Bizarre, Broken, Bewitching ~ Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Part 2)

“The Badlands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.”  ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Storm clouds build over the Little Missouri
Storm clouds build over the Little Missouri

The Badlands story, of which Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a part, began over 65 million years ago.  While the Rocky Mountains were rising from the earth, bucking and writhing to claim their place in the landscape, massive amounts of sediments were being carried east on the wind and in the water, creating this desolate mural.  Savagely erupting volcanoes in surrounding states were belching ash to combine with the Rocky Mountain sediments.  The badlands are the result of layers of sandstone, mudstone, siltstone, and bentonite clay air-brushed into unusual rock formations and vivid striated buttes.

This national park was once on the eastern edge of a swamp and over time these sediments compressed and broke down, causing chemical changes that resulted in the formation of lignite, a soft coal that Teddy Roosevelt shoveled into his stove to heat his home.  In these striated buttes, lignite can still be seen.  Lightning strikes and fires cause the lignite to smolder, which in many cases can continue underground for years. The hardened red-brick caps, known as “scoria”, seen on many rock formations, come from the oxidation of iron released from the burning of this coal.  The artistry of time, wind, and erosion have created the landscape we see today, which is constantly being transformed.

The 110 square miles of Theodore Roosevelt National Park cover three distinct areas of Badlands in western North Dakota and the Little Missouri River snakes through all of them.

  • The larger South Unit within the town of Medora, where we are camped
  • The smaller North Unit, ~80 miles north of the South Unit, off Hwy. 85
  • Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch located between the two.  Only cornerstones remain there today.

Both the North and South Units have similar topography and many of the same wildlife, deer, bison, prairie dogs.  The North claims the longhorn steer and bighorn sheep, while the South boasts elk, pronghorn, and feral horses.  I had also read about a phenomenon in the North Unit that Nina had introduced us to while on the coast of Oregon that has enchanted me ever since – concretions.  I knew a trip up north was in my future.

On a rare sunny, rain-free day I pointed the car north on the hunt for longhorn steer and cannonball concretions.  While the steer remained elusive, I found the concretions hiding in the shadows.

I could have gone back south and been happy but I had the day so a couple of hikes and a visit to a prairie dog town seemed in order.  I chose the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail and the Buckhorn Trail, taking me through open prairie, aromatic sagebrush, canyons with unusual rock formations, and a town where only prairie dogs are welcome, as they will let you know if you get too close.

Our visit has been more rain than sun and locals say this part of ND has had a very wet summer.   On one of those cloud-filled mornings I headed out bright and early, hoping to get a hike in before the rains came.  My goal was to tackle part of the Maah Daah Hey, a trail that stretches 97 miles across the National Grassland, connecting all three units of the park.  Over 7 miles of it runs through the South Unit, just a couple of miles from our campground and it’s a great trail for hiking and mountain biking.  Plans were thwarted when I got to the Little Missouri, a necessary water crossing I thought would be easy.  Given the recent rains we have had, no way was the river allowing me passage. 😦

On a rare rain-free evening I ventured into the park hoping to catch a memorable sunset on top of Buck Hill, noted for its dramatic evening views. Although the sunset didn’t wow me, what I spotted around a curve in the road did…the feral horses!

And although the sunset wasn’t spectacular, it was a nice ending to my stay at Theodore Roosevelt NP.



RV Friends, Fabulous State Parks, and Hunting Strange Rocks

We are staying at one of the many wonderful Oregon State Parks, Bullards Beach, on the southern coast.  Nina and Paul of the blog Wheeling It are here as well, volunteering as interpretive hosts at Coquille River Lighthouse.  We are anxious to take a tour of this lighthouse with them as our guides but first we are looking forward to just catching up and seeing their great pooch and kitties.

We always look forward to reading both their blogs, Nina’s full of information on RVing (RV tips, places to go, things to see), their adventures, fabulous photos, great writing style and Paul’s Investing for a Living has made me realize I need to devote more time to this topic.  Nina recently posted about her cousin visiting and of scouting out concretions, which I had never heard of before.  I read more and was fascinated so she took us along with her to find the elusive giants, only able to be viewed at the lowest of tides.  There was no signage saying “this way to the giants” but Nina was determined to find Fossil Point and we are discovering with a focused Nina, look out!  Fossil Point is very aptly named, wouldn’t you say?

Oh so lovely fossilized shells!

I am totally enthralled with these rocks and urge all to read Nina’s fantastic post on this topic.  What is a concretion you ask?  To quote Steven Michael, it is “a compact mass of mineral matter, usually spherical or disk-shaped, embedded in a host rock of a different composition”.  They are more common than you might think and in Oregon the largest concentration can be found throughout the Cape Arago Headlands, right outside our back door.  So, if you like rocks or the study of geology, you are gonna love concretions!

Spotting these giants from afar at Fossil Point, I would have jumped up and down if we weren’t already slip-sliding through seaweed and mud.  Nina didn’t say it was going to be easy to get to them but we knew it would be worth it, and boy was it!

Nina, giving some perspective to the giant concretions

From Fossil Point we headed to Yoakam Point north of Sunset Bay State Park to “The Wall” where more amazing creations awaited us.  Guiding ourselves down a short, slippery hill we hit the beach and took a minute to take in the views.  Wow!

Cape Arago Lighthouse from Yoakam Point

A great view of the Cape Arago Lighthouse can be seen from here and is one of the few ways left to see it, as it was decommissioned back in 2006.  The bridge leading out to it is in disrepair and no longer safe to cross.

The concretions at Yoakam Point are nothing like the giants we had just seen but rather looked like someone had thrown them into a wall of mud and they stuck there.

“The Wall” at Yoakam Point
Was it something I said?

From here Terry and I headed to Shore Acres State Park to check out Simpson Beach, where we were told there are must-see concretions.  Simpson Beach would be special without these most unusual rock formations but they are indeed the icing on the cake!

Seat fit for a queen!
Looks like the spine from a prehistoric mammal.

Another stop to make while driving through Shore Acres is Simpson Reef, where you can look out to Shell Island, a popular breeding area for many sea birds, Stellar and elephant sea lions, and harbor seals.  If you are lucky, as we were, a couple will be there with spotting scopes offering a peek to anyone interested.

From here definitely stop at the botanical gardens.  What began as a private estate and grand gardens for shipbuilder Louis J. Simpson is now a beautiful public botanical garden with over 600 rose bushes with a breathtaking mix of colors and a lovely pond.  If you happen to be in the area over the holidays, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, an annual tradition is “Holiday Lights at Shore Acres“, which looks quite lovely.

Lovely setting to sit for a spell
Lily pads
Rose garden beauty

Cape Arago State Park was to be our last stop for the day and what a treat it was.  From the scenic headland we watched with a small gathering of folks while two gray whales spouted, breached and shook their flukes for all to see!  It was an exciting ending to the day.

We have only a couple more days to spend in the Bandon area and already are dreaming about our next visit here.  We have enjoyed reconnecting with friends Nina and Paul, spending time in the fabulous states parks that are so well maintained, and hunting for the most unusual rocks.  Life is good!

Cape Arago Headland

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