Analysis of Cheyenne Bottoms

Jake Stevensonn

Fall 2004

ES 546 Field Geomorphology   *    Emporia State University

Abstract Introduction Methodology Results Analysis


The primary field objective of ES 546(Field Geomorphology) was to study water flow to and from the Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands area. The group studied current water flow as well as possible ancient flow. Different methods were used to extract data from the area, including soil examination and kite photography, all of which will be talked about in depth following. The field trip as well as this website is in partial fulfillment of the course requirements for the Field Geomorphology class at Emporia State University during the fall of 2004.


Cheyenne Bottoms located in central Kansas is one of the world's most important wetlands, in terms of bird migration. Located in Barton County near both Hoisington and Great Bend, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the Nature Conservancy are responsible for the approximately 64 square miles of wetlands. "In the fall of 1988, Cheyenne Bottoms was designated as a "Wetland of International Importance" under a worldwide treaty" (Cheyenne Bottoms Driving Tour).
According to the Nature Conservancy the Bottoms is the "top shorebird spring migration staging area in the contiguous United States." It is estimated that nearly half of all shorebirds migrating east of the Rockies visit the Bottoms each year as well as nearly one quarter million waterfowl. The Nature Conservancy's stated goal is to protect waterfowl and shorebirds by restoring natural marshes, wetlands, mud flats and surrounding grasslands. (The Nature Conservancy Handout)
Elliptical in shape the Bottoms are the site for study from scientists around the country, many of whom believe Cheyenne Bottoms to be a natural land sink feature

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There were six students on the field trip with Dr. Aber of Emporia State University leading the talks and stops. At each site stopped a brief overview was provided. Soil profiles were studied and soil samples were taken for later analysis by faculty at Emporia State. Also kite and blimp aerial photography was taken using an array of different lenses. Walking through the fields around Cheyenne Bottoms was done so that students could understand drainage patterns.

On the first night of the weekend the group set out to an overlook of the wetlands to get a good idea of the size of the sinkhole. Site 1 from on the picture.

Image acquired from Dr. Aber .

Returning to Camp we prepared for the following day. On that next day we then stopped at the information Kiosk of the Nature Conservancy located at site 2 on the overview map. From this site we traveled to site 3 and stopped briefly, then continued on to an unmarked site between site 3 and site 7, otherwise known as the "Van stuck in the Mud Site" it was here that we walked to a man made channel embankment where there was a soil exposure.
This soil exposure was then studied in detail to try and determine its properties. Here it was determined that we were dealing with a soil with a high shrink swell potential because of the high organic material deep in the C horizon. Seen in Picture 2. Which gives evidence to large amounts of water possibly from flood waters caused by nearby Blood Creek.

Image acquired from Dr. Aber .

The bottom image shows the extended soil section, with organic-rich material deep in the sequence.

Image acquired from Dr. Aber

Once the van was freed we traveled back to site 3 and used the Kite and blimp to aerial photography of the landscape. From the pictures taken it is visible where the Nature Conservancy has used bulldozers to move ground in attempt to create more wetland areas. Also visible from the photos are plow lines in fields that have not been plowed in quite some time.

Image acquired from Dr. Aber .

On the final day we again traveled to the Nature Conservancy's Land, this time to view drainage patterns both new (manmade) and ancient. Starting in the 1950's the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has been building canals to better control water flow. These man made devices are seen throughout the wetland in the form of canals, concrete damns, and holding ponds.
Touring the land owned by the Department of Wildlife and Parks, you see the result of the drainage and conservation efforts. There are several holding tanks, controlled by the Wildlife Department, where water level and animal habitat is monitored.

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The origin of Cheyenne Bottoms is largely contributed to salt dissolution and the resulting subsidence of the land, causing an elliptical drainage basin with no escape for water. This inability for water to escape allows for the formation of the wetland. The basin is bounded by high Cretaceous limestone and sandstone bluffs to the north south and west and Pleistocene sand dunes and alluvium to the east and southeast.
Repeated flooding over millennia of the contributing waters, Blood creek and Deception creek, has caused an inland delta to form on the Nature Conservancy's land, this delta creates a natural flood bank creating the northern wetland. The wetland on the Department of Wildlife and Parks land which is now controlled by inlet and outlet pumps formed due to the fact that the water had no place to travel once it entered the basin.
It is the man made canals that the Nature Conservancy is trying to eliminate because it causes water to drain where otherwise it would not. Originally put in by farmers wanting to farm the wet soil, as is evident with plow rows still visible in aerial photography. The idea behind the managed wetlands was to allow for control of the area. The Department of Wildlife and Parks also wanted control they wanted to be able to have water in drought seasons. This management practice though harmful to the natural drainage of water, and the cause for loss of wetlands on the Conservancy's land has gain valuable knowledge on the natural cycle of wetlands. (Keiswetter, D et al)

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Aber, J.
2004 Project Summary Cheyenne Bottoms, KS.

Aber, J.
2004 ES 546 Field Geomorphology, KS.

Keiswetter, D et al.
2004 Cheyenne Bottoms Basin- Geophysical Study of a Natural Land-Sink Area in Central Kansas, KS. Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 237

Kansas Audubon.
2004 Cheyenne Bottoms Driving Tour. Kansas Audubon

Nature Conservancy
2004 Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve.

This webpage was designed for ES546 Field Geomorphology
Instructor: Dr. James S. Aber of Emporia State University
For questions or comments contact Jake Stevenson
Created on Nov 14, 2004