the Bighorn Mountains crest ridge westward to the Nowood River valley and provide evidence of south oriented flood flow channels that once crossed the region. Floodwaters are interpreted to have been derived from a thick North American ice sheet and were flowing from western Canada to and across the present day Bighorn Mountains. At that time the Bighorn Mountains did not stand high above the Bighorn Basin to the west and floodwaters could freely flow across what is today a high mountain range. The Bighorn Mountains emerged as south and southeast oriented melt water flood erosion lowered the Powder River Basin to the east and the Bighorn Basin to the west and as ice sheet related crustal warping created a deep “hole” for the location where the ice sheet was located. The Bighorn Mountains could be considered a segment of the deep “hole’s” deeply eroded and warped southwest rim. South and southeast oriented flood flow across the study region was beheaded by headward erosion of the deep northeast oriented Yellowstone River valley, which eroded headward from space in the deep “hole” being opened up by ice sheet melting. Flood flow channels were beheaded in sequence from east to west and floodwaters on north and northwest ends of beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to create north oriented drainage systems. These new north oriented drainage systems captured south and southeast oriented flood flow from west of the actively eroding Yellowstone River valley head. Topographic map evidence illustrated in this essay demonstrates the south and southeast floodwaters flowed across the Bighorn Mountains as the Bighorn Mountains were emerging and the reversal of flood flow in the Bighorn Basin occurred late during the Bighorn Mountains emergence process.

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 Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek drainage divide area landform origins in the Wyoming Bighorn Mountains. 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 Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek drainage divide area landform evidence in the Wyoming Bighorn Mountains will be regarded as evidence supporting the “thick ice sheet that melted fast” paradigm.

Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek drainage divide area location map

Figure 1: Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek 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 Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek drainage divide area in the Wyoming Bighorn Mountains and illustrates a region in north central Wyoming. The Montana-Wyoming state line is located along the north edge of figure 1. The Bighorn Mountains extend in a north to south direction from the north center edge to the south center edge of figure 1. The Owl Creek Mountains extend in an east direction from near the southwest corner of figure 1 towards the Bighorn Mountains. The Bighorn Basin is located west of the Bighorn Mountains and north of the Owl Creek Mountains. The Powder River Basin is located east of the Bighorn Mountains along the east edge of figure 1. The Wind River Basin is located south of the Owl Creek Mountains and is not seen in figure 1. The Wind River flows in a southeast direction across the southeast corner of figure 1 into the Wind River Basin and south of figure 1 turns to flow in a north direction to Boysen Reservoir and Thermopolis. Between Boysen Reservoir and Thermopolis the Wind River flows through Wind River Canyon (not labeled in figure 1). Upon entering the Bighorn Basin near Thermopolis the Wind River name changes to become the Bighorn River, which then flows in a north direction through the Bighorn Basin to the north edge of figure 1. North of figure 1 the Bighorn River turns to flow in a north-northeast direction and joins the northeast oriented Yellowstone River. The Nowood River is a north-northeast, north-northwest, and northwest oriented Bighorn River tributary flowing along the east edge of the Bighorn Basin. Tensleep Creek is the unlabeled southwest oriented Nowood River tributary originating in the high Bighorn Mountains and joining the Nowood River near the town of Tensleep. Paint Rock Creek is the unlabeled southwest and west-southwest oriented Nowood River directly north of Tensleep Creek and flows through the town of Hyattsville. The Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek drainage divide area investigated in this essay is located south and east of Paint Rock Creek and north and west of Tensleep Creek and includes areas in the high Bighorn Mountains as well as areas on the Bighorn Mountains west slope and near the Nowood River.

Paint Rock Creek and Tensleep Creek are south oriented streams flowing as barbed tributaries to the north oriented Nowood River and Bighorn River drainage systems. East of Tensleep Creek is the south and southeast oriented North Fork Powder River, which flows to the north oriented Powder River as a barbed tributary. These south oriented streams in a region drained today by north oriented drainage systems are evidence of south oriented flood flow channels that once crossed 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 across Montana to and across Wyoming. At that time the Bighorn Mountains, Owl Creek Mountains, and other regional mountain ranges had not emerged and floodwaters could freely flow across what are today high mountain ranges. Emergence of the mountains began as floodwaters flowed across them and was caused by both floodwater erosion and by ice sheet related crustal warping, which was creating a deep “hole” in which the ice sheet was located. The region seen in figure 1 could be considered to be a segment of the deep “hole’s” southwest rim. Floodwaters initially flowed in a south and southeast direction along and across the deep “hole’s” southwest rim, although subsequently were captured by headward erosion of the deep northeast oriented Yellowstone River valley in Montana (north of figure 1). The deep Yellowstone River valley eroded headward from space at the south end of the deep “hole” being opened up by ice sheet melting. Initially the deep “hole” south end drained in a south direction using flood flow channels east of figure 1. Headward erosion of the deep northeast oriented Yellowstone River valley beheaded flood flow channels in sequence from east to west and floodwaters on north ends of beheaded flood flow routes reversed flow direction to create north oriented drainage routes. South oriented flood flow crossing what was then the emerging Powder River Basin was beheaded and reversed first to create the north oriented Powder River, which then captured southeast oriented flood flow still moving across what were then the emerging Bighorn Mountains. Emergence of the Bighorn Mountains later deflected south and southeast oriented flood flow in a southwest direction to south oriented flood flow channels eroding headward into the emerging Bighorn Basin. Headward erosion of the deep northeast oriented Yellowstone River valley then beheaded and reversed south oriented flood flow in the emerging Bighorn Basin to create the north oriented Bighorn River drainage system. The newly formed Bighorn River drainage system then captured south and southeast oriented flood flow still moving west of the actively eroding Yellowstone River valley head (see southeast oriented Bighorn River tributaries in figure 1).

Detailed location map for Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek drainage divide area

Figure 2: Detailed location map of Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek 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 Paint Rock Creek-Tensleep Creek drainage divide area in the Wyoming Bighorn Mountains. The green colored area is National Forest land and is located in the Bighorn Mountains. The Bighorn Basin is located west of the Bighorn Mountains. The Bighorn River flows in a north direction from the south edge of figure 2 (near southwest corner) to the towns of Worland, Manderson, Basin, and Greybull before flowing to the north edge of figure 2. The Nowood River flows in a north and northwest direction from the south center edge of figure 2 to join the Bighorn River near the town of Manderson. Tensleep Creek originates in the Bighorn Mountains (south of Cloud Peak) and flows in a south and southwest direction to join the Nowood River near the town of Tensleep. Paint Rock Creek originates in the Bighorn Mountains (near Cloud Peak and north of the Tensleep Creek headwaters) and flows in a west, south-southwest, and west-southwest direction to the town of Hyattsville and then flows in a southwest direction to join the northwest oriented Nowood River. Paint Rock Creek tributaries include North Paint Rock Creek, Long Park Creek, Mid Paint Rock Creek, South Paint Rock Creek, Laddie Creek, Luman Creek, and Military Creek. Southwest oriented Nowood River tributaries located between Paint Rock Creek and Tensleep Creek include Buffalo Creek and the North and South Forks of Brokenback Creek. South and southwest oriented drainage routes in the region between Paint Rock Creek and Tensleep Creek are flowing along and down the steep Bighorn Mountains west flank. These southwest oriented drainage routes evolved as the Bighorn Mountains and adjacent Bighorn Basin emerged. At that time south and southeast oriented flood flow was moving across what are today the high Bighorn Mountains to a southeast oriented flood flow channel on the southeast oriented North Fork Powder River alignment (seen in the southeast corner of figure 2). Headward erosion of deep south oriented flood flow channels west of the emerging Bighorn Mountains systematically captured the south and southeast oriented flood flow and diverted the floodwaters in a southwest direction as the emerging Bighorn Mountains west flank emerged. South oriented flood flow in the emerging Bighorn Basin was subsequently beheaded and reversed by headward erosion of the deep northeast oriented Yellowstone River valley, which eroded headward across Montana from space in the deep “hole” the melting ice sheet was opening up. Reversed flood flow on the Bighorn River alignment then captured flood flow still moving west of the actively eroding Yellowstone River valley head (note the southeast oriented Bighorn River tributaries west of Worland).

Paint Rock Creek-West Tensleep Creek drainage divide area

Figure 3: Paint Rock Creek-West Tensleep Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 3 provides a topographic map of the Paint Rock Creek-West Tensleep Creek drainage divide area. The high crest ridge of the Bighorn Mountains extends in north-northwest to south-southeast direction from the north edge of figure 3 (east of center) to the south edge of figure 3 (near southeast corner). Areas east of the crest ridge drain to the Powder River while areas west of the crest ridge drain to the Nowood River and then to the Bighorn River. Florence Pass is located on the Bighorn Mountains crest ridge approximately midway between the north and south edges of figure 3. West of Florence Pass is Mistymoon Lake where West Tensleep Creek originates. West Tensleep Creek flows in a south direction from Mistymoon Lake to the south center edge of figure 3 and south of figure 3 joins other streams to form southwest oriented Tensleep Creek, which flows to the northwest oriented Nowood River. Middle Tensleep Creek originates at Lost Twin Lakes (near south edge of southeast quadrant of figure 3) and flows in a northwest and southwest direction to join West Tensleep Creek south of figure 3. Black Tooth Mountain and Cloud Peak are high points on the Bighorn Mountains crest ridge near the north edge of figure 3. Paint Rock Creek originates south of Black Tooth Mountain and west of Cloud Peak and flows in a southwest direction to Lake Solitude. From Lake Solitude Paint Rock Creek flows in a west and south-southwest direction to the west edge of figure 3 (south of center) and west of figure 3 flows in a northwest and southwest direction to eventually join the northwest oriented Nowood River. North of Mistymoon Lake a through valley (or pass) links a west oriented Paint Rock Creek tributary valley with the south oriented West Tensleep Creek valley. The map contour interval for figure 3 is 20 meters and the through valley floor elevation is between 3160 and 3180 meters. Elk Mountain to the west rises to 3451 meters and the Bighorn Mountains crest ridge to the east has elevations greater than 3700 meters suggesting the through valley is at least 270 meters deep. Florence Pass is also a through valley linking the Paint Rock Creek and West Tensleep Creek valleys with the east oriented North Clear Creek valley. East of figure 4 Clear Creek flows in an east direction to enter the Powder River Basin and then turns to flow in a northeast direction to join the Powder River. The Florence Pass elevation is less than 3400 meters and Mather Peaks to the south is shown with an elevation of 3764 meters while Bomber Mountain to the north rises to more than 3800 meters, which means Florence Pass is more than 360 meters deep. These through valleys are water-eroded features and were eroded by water flowing across what is today a high mountain range. Figure 4 illustrates these through valleys in more detail to better see the evidence.

Detailed map of Paint Rock Creek-Mistymoon Lake drainage divide area

Figure 4: Detailed map of Paint Rock Creek-Mistymoon Lake 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 Paint Rock Creek-Mistymoon Lake drainage divide seen in less detail in figure 3.  Mistymoon Lake is located on the boundary between sections 4 and 33 in the west half of figure 4. West Tensleep Creek flows in a south direction from Mistymoon Lake to the south edge of figure 4 (west half). Paint Rock Creek flows in a southwest direction from the north edge of figure 4 (section 26-east of center) into the northwest quadrant of section 33 and then turns to flow in a west direction to the west edge of figure 4 (north of center). Florence Lake is located in the southwest quadrant of section 35 and Florence Pass is directly south from Florence Lake. South of Florence Pass drainage is in a west direction to Mistymoon Lake and the south oriented West Tensleep Creek valley. North Clear Creek flows in an east-southeast direction from Florence Lake to the east edge of figure 4 (south of center). The map contour interval for figure 4 is 40 feet and the Florence Pass elevation is between 10,880 and 10,920 feet. Elevations in section 2 to the south rise to 12,328 feet and elevations greater than 12,600 feet can be found in section 25 near the northeast corner of figure 4. These elevations suggest Florence Pass is at least 1440 feet deep. While the region seen in figure 4 appears to have been glaciated the Florence Pass through valley existed before the glaciation and was eroded by water crossing the present day Bighorn River-Powder River drainage divide at a time when the Bighorn Mountains did not stand high above the adjacent Bighorn and Powder River Basins. A through valley in section 33 north of Mistymoon Lake links a west oriented Paint Rock Creek tributary valley with the Mistymoon Lake basin and the south oriented West Tensleep Creek valley. The through valley floor elevation is between 10,440 and 10,480 feet. Elevations greater than 11,320 feet can be found in the northwest quadrant of section 5 (near west edge of figure 4) suggesting the through valley is almost 900 feet deep. Again the through valley is a water-eroded valley and was probably eroded by south oriented flood flow moving to what was then the actively eroding south oriented West Tensleep Creek valley. Floodwaters were coming from north and west of figure 4, which means at that time the Bighorn Mountains did not stand high above the Bighorn Basin (at least to the northwest) as they do today. Headward erosion of the west oriented Paint Rock Creek valley captured the south oriented flood flow and diverted the floodwaters in a west direction, probably to an actively eroding and deep south oriented flood flow channel eroding headward in the Bighorn Basin to the west.

South Paint Rock Creek-West Tensleep Creek drainage divide area

Figure 5: South Paint Rock Creek-West Tensleep Creek 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 South Paint Rock Creek-West Tensleep Creek drainage divide area south and slightly west of figure 3 and includes an overlap area with figure 3. Figure 5 illustrates a region on the Bighorn Mountains steeply sloping west flank and elevations range from more than 3300 meters near the northeast corner of figure 5 to less than 1800 meters along the west edge of figure 5 (the contour interval for figure 5 is 20 meters). West Tensleep Creek flows in a south direction from the north edge of figure 5 (east half) to Tensleep Lake and then in a south-southwest and south direction to the south edge of figure 5 (near highway). Middle Tensleep Creek flows in a southwest and south-southwest direction from near the northeast corner of figure 5 to join West Tensleep Creek south of Tensleep Lake. East Tensleep Creek flows in a southwest direction from the east center edge of figure 5 to join West Tensleep Creek near the south edge of figure 5. Paint Rock Creek flows in a southwest and northwest direction near the northwest corner of figure 5. South Paint Rock Creek originates near the center of figure 5 (just west of the West Tensleep Creek valley) and flows in a west and northwest direction to join Paint Rock Creek. Soldier Creek and Buckskin Ed Creek are south-southwest oriented tributaries to northwest oriented South Paint Rock Creek. South of the South Paint Rock Creek headwaters are headwaters of west and southwest oriented Brokenback Creek (not labeled in figure 5), which flow to the south edge of figure 5 (west half). A through valley links the northwest oriented South Paint Rock Creek valley with the southwest oriented Brokenback Creek valley. The map contour interval for figure 5 is 20 meters and the through valley floor elevation is between 2540 and 2560 meters. Elevations west of the through valley rise to more than 2640 meters and east of the through valley rise much higher. These elevations suggest the through valley is at least 80 meters deep. Numerous other shallow through valleys can be found crossing other drainage divides seen in figure 5. For example, Bald Ridge is located west of the West Tensleep Creek valley and east of the Soldier Creek headwaters. Warner Draw drains in a south direction from the west side of Bald Ridge to the south oriented West Tensleep Creek valley. A through valley links the west and northwest oriented South Paint Rock Creek valley with the south oriented Warner Draw valley. The through valley is defined by at least three contour lines on a side. Other shallow through valleys link the Soldier Creek valley with the Warner Draw valley. Figure 6 provides a detailed map of the Warner Draw region to better illustrate shallow through valleys in the area.

Detailed map of Soldier Creek-West Tensleep Creek drainage divide area

Figure 6: Detailed map of Soldier Creek-West Tensleep Creek 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 Soldier Creek-West Tensleep Creek drainage divide area seen in less detail in figure 5. Tensleep Lake is located near the northeast corner of figure 6. West Tensleep Creek flows in a south-southwest direction from Tensleep Lake to the south edge of figure 6 (east half). Middle Tensleep Creek flows in a south-southwest and west direction from the east edge of figure 6 (east of Tensleep Lake) to join West Tensleep Creek. Bald Ridge is a located west of West Tensleep Creek and Warner Draw is the south oriented stream west of Bald Ridge in section 7 (near south edge of figure 6). Soldier Creek is the south-southwest oriented stream flowing from near the north center edge of figure 6 to the west edge of figure 6 (near southwest corner). Spring Draw is the northwest oriented drainage route originating in section 12 and joining Soldier Creek as a barbed tributary in the southwest quadrant of section 1. A through valley in the north half of section 7 links west oriented Soldier Creek tributary valleys with the south oriented Warner Draw valley. The map contour interval for figure 6 is 40 feet and the through valley floor elevation is between 9200 and 9240 feet. Elevations in the southwest corner of section 7 rise to more than 9400 feet and elevations on Bald Ridge to the northeast rise much higher. These elevation suggest the through valley is at least 160 feet deep. While almost insignificant compared to the Bighorn Mountains west flank elevation change and depths of deep canyons eroded into that west flank the through valley is evidence of a water-eroded channel that once crossed the Soldier Creek-Warner Draw drainage divide. At that time there was no deep Soldier Creek valley to the west and south and southeast oriented floodwaters were flowing to the actively eroding West Tensleep Creek valley. Apparently north and west of figure 6 elevations in the Bighorn Basin were at least as high as the through valley floor elevation. Headward erosion of the deep Soldier Creek valley captured the flood flow to the West Tensleep Creek valley and floodwaters on the north and west ends of the beheaded flood flow routes reversed flow direction to create the west and northwest oriented Soldier Creek tributary drainage routes. These flood flow movements are difficult to comprehend in the context of the present day Bighorn Mountains topography, which means the regional topography at the time the through valleys were eroded looked very different from how it looks today.

Buffalo Creek-Brokenback Creek drainage divide area

Figure 7: Buffalo Creek-Brokenback 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 Buffalo Creek-West Tensleep Creek drainage divide area west and south of figure 5 and includes a significant overlap area with figure 5. The Nowood River flows in a north-northwest direction across the southwest corner of figure 7. The map contour interval is 20 meters and the Nowood River crosses the 1300-meter contour line near the west edge of figure 3, which means the Nowood River valley is today more than 2000 meters lower than elevations seen in figure 3. Tensleep Creek flows in a southwest direction across the southeast corner of figure 7 and joins the Nowood River as a barbed tributary south of figure 7. Buffalo Creek originates in the northwest quadrant of figure 7 and flows in a southwest direction through Ziesman Canyon before turning to flow in a south and south-southwest direction to join the Nowood River as a barbed tributary near the west edge of figure 7. Brokenback Creek originates in the northeast quadrant of figure 7 (near east edge) and flows in a west and southwest direction to join the Nowood River as a barbed tributary near the south edge of figure 7. Ziesman Canyon is a deep water gap in the northwest quadrant of figure 7 where Buffalo Creek crosses a major hogback ridge. The map contour interval for figure 7 is 20 meters and elevations at the northeast end of the water gap are shown as being 1454 meters and Buffalo Creek crosses the 1400-meter contour line at the water gap southwest end. The hogback south of Ziesman Canyon rises to more than 1660 meters and much higher to the north suggesting the water gap is more than 200 meters deep. By itself this 200-meter deep water gap is evidence of deep erosion and/or of crustal warping since the drainage routes were established. However, the water gap becomes much more interesting when viewed in the context of the northwest to southeast oriented through valley on the hogback northeast side. At the southeast end of the through valley is Carothers Lake and south-southwest oriented North Fork Brokenback Creek. At the through valley north end is Renner Reservoir and Buffalo Creek. But, look at what happens in between. Pierce Draw drains in a south direction toward Carothers Lake, but before reaching Carothers Lake makes a U-turn and drains in a north-northwest direction to Renner Reservoir and where it joins Buffalo Creek as a barbed tributary. The through valley is a water-eroded feature and was initially eroded by southeast oriented flood flow probably flowing to a south oriented flood flow channel on the present day north oriented Nowood River alignment (south of figure 7). Floodwaters on the Nowood River alignment were beheaded and reversed to create the present day north and northwest oriented Nowood River drainage system. The flood flow reversal in the through valley linking Renner Reservoir and Carothers Lake occurred after the Nowood River was reversed when the deeper north oriented valley eroded headward through Ziesman Canyon to behead the southeast oriented flood flow channel on the northeast side.Floodwaters on the northwest end of the beheaded flood flow channel reversed flow direction to flow to the deeper Buffalo Creek valley and captured south oriented flood flow on the Pierce Draw alignment in the process.

Detailed map of Buffalo Creek-Brokenback Creek drainage divide area

Figure 8: Detailed map of Buffalo Creek-Brokenback Creek 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 Buffalo Creek-Brokenback Creek drainage divide area seen in less detail in figure 7. Brokenback Creek flows in a southwest direction across the southeast corner of figure 8. Renner Reservoir can just barely be seen in the northwest corner of figure 8. The North Fork Brokenback Creek flows from the northeast corner of figure 8 in a south, southwest, and south-southwest direction to the south center edge of figure 8 and is the stream flowing in the valley labeled as Salt Trough. Carothers Lake is located near the south edge of figure 8 (slightly east of center) near the Salt Trough and drains in a south direction to the Salt Trough. Pierce Draw drains in a south direction from the north edge of figure 8 (slightly east of center) towards Carothers Lake, but makes a U-turn in section 8 to drain in a north-northwest direction to Renner Reservoir, which is located on southwest and south oriented Buffalo Creek (north and west of figure 8). A through valley links the Pierce Draw U-turn with the Carothers Lake valley. The map contour interval for figure 8 is 40 feet and only one contour line separates the Pierce Draw U-turn from Carothers Lake. That contour line is the 4880-foot contour line. The hogback ridge to the west of the through valley rises to 5365 feet suggesting the through valley is almost 500 feet deep. Gradients in the through valley are very low with the 4800-foot contour line surrounding Renner Reservoir. Yet Pierce Draw drains in north-northwest direction to join Buffalo Creek as a barbed tributary rather than continue to drain to the southwest oriented North Fork Brokenback Creek valley. The south oriented Pierce Draw headwaters valley originated as a south oriented flood flow channel and converged with a southeast oriented flood flow channel just north of the present day Carothers Lake location and then converged with a south-southwest oriented flood flow channel on the Salt Trough alignment. The southeast oriented flood flow channel diverged from a flood flow channel on the Buffalo Creek alignment. When south oriented flood flow on the Nowood River alignment was reversed to flow in a north direction the Buffalo Creek valley being downstream in the newly reversed Nowood River drainage system was able to erode its valley deeper before the Brokenback valley. Headward erosion of the deeper Buffalo Creek valley beheaded the southeast oriented flood flow channel and floodwaters on the northwest end of the beheaded flood flow channel reversed flow direction and captured the south oriented Pierce Draw headwaters in the process. This interpretation requires floodwaters to still have been present when the southeast oriented flood flow channel was beheaded and reversed, but that flood flow in the region ended shortly after the through valley flood flow reversal.

Paint Rock Creek-Buffalo Creek drainage divide area

Figure 9: Paint Rock Creek-Buffalo Creek drainage divide area. United States Geological Survey map digitally presented using National Geographic Society TOPO software.

Figure 9 illustrates the Paint Rock Creek-Buffalo Creek drainage divide area west and north of figure 7 and includes a significant overlap area with figure 7. The Nowood River flows in a northwest direction from the south center edge of figure 9 to the west center edge of figure 9. Paint Rock Creek flows in a southwest direction from the north center edge of figure 9 to join the Nowood River as a barbed tributary near the west center edge of figure 9. Military Creek is a northwest, west, and northwest stream originating in the east center area of figure 9 and joining southwest oriented Paint Rock Creek as a barbed tributary near the north center edge of figure 9. Buffalo Creek flows from the east center area of figure 9 in south-southwest direction to Renner Reservoir and then through southwest oriented Ziesman Canyon before turning in a south and south-southwest direction to join the northwest oriented Nowood River as a barbed tributary near the south center edge of figure 9. Note how north of Renner Reservoir a through valley links the northwest oriented Military Creek valley with the south oriented Buffalo Creek valley. The map contour interval for figure 9 is 20 meters and the through valley floor elevation is between 1540 and 1560 meters. The ridge to the west rises to more than 1680 meters suggesting the through valley is approximately 120 meters deep. Ridges in figure 9 are hogback ridges and many through valleys seen in figure 9 are probably structurally controlled. However, the through valleys are water-eroded features and some present day drainage routes and through valleys cut across the hogback ridges. The Military Creek-Buffalo Creek through valley was eroded by southeast and south oriented flood flow prior to headward erosion of the southwest oriented Paint Rock Creek valley. Headward erosion of the Paint Rock Creek valley beheaded the south and southeast oriented flood flow and floodwaters on the north and northwest ends of beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to create the northwest oriented Military Creek drainage route. The Military Creek flood flow reversal probably took place before the flood flow reversal on the Nowood River alignment.

Detailed map of Military Creek-Buffalo Creek drainage divide area

Figure 10: Detailed map of Military Creek-Buffalo 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 Military Creek-Buffalo Creek drainage divide area seen in less detail in figure 9. Cedar Mountain is the high ridge near the center of figure 10. Buffalo Creek flows from section 13 (in northeast quadrant of figure 10) in a south-southwest direction to Renner Reservoir and then in a southwest direction through Ziesman Canyon to the south edge of figure 10 (west of center). Note northwest oriented Buffalo Creek headwaters in the southwest quadrant of section 17. The map contour interval for figure 10 is 40 feet and the Ziesman Canyon water gap is approximately 700 feet deep. Military Creek flows in a west-northwest and west direction from the east edge of figure 10 (north half) to the north edge of figure 10 (west of center) and north of figure 10 flows in a northwest direction to join southwest oriented Buffalo Creek. Near the north center edge of figure 10 Military Creek has eroded a water gap across hogback ridge. While the ridge north of the water gap cannot be fully seen in figure 10 the water gap is more than 400 feet deep. A through valley in sections 13 and 17 links the west-northwest oriented Military Creek valley with the south oriented Buffalo Creek valley. While probably structurally controlled the through valley was eroded by southeast and south oriented flood flow, which was captured by headward erosion of the deep south oriented Buffalo Creek valley. Headward erosion of the Buffalo Creek valley beheaded southeast oriented flood flow channels and floodwaters on northwest ends of the beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to create the northwest oriented Buffalo Creek headwaters seen in section 17. At that time there was no Paint Rock Creek valley to the north of figure 10. Headward erosion of the southwest oriented Paint Rock Creek valley north of figure 10 beheaded the southeast and south oriented flood flow. Floodwaters on northwest and west ends of the beheaded flood flow channels reversed flow direction to create the west-northwest oriented Military Creek drainage route and its northwest oriented tributary drainage routes. The deep Military Creek and Buffalo Creek water gaps provide evidence floodwaters deeply eroded the landscape seen in figure 10 and had originally flowed on a surface higher than the tops of the present day hogback ridges.

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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