Day 211 – North Dakota Sampler

Day 211 – North Dakota Sampler, Friday July 15, 2011

I survived a wicked thunderstorm last night.  Thunder roared as lightning flashed and rain
washed VANilla for over two hours.
VANilla is a closer shade of white now that the red Utah clay has been
washed away.  I had planned to complete
several short hikes this morning in the south end of the Theodore Roosevelt
National Park, but after 2 inches of mud caked to my trail shoes over a hundred
yard walk to the bathroom in the campground and knowing the forecast called for
out of the ordinary 97 degree temperatures, I thought better of it.

Instead, we took the 36 mile scenic loop drive through a
prairie dog town, to a handful of pullouts overlooking the North Dakota badlands
and to the Beef Corral Bottom.  Along the
way, we spotted some wild horses that live in the park.

The Beef Corral Bottom used to be a large corral constructed
in 1883.  During the open range cattle
industry, ranchers would work together in the spring and fall to round up their
cattle.  The Beef Corral Bottom was one
of the areas where cattle were held for transportation to the slaughterhouse.  The disturbed land provides an ideal location
for a prairie dog town.

I was unsuccessful in spotting the bison in the southern end
of the park, so I headed for the northern section.  Despite only being home to approximately 100
bison, 1/3 of the population of the southern section, I located just about all
of them.  A portion of the herd with
calves rested on the hillside close to the road while another portion camped out
atop the ridge.

I was also lucky to find nine of the eleven longhorns known
to live in the park!

In addition to the wildlife I enjoyed the vast fields of
wildflowers and a variety of geological structures including slump formation,
Bentonitic Clay, and Cannon Ball Concretions.

Slump formations are tilted mounds that were once part of
higher cliffs.  Over time, the stream
cutting against their base over-stressed the cliffs which slid downhill yet
still maintained their layered pattern.

The blue-black popcorn-like soil that caps some of the
plateaus is known as Bentonitic Clay.
The clay flows when it is wet and can be traced for miles up and down
the river.

Cannon Ball Concretions are large spherical boulders.  They may have any shape, but most are
round.  Concretions are formed within
rocks (shale, clay, sandstone) by the deposition of mineral around a core.

After visiting the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I
continued to the north to the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
where a partial reconstruction of the fort stands today.

Just down the road, I visited Fort Buford State Historical
Site.  The field officer’s quarters,
constructed in 1871, is the location where Hunkpapa leader Sitting Bull
surrendered in 1881 which helped end warfare on the northern plains.  Sitting Bull told his young son Crow Foot to
hand over his Winchester to Major Brotherton and is recorded as saying, “I
surrender this rifle to you through my young son, who I now desire to teach in
this manner, now that he has become a friend of the American people.  I wish to teach him the habits of the whites
and to have him educated as their sons are educated.  I wish it to be remembered that I was the
last man in my tribe to surrender my rifle.”

I finished the day camping in Lewis and Clark State
Park.  It was absolutely packed.  Every campsite was taken.  They let me stay in a parking lot where
walk-in tent campers park.  At first I
just thought it was due to a Friday night at the lake; then I realized several
of the campers were decorated with Christmas lights for a Christmas in July
celebration.  Too bad I missed the
festivities!  ETB