Thursday, June 20, 2024

An unusual natural feature

| August 12, 2021 12:00 AM

As hunters, anglers, hikers and campers, most of us are fascinated by the many unusual features of our natural world.

One such unusual natural feature is where natural water flows across the continental divide. We are all familiar with the epic Lewis and Clark exploration journey across the unexplored reaches of Western North America.

President Jefferson gave this hardy band of explorers several charges, one of which was to find a possible water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

Although Lewis and Clark accomplished many almost unbelievable exploration feats, they failed to find a water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. But such a continuous water route does exist.

Water routes, oceans and rivers were the primary way to move cargo in the early 1800s during the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

These were the days prior to interstate highways, trucks, railroads and air transport. Commerce moved on water! Think about this.

Name a major city in the United States that is not located on a major water body? I know of only one city, Dallas, Texas, which is located on the intersection of two major railroads.

So, in the early 1800s, water routes were important to our west-ward expanding nation. Lewis and Clark’s journey was essentially up the Missouri River to Montana, then up smaller rivers to their headwaters in Southwestern Montana.

From there, those explorers traveled by foot and horseback overland to the Bitterroot Mountains between Montana and Idaho. From there, they journeyed down the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia Rivers to the Pacific Ocean. They did not find a water route to the Pacific.

But such a water route exists. When I tell folks that there is a water route to the Pacific, most folks scoff or say I am talking about the Panama Canal. Not so!

There is an actual continuous water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific across central United States. That water route crosses the Continental Divide in the State of Wyoming. It is located in the Teton Wilderness, part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

The connecting stream is appropriately called Two Ocean Creek. But can a stream cross a continental divide? Let’s back up a second to recall that the Continental Divide is where water flows westward into the Pacific Ocean and flowing water east of the divide flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

Most folks generally think of continental divides as being steep mountain land where water easily flows east or west. But sometimes continental divide terrain can be rather flat land. Think about a local example, nearby Marias Pass, where the continental divide terrain bordering U.S. 2 and the BNSF railroad is generally flat for a half mile or so.

There are beaver ponds literally on top of the continental divide at Marias Pass. Raise those beaver ponds a foot or two in elevation and the water flow can change from east to west and vice-versa.

Well, the continental divide terrain at Two Ocean Pass in Wyoming is similar to Marias Pass terrain, generally flat with part sloping slightly to the east and part sloping slightly to the west.

A nice size creek, Two Ocean Creek, flows down from an adjacent high plateau to the flat terrain on the continental divide. Just before hitting the flat terrain on the divide, the creek encounters a small rocky ridge that divides the creek into two forks.

The westerly fork, called Pacific Creek, flows down to the continual divide and continues west into the Snake River and onto the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles away.

The easterly fork, called Atlantic Creek, flows down to the continental divide and east to the Atlantic Ocean via the Yellowstone River and Missouri River, about a 3,000-mile journey.

So, a fish swimming from the Atlantic could swim up the Mississippi River to the Missouri River, then up the Yellowstone River and other smaller streams to reach the Two Ocean Continental Divide in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

That fish then swims up the east fork of Two Ocean Creek, called Atlantic Creek, then down the west fork of Two Ocean Creek, called Pacific Creek, and on to the Pacific Ocean via the Snake and Columbia Rivers.

This of course assumes there are no waterfalls or other fish barriers along the way. While Lewis and Clark did not find this water route to the Pacific, this water route is too small to have any commerce value.

So, as we hunt, fish, hike and camp in the American outdoors, take time to enjoy the natural wonders of our outdoor landscapes.

I find these types of natural phenomena extremely interesting. If you want more information on Two Ocean Creek, go online and type in Two Ocean Creek.

There is more information, maps and photos of Two Ocean Creek.