Sunday, December 28, 2014

Badlands (A.K.A. Truck Key Eaters)

As my previous post mentioned the badlands in Little Missouri State Park, I decided to actually do a little research and learn more about why the badlands are the way they are.

Because this is what I think of when I hear the word "desolate."
I'll get all scientificky in a minute.  Let me first describe the badlands in my own terms:

The badlands consist of hilltops that are constantly changing.  Rain and wind cause the hillsides to, quite literally, fall down in these huge chunky slices....line a cinnamon roll that is so gooey it won't stay rolled up.  If you stare at these chunks of hillside long enough, you can actually see how their stratigraphy lines up with the newly exposed sides of the hills.  As the land slides downward, it creates these steps along the hillside.  Kind of like this:

Isn't it nice of nature to give you steps for hiking?!
The soil in North Dakota's badlands is (in my experience) exactly like the all the other soil of the northern plains:  gumbo.  Given that these badlands are in the northern plains, I suppose my observation is simply the most astute observation ever.  You're welcome!

Anywho, the soil gets slippery and slimy with even the smallest amount of moisture.  

On that note, we'll move on to the actual science stuff I found online.  A brief list of badlands in the U.S. includes:  

1.  Makoshika State Park, Montana
2.  Badlands National Park, South Dakota
3.  Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota (this is where my truck key is!)
4.  Toadstool Geologic Park, Oglala National Grassland in northwestern Nebraska
5.  Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah
6.  Hell's Half-Acre, Natrona County, Wyoming......what a fantastic name!  
7.  El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

In each of these settings you get land formations that consist of:  
Soft sedimentary rock that has been extensibly eroded in a dry climate by water and wind, creating a typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges (NPS 2014)
They aren't exaggerating when they describe it like that.....

Scenic overview of Roosevelt National Park.

To tie all this in with archaeology in general, places like the badlands in North Dakota, can be either incredibly rich in archaeological materials, or a complete waste of tax dollars.  My day in the field resulted in finding one fossil.  No human made stuff.  Just. One. Fossil.  I don't even really do fossils.  I mean, as the BLM's ND state archaeologists, we're responsible for identifying, recording, and preserving paleontological resources, but......I have no idea what these things are!  I mean, I can tell you that rock looks just like a bone, ergo fossil.  But I can't tell you anything else.  T-rex in all his little arm glory could be creeping out of the side of a hill at me and I probably wouldn't notice.

Rumor has it that even the Plains Indians called the badlands, "bad lands."  And the North Dakota State Parks and Recreation's website says that the badlands have been called "The Land God Forgot."  Wow.  So melodramatic.

Why is this all melodramatic?

What a fantastic question!  You see, the badlands are teeming with life.  First....trees.  Let's compare the following photos:

Little Missouri River State Park:
The North Unit of Roosevelt National Park....I'm on top of a hill already to give some perspective in scale.


Helllllooooooo out there!!!  *silence*


Second:  wildlife.

If you're expecting a photo of animals in the badlands, I apologize.  The only things alive I saw in the field were a crap ton of rodents...not sure what kind, either.  They were scurrying under the snow.  However, I do know that bats, white-tailed deer, antelope, mule deer, bison, birds, birds of prey, wolves, coyotes, rabbits.....ticks, get the point, right?  LOTS of life.

Imagine how easy it would be to hunt amongst all those hills!  All anyone/animal would have to do is get high up and go for the animals down between the hills.  I wouldn't be surprised one bit to find dozens, hundreds, thousands of buffalo kill sites in the badlands.  Bison stampede pretty awesomely.  Chase them off a cliff, or up a gully into a dead end and voila!  Easy pickings.

What the badlands aren't that great for, given the hill's tendencies to fall out from under you, is farming. So I guess there's that.

Oh, and hiking with vehicle keys in back pockets.  Just don't.  I promise you it isn't fun standing on an oil well pad access road waiting for help, whilst a large well is being drilled not 1,000 feet away from you.  And that may sound far, but with how massive the drills are, it may as well have been 100 feet.

So, there you have it.  I highly recommend visiting North Dakota to see Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  There is camping, horseback riding, a petrified forrest, bison, the Missouri River, and Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch (which also happens to be a registered Historic Place).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Holy life changes, Batman!

The title totally says it all, and is exactly why I haven't done a post in....oh.....6 months?  8 months?

Not much archaeology in this post, I'll save that for the next one.

But, in a nutshell:

Had a baby and three weeks after moved 2,000 some odd miles west to the Gateway to the I guess midwest.  But!  I like saying I live in the west; brings to mind all sorts of nefarious outlaws of olden times (thank you 9 year old daughter for that phrase!).

Road trips are so rough for a baby!
All that sleeping....
Anywhoosier....Our move from Virginia to North Dakota read like some sort of Country song (at least in my husband's case):  A guy in a truck with his two dogs.

As for me it was more like:  A mom, an almost-9-year-old-going-on-15-and-being-grounded-forever, and a 3 week old sleeping/screaming baby in a filled-so-much-I-can't-see-out-the-back-window SUV.

We stopped in nowheresville Ohio that first night.  Then Chicago....I LOVE CHICAGO!  Did you know that the Great Lakes are FRIGGIN' HUGINORMOUS!?!?!  I mean it looked like the ocean.  

It isn't Dodger Stadium, but it was pretty cool.

Mind is still blown.

Then we stayed in somewherestown Wisconsin.

And then there was this....

A freaking VIKING in MINNESOTA.  In Alexandria, Minnesota to be exact.
Because that is EXACTLY where America began.  'Merica!

We eventually made it to western North Dakota.  I absolutely LOVE it here!  I miss many friends in the DC area, but hot damn!  If I need to get across town it takes 5 minutes.  Seven minutes if it is lunch time and I get stuck at a light.  If I needed to get across town in Virginia, it would take me 30-40 minutes. Of course, if I want to go north out of town, I run the very real chance of an hour long drive taking more like 2 hours due to Bakken oil traffic, but I remedy that by rarely going north. When I do it is for work.  Easy peasy.

Speaking of work.  This shovel monkey is a shovel monkey no more!  The whole reason, if you haven't heard, for us moving from the megametropolis that is the DC area to the bustling town of Dickinson, North Dakota is that I got a permanent, big girl ties-her-own-shoes-and-everything job.  As an archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management.  Yep, same organization I worked for in Montana.  I'm beginning to think my freakishly excitable enthusiasm for archaeology only works on interviewers from Montana and North Dakota.  But, I also think I was simply the only person who had northern plains work experience who was willing to move to a "small" town in North Dakota where prices for everything are so high that even Wal-Mart has starting pay of $15.00/hour.

Sadly, don't do much field work, but that's okay.  I gotta put my time in here, then I can move on to a position that let's me have all the field work I want!

Speaking of field work, I shall regale you with one story.  The BLM has around 50,000 acres of land in North Dakota.  One small tract of it lies at the Little Missouri River State Park.  Oil well pads and access roads are going up all over the place, and so the ND State parks and recreation peeps want to blaze a new hiking trail through the BLM lands.  So!  I'm like, "Sweet!!!  Field day!"  This is in December, mind you.  December 11, 2014.  Winter.  In North Dakota.

Basically, I'm an almost-idiot.  There was snow on the ground, but we were having a heat wave of above freezing temps, so we figured enough snow would be melted and all would be good.  Pfft!  HAHAHA!  Yep.  This is where we were:

Super beautiful!!!!!  And, as it is daytime, the flares from the oil pads aren't visible so you can actually pretend there's no humans!
Beautiful.  Can't say that enough.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is sort of what the badlands look like.  All chopped up hills....I love them.  I'm completely fascinated by the badlands, but that is for a future blog post.  For now, my story.

We went out there (see above) to survey the route for the new hiking trail.  The trail currently is non-existing.  Which means we get to walk it in all of the trail's natural glory.  ALONG THE SIDES OF THESE HILLS!  These hills, mind you, are made up of gumbo soils.  Gumbo is slimy, sticky, makes you grow as you walk, and can cause you to slip and slide everywhere.  Even down the side of the hills if you aren't careful.  I had to resort to the, always, super safe method of hiking that involved using my shovel as a walking stick.  Evolution hasn't weeded me out, yet!

We walked about 3-4 miles in that....and at about the halfway point (which was also the ending, turn around, point) I suddenly had the urge to find the vehicle key.  The government loaned vehicle, to which the key belonged.  Could I find it?  Of course not!

Long story short, I slipped and slid my way back as fast as I could (clearly I survived), to see if the key was locked in my truck.  Of course not.  We ended up waiting for help.  Once helped arrived, with the spare key, we bolted.  It gets dark up here early, say 4:30pm, and when that sun goes down, the temperatures drop fast.  It got cold quick.  As soon as I had the truck started we tried to leave.  But the badlands weren't done with me yet.  I had to turn around on a small farm land access road, and as soon as I put the truck in drive and took my foot off the brake, I heard the strangest sound of metal creaking.

Metal should NOT be creaking.

Turns out the ground decided to fall out from under the back right tire.  I didn't waste any time messing around.  Put the truck straight into 4-Low, and let that Chevy engine do what it does....

I may not do field work often, but when I do, I do it with style and excitement!

Here are some more pictures from our hike.  You know you're jealous.  I know I'm not going back out there until a few weeks after the spring thaw.  When the ground has dried.

There's a Chevy key out there somewhere.......