The Geology of Wichita Falls, Texas

Wichita Falls is a city in north Texas near the Oklahoma border. With a population of over 100,000, it is an important center for commerce and culture in the region.

The unique geology of the Wichita Falls area has shaped the development and character of the city over time. This article will provide an in-depth look at the geology underlying Wichita Falls, including the major rock formations, minerals, soils, topography, and how these factors have influenced the city’s growth.

Geologic History

Wichita Falls sits atop some of the oldest rock formations on the planet, dating back over 1 billion years to the Precambrian Era. During this ancient time, the area was located near the southern margin of the North American craton. Tectonic forces uplifted and exposed ancient crystalline basement rocks at the surface.

Wichita Mountains

The most prominent geologic feature near Wichita Falls is the Wichita Mountains, located just to the northwest. These mountains consist of igneous and metamorphic rocks over 1.2 billion years old. Granite, rhyolite, and gabbro are common rock types in the Wichitas. The uplift of these mountains during the Cambrian Period influenced topography and drainage patterns in the Wichita Falls area.

Western Shelf

West and south of the Wichita Mountains lies the Western Shelf, a broad plain underlain by sedimentary rocks. Limestone, shale, sandstone, and conglomerate from the Cambrian, Ordovician, Pennsylvanian, and Permian periods make up the Western Shelf. These sedimentary units dip gently to the west and south off the flanks of the Wichita Mountains.

Red Beds

Some of the most distinctive rock layers in the Wichita Falls area are the Red Beds. These terrestrial deposits of mudstone, siltstone, and sandstone accumulated in the Permian Period and contain abundant iron oxides that give them a reddish color. Red Beds underlie much of downtown Wichita Falls.

Mineral Resources

Historically, Wichita Falls’ location adjacent to the oil-rich Permian Basin led to mineral extraction playing a major role in the city’s economy.


Oil was discovered nearby in 1911, setting off a boom in drilling and exploration around Wichita Falls. Oil production came from shallow deposits in sedimentary rocks like limestone and dolomite. Though most petroleum reserves have been tapped, small wells continue operating around the city.

Gravel, Sand, and Clay

Other minerals of economic value in the Wichita Falls area include gravel, sand, and clay. These are extracted from Quaternary river deposits and used mainly for construction purposes.


Extensive gypsum beds up to 25 feet thick exist in the Red Beds around the city. Gypsum was mined locally until the 1970s for use in wallboard and cement.


Soils in the Wichita Falls area are generally dark red to brown in color and have high clay content. The main soil orders are Ustolls, Ustalfs, and Usterts. These clay-rich soils can pose challenges for construction, but fertile soils support productive agriculture in the region.

Topography and Drainage

Wichita Falls’ topography is characterized by nearly flat to gently rolling plains, dissected by two major river valleys.

Wichita River Valley

The Wichita River flows from northwest to southeast through the center of the city in a wide valley. The river has cut a channel down through Permian redbeds into older geological units. High bluffs line parts of the valley.

Holliday Creek

Holliday Creek runs northeast through Wichita Falls, joining the Wichita River downtown. It has carved a shallow valley about 100 feet deep into the plain.

Lake Wichita

The Wichita River was dammed in 1901, creating Lake Wichita north of the city. This shallow reservoir provides recreation and part of the municipal water supply.


While beneficial, the Wichita River also poses flooding risks during heavy rainfall. Downtown Wichita Falls has flooded numerous times over the past century due to the flat terrain.

Influence on Wichita Falls

The unique geology of Wichita Falls has strongly shaped the city’s layout and growth.


The confluence of the Wichita River and Holliday Creek provided a favorable location for early settlement. Alluvial soils and water access aided agriculture.


The river valleys determined the orientation of major transportation routes into Wichita Falls. Railroads and highways followed the flat valleys across the plains.


Nearby oil and gas reserves allowed Wichita Falls to become a center for refining and related industries. Gypsum mining also supplied local wallboard plants.

Water Supply

Lake Wichita and the high water table provided ready access to water, supporting a growing population. However, hard groundwater often has high mineral content.


Flood control projects like levees and dams protect downtown Wichita Falls but remain inadequate during extreme rains, threatening property and commerce along the rivers.


The Wichita River, Lake Wichita, and artificial lakes provide recreation opportunities and have become hubs for outdoor activities in the city. Parks line the river corridors.

In summary, Wichita Falls owes much of its development, economic activity, and local culture to the ancient geologic foundations and dynamic landscape that shapes this region of northern Texas. The city’s geology will continue influencing its future growth and livability.

Key Rock Formations

Here is an overview table of the major geologic formations underlying Wichita Falls:

PrecambrianBasement rocksGranite, rhyolite, gabbro, metamorphic rocks
PaleozoicCambrianGlen Mountains LimestoneLimestone, shale
PaleozoicOrdovicianSimpson GroupSandstone, shale, limestone
PaleozoicPennsylvanianThrifty and Graham FormationsSandstone, shale, limestone
MesozoicPermianQuartermaster GroupSiltstone, mudstone, sandstone
MesozoicPermianClear Fork GroupShale, siltstone, sandstone
MesozoicPermianWichita GroupRedbeds, sandstone, siltstone
CenozoicQuaternaryAlluviumSand, gravel, clay

Major Mineral Resources

  • Petroleum – Oil produced from shallow Permian formations
  • Sand and gravel – River deposits used for construction
  • Clay – Extensive clay for bricks and cement
  • Gypsum – Mined from Redbeds for wallboard and plaster

Soil Orders

  • Ustolls – Dark brown clay soils good for crops
  • Ustalfs – Reddish clay soils on plains
  • Usterts – Reddish clays in valleys


Wichita Falls has an incredibly long and complex geologic history shaping its landscape. Some of the oldest rocks on Earth lie beneath this north Texas city. The minerals, soils, and topography created by ancient forces provided both benefits and challenges as Wichita Falls grew into a commercial and cultural hub. Ongoing human development must account for the geology to build a safe, sustainable city.


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  • Start out heading north on I-44 W. Take exit 1A to merge onto US-277 N/US-281 N toward Wichita Falls. Drive for about 13 miles then use the right 2 lanes to take exit 1A for TX-240 Loop/Kell Fwy toward Downtown/Sheppard AFB. Continue on TX-240 Loop W for 4 miles then use the left 2 lanes to turn left onto Kemp Blvd. In 0.6 miles, turn right onto Dunbarton Dr. The destination will be on the right in 0.3 miles.
  • Begin on US-277 N in Burkburnett. Drive north for approximately 11 miles and take exit 46 for TX-240 Loop W/Kell Fwy toward Downtown/Sheppard AFB. Stay straight to continue on TX-240 Loop W for 4 miles. Use the left 2 lanes to turn left onto Kemp Blvd. After 0.6 miles, make a right onto Dunbarton Dr. 4500 Dunbarton Dr will be on the right side in 0.3 miles.
  • Head west on I-44 W and take exit 46A to merge onto US-277 N toward Wichita Falls. In about 12.5 miles, take exit 1A to get on TX-240 Loop W/Kell Fwy going west. Stay on TX-240 Loop W for 4 miles then use the left lanes to turn left onto Kemp Blvd. Drive 0.6 miles and turn right onto Dunbarton Dr. The destination will soon be on the right after driving 0.3 miles more.