Guidebook—Geology of the Kanopolis Lake Area

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color photo of lake, taken from grassy bluff scattered with red-leafed sumac

Kanopolis Lake


Ellsworth County lies within the Smoky Hills physiographic province and is drained by the Smoky Hill River and its tributaries, and tributaries of the Saline and Arkansas rivers. The Smoky Hills are mature dissected hills, often capped by sandstones of the Cretaceous Dakota Formation. The hills and the river that drains them got their name form the smoky haze that often hangs in the valleys in the morning. Kanopolis Dam is on the Smoky Hill River about 25 miles southwest of Salina, Kansas.

Rocks exposed in the Kanopolis Lake area, mainly the Kiowa and Dakota formations, are Cretaceous in age (about 100 million years old). The Cretaceous was a time of high global sea level, and much of the Western Interior of North America was periodically flooded. During times of highest sea level, the Cretaceous Interior Seaway was continuous from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean.

color map of North America showing position of Cretaceous Interior Seaway and other geographic features

Geography of North America during the Cretaceous Period, about 100 million years ago. Present-day Kansas is outlined in red (from Wicander and Monroe, 1989).

This guidebook is also available in print form as Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 2003-52, from KGS Publications Sales office, 785-864-3965.

Unless noted otherwise, illustrations by Jennifer Sims, Kansas Geological Survey; photographs by John Charlton, Kansas Geological Survey. Text by Jim McCauley, Bob Sawin, Rex Buchanan, and Liz Brosius, Kansas Geological Survey.

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