A few miles below Heizer, Walnut Valley joins Dry Walnut Valley and Arkansas Valley to form a wide valley plain in the vicinity of Great Bend. This valley area common to three streams is included in the Arkansas Valley area.
Above this valley plain, Walnut Creek flows in a relatively flat valley that is from about three-fourths of a mile to almost 2 miles in width. Walnut Valley is bordered along its south side by high steep sided bluffs capped by the Greenhorn limestone. A terrace from less than a mile to about 3 miles wide borders the north side of Walnut Valley in Barton County (Pl. 4C). The edge of this terrace lies 10 to 20 feet above the floor of Walnut Valley proper. Its surface slopes gently upward to the north and is terminated in most places by a low but conspicuous bluff formed by the Greenhorn limestone. In some places, particularly in the eastern part of the terrace area, the surface of the terrace merges gradually with the upland surface and there is no distinct topographic break between the two. Most of the terrace area is well drained by tributaries of Walnut Creek, although there are a few flat, poorly drained areas north and northwest of Heizer.
The numerous tributaries entering Dry Walnut Creek in this area have formed an uneven valley floor that has a general slope toward Dry Walnut Creek from both sides. Dry Walnut Valley is bordered on both the north and south by low terraces, the surfaces of which have been dissected by many tributary streams.
The width of the Arkansas Valley, including a low terrace along the north side, ranges from about 2 miles at Dartmouth to about 8.5 miles near the east Barton County line. The width of the valley increases from about 3 miles at Pawnee Rock to about 6 miles in the vicinity of Great Bend where the valleys of Dry Walnut Creek and Walnut Creek join the Arkansas Valley. Below Great Bend the valley narrows to about 2 miles at Dartmouth and again widens to about 8.5 miles below Ellinwood. The northern limit of the valley is marked by a distinct bluff except in the area north of Ellinwood where the Arkansas Valley is bordered by the Cow Creek drainage basin (Pl. 4D). The rise from the Arkansas Valley to the surface of the Cow Creek drainage area in many places is so slight that it is difficult to determine the boundary between the two. Sand hills control the southern limit of the valley, where the slopes in general are more gentle than those on the north side.
The terrace included in this division occurs along the north side of the river and lies 5 to 10 feet above the present flood plain. The edge of the terrace, which is nearly everywhere within a mile of the river, is distinct and easily identified from Pawnee Rock to a point about 3 miles above Great Bend and from Dartmouth to the east county line. In the Great Bend-Dartmouth area, where Arkansas River is at its northernmost position, the terrace was not observed. It is possible that the river in this stretch is flowing against the terrace edge.
Except for a relatively small area between St. John and Macksyule and a small area along the North Fork of Ninnescah Creek southwest of Stafford, this region is characterized by typical sand-dune topography having moderate slopes and hills separated by small basins. Some of the hills stand 50 feet or more above the depressions. Much of this sandy region is covered by vegetation and a large part of it is farmed (Pl. 5A). In some parts of the area, particularly in the northeastern and southwestern parts, there are relatively large areas of bare sand that will not support much vegetation (Pl. 5B).
Two salt marshes interrupt the dune topography in northeastern Stafford County. Big Marsh, in T. 21 S., R. 11 W., covers about 16 square miles and is the larger of the two (Pl. 6). The surface of this marsh seems to be flat, but in reality it slopes gently toward an intermittent lake near the center of the marsh (Pl. 7C). The size of this lake depends entirely on the stage of the water table. During dry periods when the water table is low, it is completely dry and its surface is incrusted with a white precipitate (Pl. 7B). During rainy seasons when the water table is high, a shallow lake covering several square miles is formed. Ditches drain part of the marsh area so the water is never more than a few inches deep (Pl. 7B and 7C). Short tributaries lead into the basin of the intermittent lake from the south, west, and north. A ridge of beach sand borders the eastern side of the basin. The only outlet from the basin is in the northeastern part of the marsh area where a short tributary carries the water from the marsh to Rattlesnake Creek.
A smaller marsh occurs about 6 miles southeast of Big Marsh. It is known as Little Marsh and covers about 1 square mile. During wet seasons almost the entire area of this marsh is under water and numerous small hummocks covered by short marsh grasses extend above the water surface. Unlike Big Marsh, this one has no surface outlet.
A relatively small but interesting physiographic feature in this area is the ancient beach ridge that occurs along the east side of the intermittent lake in Big Marsh. It is not a prominent feature from the ground and may be overlooked or confused with a dune ridge by the casual observer visiting this area, but on aerial photographs it is very prominent (Pl. 6). Its chief interest lies in the fact that it represents the shore line of a once more extensive lake. The ridge trends roughly southwest-northeast, is 10 to 15 feet high, and is from about 250 to 900 feet wide. It presents a nearly straight course except at the south where it swings westward around the south end of the intermittent lake. The profile of the ridge in most places is nearly symmetrical and smoothly rounded. A short tributary draw entering the basin from the south and the stream that serves as an outlet at the northeast have cut through the beach ridge dividing it into three segments. The north segment of the ridge is narrow but is fairly distinct. The northern part of the middle segment has undergone more erosion than other parts of the ridge and therefore is less conspicuous.
The Great Bend prairie in general is poorly drained. The rainfall over a large part of this area collects in the numerous basins and hollows where a part of it seeps into the ground and the remainder is lost through evaporation and transpiration. Three streams drain parts of the area--Rattlesnake Creek, Peace Creek, and the North Fork of Ninnescah Creek.
Rattlesnake Creek heads in southern Ford County and follows a general northeasterly course to its junction with Arkansas River in southwestern Rice County. It enters Stafford County near the southwest corner, flows northeast to a point north of St. John, where it turns and flows eastward, passing within a half mile of Little Marsh. Just beyond Little Marsh, near the eastern edge of the county, it abruptly turns and flows north for about 8 miles, where it makes another sharp turn eastward and leaves Stafford County at a point about 2.5 miles south of the northeast corner. The tributary that drains Big Marsh joins Rattlesnake Creek where it makes the bend to the east.
Rattlesnake Creek is a meandering stream that has reached temporary base level (Pl. 7A). Its average gradient above St. John is about 7 feet to the mile and below St. John about 4 feet to the mile. It is a perennial stream from a point a few miles above St. John to where it turns north near Little Marsh; elsewhere it is intermittent. The valley of Rattlesnake Creek ranges from less than half a mile to about 2 miles in width and is bordered throughout most of its course in Stafford County by low, inconspicuous bluffs composed of dune sand. Marsh lands Occupy much of the valley below St. John, especially near the stream, and north of Little Marsh are numerous small intermittent lakes in the valley. The floor of the valley seems to be topographically continuous with the surfaces of both Big and Little Marshes.
Peace Creek is an intermittent stream that heads about 2 miles west of Stafford and flows northeastward, leaving the county about 2 miles south of Little Marsh. It joins Arkansas River southwest of Sterling in southern Rice County. A tributary with several branches rises near the north edge of Stafford and joins Peace Creek half a mile above the county line. Peace Creek and its tributaries flow in narrow valleys bordered by low, inconspicuous bluffs.
The North Fork of Ninnescah Creek heads within half a mile of the south Stafford County line about 12 miles west of the southeast corner of the county, flows northeastward, and leaves the county about 6 miles north of the southeast corner. Except for the upper 4 to 5 miles of its course, it is a perennial stream in this area. Its valley in most places is narrow, with low bluffs having gentle slopes.
Kansas Geological Survey, Barton and Stafford County Geohydrology|
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Web version Dec. 2001. Original publication date Dec. 1950.