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Provincial Park

Geomorphology and Geology

Photograph by Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Alberta


"The Cypress Hills are a flat-topped plateau covering an area of about 2,600 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) in southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta. Glaciation bulldozed the surrounding terrain, with the ice mass splitting around the Hills and leaving them intact. They are a small remnant of a larger plateau that existed in the region forty million years ago, but that was later almost totally eroded away."
(Hildebrant and Hubner, 1994)

Map indicating the location, elevation, and spatial extent of the Cypress Hills.

"Ice lapped against the northern side of the Hills to an elevation of about 4,500 feet but reached elevations of several hundred feet less on the southern flank. Accordingly, about 80 square miles of the Alberta portion of the Hills remained unglaciated, standing as an elongated, flat-topped nunatak in the surrounding glacial 'sea'" (Beaty, 1975).

So the Cypress Hills are different from the surrounding plains in that they have been less intensively eroded. Evidence indicates that the Hills were a recognizable topographic features for the past 15 - 20 million years. (Beaty, 1975)

Glaciers: The Work of Ice
Glacial Eras (U.S.A.)

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The Cypress Hills are composed of many layers of sedimentary rocks where each layer is called a formation (formed at a different time and under different conditions). The youngest formations are at the top of the Hills and so, by imaging a cut down through the Cypress Hills, we are going back in time.

The Geological Cross-section of the Cypress Hills:
loess, till, 0-30 m thick, about 0.1 million years old
Cypress Hills
conglomerate, 38 m thick, between 11 and 50 million years old
sandstone, siltstone, coal, shale, 70 m thick, between 55 and 65 million years old
sandstone, shale, 75 m thick, between 65 and 66 million years old
shale, 10 m thick, about 66 million years old
sandstone, clay, shale, 8 m thick, about 66 million years old
sandstone, shale, coal, 125 m thick, between 66 and 68 million years old
shale, 250 m thick, older than 68 million years, Bearpaw Sea
(Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Geology Fact Sheet)

"Any of the formations of the Cypress Hills contain resources of economic importance. Although of poor commerical quality, the coal seams of the Eastend Formation were mined for local use in the early part of the century. The Whitemud Formation is the most important source of ceramic clay in Western Canada, supporting the local pottery, pipe, brick and clay industries for many years" (Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Geology Fact Sheet).

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"Capping the summit surface is a formation known as the Cypress Hills conglomerate, a mass of rounded pebbles and cobbles of variable thickness carried eastward in early and middle Tertiary time by streams originating in the ancient Rockies" (Beaty, 1975).

Conglomerate, like cement, is basically resistant to erosion and protects the softer rocks underneath. This prevents the Hills from being eroded down.(Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, Geology Fact Sheet)


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