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).

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