July 26, 2014

7/21-22/14 - Theodore Roosevelt NP

South Unit

A Freeway Runs Through It
North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park is adjacent to I-94 near the Montana border; The South Unit gets a lot of drive-through traffic because it's so easy to detour from the freeway.

Teddy Roosevelt lived in Dakota Territory before he became President.  He became an avid conservationalist and established the U.S. Forest Service.  He signed into law 5 national parks, 150 national forests, 18 national monuments, plus a lot more.  I think he deserves his own park.

The first morning, we stopped at the Visitor Center, saw the orientation film, Refuge of the American Spirit, and checked out the museum.  This "statue" of Teddy Roosevelt is made entirely of small pieces of wood.  I think it's pretty cool.  
The park is surrounded by the Little Missouri National Grassland (like a National Forest, but sans trees).  My favorite is this Needle & Thread Grass.
Wildflowers are blooming all over.  This pretty thing is called by several names.  One is Rocky Mountain Bee Plant; another is Stinkweed.  Wonder if that blows Shakespeare's rose theory?  And there are yellow Prairie Coneflowers as well as Purple Coneflowers, like I have in my garden.
But the flower that's most abundant is yellow sweet clover.  The hills are covered with it.  And when you walk through it, everything smells so nice.

(I found out later that's it's an invasive weed--so I'm conflicted.  I still think it's beautiful, but now I feel guilty about it.)

We drove the 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive--lots of overlooks and some trails.

There's a lot of coal (and oil!) in North Dakota.  We hiked the Coal Vein Trail.  From 1951-1977, a coal vein burned underground here. It bakes the sand and clay around it, and turns it bright red like a brick, which they call scoria. (It's not real scoria, which is volcanic, but apparently it looks a lot like the real stuff.)
The sweet clover grows really tall, and sometimes it was hard to find the trail.  Small children and animals could be easily misplaced--at least the quiet ones.
We zig-zagged back on the unpaved road from the Coal Vein Trail.  I had to try another shot in the mirror.  Sometimes it works; mostly it doesn't.
We saw a few buffalo lazing along the side of the road.  They are absolutely enormous--and not very impressed with people taking pictures.
We stopped at the Boicourt Overlook for one of the best views of the Badlands from this section of the park.
We had planned to walk the Wind Canyon Trail, but it started getting dark--at noon.  We did get one quick picture of the Little Missouri River...before the rains came.

Painted Canyon

Painted Canyon is still in the South Unit, 8 miles east on I-94.  It's the first time we've ever seen a rest area on a freeway that's also a NP Visitor Center.  I guess it's "Bring those tourists in any way you can!"  The views from the canyon overlook are worth the stop, even if this is all the park you see.
I talked George into going on the Nature Trail into the canyon.  It's a one-mile loop down and back.  It wasn't very well maintained, and most people don't seem to go all the way down.  It's not even down into the painted part of the canyon, and a lot of it's through the trees and brush.  Would I do it again?  Nope!  I'd stand up at the top and give mile encouragement to those who venture down the steep path, then go to the other side and look at the pretty part.

North Unit

The North Unit is 50 miles north of the South Unit, deep into the Bakken Oil Field.  There's lots of evidence of the fracking oil industry here.  Quoting from the park newspaper:  "Each new well means another drill rig, well pad, pumpjack, debris pit, flare pit, storage tanks and access road on the landscape.  Each new well requires 2,000 'trucking events' to complete its setup and to begin pumping oil."

North Dakota is going to end up with either the best or the worst roads in the country.  Neither the buffalo nor I are impressed.
Sometimes buffalo cross the road in groups; sometimes as a family; sometimes one-at-a-time.  I guess if I weighed 2,000 pounds, I wouldn't worry about looking both ways either.

This part of the park is way different than what we'd seen the day before.  Of course, we stopped at the obligatory pullouts.  At the Slump Block Pullout, the tilted mounds slid away from the cliffs.  You're supposed to be able to match up the stripes and see where they came  from.  I wasn't very good at that.
These round rocks are called cannonball concretions.  They are all over at the Cannonball Concretions Pullout.
The river you can see from the River Bend Overlook is the Little Missouri.  The little building was built by the CCC...ummm....let's see...oh...a very long time ago.
The sign at the Bentonitic Clay Overlook says the clay on the plateau 50' below flows when wet. Since it wasn't raining I couldn't tell whether the black in this picture was clay or just a cloud shadow.
The Edge of a Glacier Pullout is supposed to have a bunch of boulders that were dropped by a retreating glacier.  I had to hunt to find one, then hike out into the sweet clover so it would show up in the picture.  
Click on the link to see more pictures of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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