A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘Little Elk Creek Canyon’

Black Hills, Wyoming (and South Dakota)

Posted by graywacke on February 8, 2017

First timer?  In this formerly once-a-day blog (and now pretty much a once-every-four-or-five days blog), I use an app that provides a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”

I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town or towns I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location. 

To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is) please see “About Landing” above.  To check out some recent changes in how I do things, check out “About Landing (Revisited).”

Landing number 2324; A Landing A Day blog post number 755.

untitledDan:  Today’s lat/long (44o 15.219’N, 104o 5.693’W) puts me right on the WY/SD border, but evidently in WY based on the title of this post:


Now wait a second.  This is landing 2324.  Just one landing ago (landing 2323, of course), I said this:

Today’s lat/long (46o 59.713’N, 115o 5.323’W) puts me right on the ID/MT border, but evidently in ID based on the title of this post:


And then, just a few landings ago (landing 2318), I said this:

Today’s lat/long (33o 28.047’N, 103o 1.395’W) puts me right on the border between New Mexico & Texas, but evidently in Texas based on the title of this post:


And then, just one landing earlier (2317), I said this:

Today’s lat/long (43o 26.229’N, 96o 34.897’W) puts me right on the border between Florida & Georgia, but evidently in Georgia based on the title of this post:


And the above doesn’t include landing 2320, where I said this:

Today’s lat/long (48o 55.744’N, 120o 28.710’W) puts me right up against the Canadian border in N-Cen Washington:


All I can say is:  This is a remarkable run of truly right-on-theborder landings!

Ça suffit. (“That’s enough” in French, also the name of one of our dogs.  Pronounced sah soo-fee.)

Here’s my local landing map, confirming that I in fact landed in Wyoming:


As you can see, it’s not at all obvious that I’m in the Black Hills, although it will be obvious soon enough.

And it’s finally time for my watershed analysis.  And a drop of water makes it to 8 (count ‘em) 8 named streams.  This map shows the first five:


I landed in the watershed of Cold Springs Creek, on to Sand Creek, on to Redwater Creek, on to the Redwater River (1st hit ever!), on to the Bell Fourche River (5th hit, making the Bell Fourche the 168th river on my list of rivers with 5 or more hits).

Zooming back:


You can see that the Bell Fourche discharges to the Cheyenne (19th hit); on to the Missouri (418th hit); and on to the 8th named stream, none other than the Mighty Mississippi (906th hit).

For the record, out of 2324 landings, this is the 20th time I’ve had 8 named streams in my watershed analysis.  Nine named streams?  Three times.  Ten named streams?  Three times.  Eleven named streams?  Never.

Oh, all right.  I’m on a roll.  I’ve logged 8,437 named streams in all of my watershed analyses.  Dividing by 2324 landings, that comes to 3.63 named streams per landing.

Ça suffit!

It’s time (way past time, some readers might be thinking) for my Google Earth (GE) spaceflight into far eastern Wyoming.  Click HERE to enjoy the trip.

You may have noticed the big dark blob on your ride in on the yellow push pin.  That’s the Black Hills.  Here’s a static GE shot, with bonus coverage of the South Dakota Badlands:


I won’t bother with Street View coverage of my landing (it’s non-existant), but I will take a look at Sand Creek:


And here’s what the Orange Dude sees:


After the Orange Dude looked at the stream, I had him take a quick stroll through the teeny town of Beulah, just east of the bridge.  Here’s what he saw:


And this:


Hmmmm.  A biker bar, eh?  Well, we’re only about 30 miles west of Sturgis SD, which has an enormous motorcycle rally every August.  The date of the Street View photos?  August 2012. 

So anyway, I landed in the Black Hills, and decided to titularize* the entire region, rather than any particular towns.  I’ll actually be spending more time in South Dakota than in Wyoming, but it’s all about the Black Hills, not a particular state.

          *Don’t bother looking up “titularize.”  I made it up.

 I’ll be covering geology, Native American history, white man history and my personal connection to the Black Hills.

Here’s the opening Wiki paragraph on the Black Hills:

The Black Hills are a small, isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming.  The name “Black Hills” is a translation of the Lakota Pahá Sápa. The hills were so-called because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they were covered in trees [and still are, as evidenced by GE].

Pahá Sápa.  Boy, that takes me back to the summer of 1975.  I was at Kent State University’s Black Hills geology field camp, a six-week course of study to learn methods in geologic descriptions and mapping (and I mapped the Pahá Sápa Limestone formation, but I’m sure I didn’t add the accents).

But before I go into my personal connection with the Black Hills (and the Paha Sapa Limestone), let me get to more general Black Hills geology.

From Northern State University:

Toward the end of the Cretaceous [about 65 million years ago, more-or-less at the time of the great meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs], the Black Hills were thrust up during a period of mountain building. This mountain building episode coincides with mountain building going on for the Rocky Mountains, even though the Black Hills are separated from the nearest Rocky Mountain Range (the Wind River Range in Central WY), by more than 150 miles.

At that time the highest Black Hills elevations were probably over 15,000 feet above mean sea level.

[Wow!  The Black Hills were certainly the Black Mountains back in the day!]

Over time, this uplifted dome was eroded down to its present elevation, with the highest Black Hills peak at elevation 7,244’.

The oldest rocks are found in the center of the uplifted, eroded dome. These rocks are metamorphic, mostly slates and quartzites, and are over 2 billion years old. Intruded into these are granites, such as one sees at Harney Peak and Mount Rushmore.

Moving out from the central core of the Black Hills, one encounters progressively younger formations encircling one another.

I always imagined this as a fist of old rock punching up through (and bending/breaking) younger rock layers.  Here’s a cross section from University of South Florida:


Unit 1 is likely the 2 billion-year-old metamorphic rock formation, while unit 2 is the granite that intruded.

The other units are all sedimentary, ranging in age from Cambrian (Unit 3 at around 500 million years old) to Jurassic (Unit 10 at around 175 million years old).  You can see all of the erosion that took place (and why the mountains used to be at an elevation of 15,000′).

Even though I’m a geologist, I never memorized the geologic time scale, so I always have to bring one up on my computer.  Here’s the one I happened to use:


As all regular readers know, I assiduously avoid controversy on this blog, especially of a religious or political nature.  But I must say:  All of the ages on the above figure (including the age of the earth at 4.6 billion years) are facts.  Day follows night, the earth orbits the sun, and gravity causes objects to fall to earth.  Likewise, the earth is 4.6 billion years old.  This is not something I believe.  This is simply a fact.

I think I’ll dive right in to some personal stories about my 1975 experience at Kent State’s geology field camp in the Black Hills.

When I was there, the Paha Sapa Limestone was far and away my favorite geologic unit in the Black Hills, for two reasons.  One, I loved the name (and saying the name), and two, it was easy to recognize out in the field.  So we’d be wandering around at a mapping location, confused as hell about what geologic units we were looking at, when we’d come across a lovely outcropping of the Paha Sapa Limestone.  Then (because the stratigraphy is very regular), we could determine what units were above and below the Paha Sapa.

One of our mapping areas was Little Elk Creek Canyon.  It took quite a while to find it on GE, but find it I did.  Here ‘tis:


We had to map the walls of the canyon, showing all of the geologic formations along the way.  I’m guessing a little about our start and finish pints, but what I show is just a little over a mile (which seems about right).

I found a couple of GE Panoramio photos in the canyon, both by Alan Aker.  Here’s what he labeled one of them:


Hmmmm.  Limestone, eh?  Betcha it’s the Paha Sapa . . .


OK, so maybe I’m not totaly sure it’s the Paha Sapa, but for the purpose of this blog, let’s just say it is. 

Anyway, see the photo icon under the word “limestone” on the GE shot above the photo?  Here’s another Alan Aker shot:


Believe it or not, this spot actually looks familiar.  I feel like I sat on the big rock on the right. What the heck, it was only 42 years ago!

So, another mapping project was Whitewood Peak (just outside of the town of Deadwood):


Just a quick story.  I was part of a three-person mapping team, armed with a topographic map (so we could keep track of where we are).  Our task was to plot geologic formations and any geologic features (like folds or faults) on the map.

Well, we went up a ridge, and down into a valley.  Then up another ridge, and down to another valley.  Maybe another ridge, I don’t remember.  But what I remember is that in spite of being in possession of a good map and a compass, we became hopelessly lost, unable to figure out where we were on the map.

This isn’t a minor problem – this is a we’re-going-to-flunk-this-project kind of a problem.  You can’t put geologic formations on a map when you don’t know where you are.

In a growing panic, we decided to find a high spot, where maybe we’d be able to get our bearings.  We found a high spot, but were still clueless. 

We found a higher spot, and were still clueless. 

We found a higher spot yet, and were still lost until we found a U.S. Geological Survey bench mark.  In a total are-you-kidding-me moment, we saw that the bench mark was labeled “Whitewood Peak.”  We finally knew where we were.

Although we had wasted some number of hours wandering around lost, we were able to get enough information on our map (plus a little more information from another team we ran into) that we got by.

Another mapping project was Bear Butte:


You can see that it’s not part of the Black Hills proper.  Here are a few pictures of Bear Butte from South Dakota Magazine (photos by Jan Nickelson):




From Wiki:

Bear Butte is located near Sturgis, South Dakota.  An important landmark and religious site for the Plains Indians tribes long before Europeans reached South Dakota, Bear Butte is called Mathó Pahá, Bear Mountain, by the Lakota and Sioux. To the Cheyenne, it is known as Noahȧ-vose (“giving hill”) or Náhkȯhe-vose (“bear hill”), and is the place where Ma’heo’o (God) imparted to Sweet Medicine, a Cheyenne prophet, the knowledge from which the Cheyenne derive their religious, political, social, and economic customs.

The mountain is sacred to many indigenous peoples, who make pilgrimages to leave prayer cloths and tobacco bundles tied to the branches of the trees along the mountain’s flanks. Other offerings are often left at the top of the mountain. The site is associated with various religious ceremonies throughout the year. The mountain is a place of prayer, meditation, and peace.

Human artifacts have been found on or near Bear Butte that date back 10,000 years, indicating a long and continuous interest in the mountain. The Cheyenne and Lakota people have maintained a spiritual interest in Bear Butte from their earliest recorded history.

Notable visitors like Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull made pilgrimages to the site. In 1857, a council of many Indian nations gathered at Bear Butte to discuss the growing presence of white settlers in the Black Hills.

[OK.  Here comes the inevitable:]

Violating a treaty of 1868, George Armstrong Custer led an expedition to the Black Hills region in 1874, and camped near Bear Butte. Custer verified the rumors of gold in the Black Hills, and Bear Butte then served as an easily identifiable landmark for the rush of invading prospectors and settlers into the region.

Indian reaction to the illegal movements of whites into the area was intense and hostile. Ultimately the government reneged on its treaty obligations regarding the Black Hills and instead embarked on a program to confine all northern Plains tribes to reservations.

Before a little geology, here’s a great picture of the Butte from BlackHillsBadlands.com:


Here’s a little quick geology.

Bear Butte is a geological laccolith, which is an intrusion of molten rock (magma) that uplifts and deforms surrounding rock structures.  In a way, it’s a mini Black Hills, as the core of the “butte” is igneous, and it has punched through and deformed sedimentary rocks around it, just like the much larger Black Hills.

I don’t remember much about our mapping exercise, except that my team spent more time confused than we did methodically preparing a geologic map.

Post Script:  I received straight A’s at Kent State, where I was a Master’s student in geology.  Except for that pesky B I got in field camp – which was actually a gift, only because my professors thought I was a good guy with a good attitude . . .

To round out the Native American history side of things (already touched on in my piece about Bear Butte), here’s some more, from Wiki:

The U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, establishing the Great Sioux Reservation west of the Missouri River, and exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. However, when settlers discovered gold there in 1874, as a result of George Armstrong Custer’s Black Hills Expedition, miners swept into the area in a gold rush. The US government took back the Black Hills and in 1889 reassigned the Lakota, against their wishes, to five smaller reservations in southwestern South Dakota, selling off 9 million acres of their former land.

There you have it.

On second thought, I don’t think I’ll bother with the “white man’s history” portion of this post.  Sufficeth to say, when the whites poured in looking for gold, towns like Deadwood were classic old west shoot ‘em up kind of places.  Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock (shot in the back of his head while playing poker) – are the most famous members of the “Notable Deadwood Residents” club.

The Homestake Gold mine (located in Lead, just down the road from Deadwood) operated from the 1870s until 2001.  It was the largest and deepest gold mine in the United States, and produced more than 40 million troy ounces of gold.  By the way, a “troy ounce” is about 10% more than a traditional ounce.  Reminds me of the nautical speed of “knots,” which are about 15% higher than miles per hour.

So, 40,000,000 troy ounces = 43,884,000 regular ounces = 2,742,750 pounds = 1,371 tons

Today, gold goes for about $1,200/oz.  Of course, this is way more than historical prices, but what the heck – at today’s prices, the value of the gold mined from the Homestake is $52,660,800,000.  That’s $52.66 billion.  Even at $400/oz (a more realistic inflation-adjusted long term average over the life of the mine), it’s still a lot of money.

I remember that back in 1974 (when I was there and the mine was still operating), Whitewood Creek (which flows by the mine through both Lead and Deadwood) ran a totally opaque, viscous chocolate brown.  Maybe that helped launch my environmental career.

Let me return to my local landing map:


The town of Moskee is near my landing, although the name is partially hidden by the lat/long marker.

Speaking of its name, it has a unique origin story.  From WyomingPlaces.pbworks.com:

The name Moskee was long in coming. Originally called Golden Gate, the small settlement somehow became known as Lavier until the Post Office officials realized that there existed three Laviers in Wyoming; thus, severely complicating mail deliveries.

Herald Hass, the first postmaster of Lavier, decided a change in name was a necessity. He discussed the problem with Burt Putnam, a local cattle foreman. Putnam had spent time in Mongolia and came up with “Moskee,” translated from the Mongolian as “anything goes,” or “it doesn’t make much difference.”

Not until later was it discovered that the correct spelling was “Moche.” By this time, however, the name Moskee had been officially established as the new postal station.’

I spent an inordinate amount of time on the internet trying to find the word “moche” in Mongolian.  Although the Mongolian alphabet is fundamentally different from ours, I was able to find numerous words that appeared to be at least potentially related to “moche.”  But alas – no luck.  Maybe “moche” is idiomatic or slang in Mongolian.

In spite of my lack of independent verification, I totally accept the Wyoming Places name origin story.  I mean – really – how many towns are named from the Mongolian, especially meaning something as casual as “anything goes?”  I love it.

I’ll close with this lovely shot of Sand Creek, just south of Beulah, by Puddle Jumper:


That’ll do it . . .




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