Roosevelt National Park has wild horses that can occasionally be seen along the roads. The park attempts to keep 70 to 110 to show visitors the historical character of the land when Roosevelt lived here.
After being introduced to North America by Europeans in the 16h Century, escaped feral horses roamed free across the plains, often with herds numbering in the thousands.
At one point the Little Missouri River located here flowed north. Broad and gentle warping of the terrain sometime before the Ice Age caused the rivers east of here to erode more quickly than the Little Missouri. The rivers then cut into this valley altering the course of the river. Now the Little Missouri flows east and joins the Missouri River 50 miles east of here. There is also an interesting story about this bend in the river. In the Spring of 1886 thieves stole Theodore Roosevelt’s boat from his Elkhorn Ranch. He took off after them passing by this part of the river. He finally caught up with them at the mouth of Cherry Creek 24 miles downstream. He marched them overland to Dickinson where they were tried and convicted of the theft. There is a nice overlook built by the CCC at this point of the river. This is the ending point of the scenic drive.
Here you can see some scattered boulders called “erratics” because they are out of place. These boulders were ripped from layers of bedrock 400 miles north in Canada and brought here by a great glacier that covered almost all of North America north and east of here. When the glacier melted these boulders were left in place. The current course of the Little Missouri and Missouri Rivers mark the southern boundary of this glacier.
Grasslands like this have historically attracted man and cattle. A vast grassland like this caused cattlemen to bring herds of cattle to the badlands. Overgrazing damaged these grasslands and brought a quick decline to then open range cattle industry. Protection today has the adverse affects of this abuse and the grasslands now support native wildlife.
The blue-black gravelly soil you see here is Bentonitic Clay formed from the Bentonite from the ash of ancient volcanic eruptions. Bentonitic Clay flows when wet. These deposits can be traced for miles up and down the riverbed.
Another interesting geological feature in the badlands is a phenomena called caprocks. Caprocks occur when the softer material around a hard flat rock formation erodes away leaving a rock that looks like a cap on top of the remaining soft formations.
This is a part of the Long X Cattle Trail. The trail started in Texas then went by the area where the current town of New England is, west of Dickinson and the Killdeer Mountains. It then crossed the Little Missouri River and led by the Squaw Creek Valley to the Long X Ranch 3 miles north of here.
These round rocks are called Cannonball Concretions and were formed when minerals in the groundwater cemented sand grains together. Erosion later exposed the round rocks as the surrounding soft sandstone washed away.
This terrain consists of a series of slump blocks, that is huge sections of bluff that slid intact to the valley floor. This is not uncommon in the badlands where the steep cliffs cannot support the top-heavy formations. Continued erosion has moved the face of the parent bluff farther away from the slump blocks. Although the blocks tend to tilt you can use the colored bands of the bluffs and slump blocks to determine the original positions.
In 1884, after most of the bison living in the badlands were killed off 4000 head of longhorn cattle were driven to the badlands from Texas. The tough cattle made the walk from Texas fine and several other cattle drives were undertaken. Unfortunately, by the early 1900s most of the longhorns were gone from the badlands because of overgrazing and the harsh winters, taking a toll on open range grazing. The longhorns were replaced by other more productive breeds. Today you may see a herd of 10 to 25 head of longhorns. These cattle were obtained from Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska and brought here to remind us of the longhorn’s legacy in the area.
Your first stop at the North Unit will be the Visitors Center. Here you will pay your entrance fee if you did not pay at the entrance station, and you can obtain brochures and other information to enhance your visit. There is also a gift shop on site for your souvenir needs. There is also a short film about the park and the area and its history. The center is open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Winter hours vary.
Formation of the North Dakota Badlands began about 60 million years ago. Stream carried sediment and debris away from the recently formed Rocky Mountains, depositing them in this vast plain. During the warm and wet period that followed dense vegetation grew and fell into swampy areas. This was then buried by more layers of sediment. Much of this vegetation became lignite coal and some petrified. Much of this petrified material is visible in the badlands today. The dark blue-gray Bentonite can be traced to ash from ancient volcanic eruptions to the west. Streams and other factors eroded this terrain into the series of buttes, tablelands and valleys you see today. The badlands appears to be dead but actually hides a surprising variety of plant and animal life.
True scoria is volcanic in origin. This scoria is sand and clay that was baked into a kind of a natural brick by coal seams that caught fire. Over the years the softer earth has eroded away leaving bluffs capped with this harder material, making for a colorful view.
This is a part of the Little Missouri River Bottomlands. You can see Cottonwood trees lining the riverbanks where their roots can find abundant moisture. Dark green Juniper trees cling to the steep slopes behind the riverbed, and the dry river flats Dwarf Sagebrush dominates.
Theodore Roosevelt first came to the badlands area of North Dakota in 1883. He became interested in cattle ranching and joined two other men as partners in the Maltese Cross Ranch. The main house from this, Roosevelt’s first ranch, is located just behind the Medora Visitors Center where it was moved from its original location south of Medora. The cabin has a wood floor and multiple rooms including a loft where ranch nads slept. It is made of Ponderosa Pine logs. It is open for ranger-guided tours. Inquire inside the center.
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