I had never heard of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and had no idea what to expect. Turns out that the park is primarily badlands. The North Dakota badlands are very similar to the South Dakota badlands and very different at the same time. In SD they seemed to connect two layers of the earth, a lower valley and a upper valley with an elevation difference of around 100 ft. It seemed pretty concentrated in this line and was very barren with rolling grassy hills in every other direction.
North Dakota badlands seem to be more wide spread and not as barren. They both have the distinctive horizontal layers and the colors are amazing. The National Park is broken up into 3 different units the north unit, the south unit and Elkhorn Ranch. We visited the north and south unit, but decided to skip Elkhorn Ranch. The Elkhorn Ranch was built for Roosevelt in 1884 and was a working cattle ranch until 1887 when over 60% of his cattle died in the “starvation winter” of 1886-1887. Roosevelt only returned to the badlands a handful of times after that, but they influenced his love for conservation of the land, which was evident during his presidency.
The badlands here basically layered hills for miles around. You can see the difference in the north face vs south face of the hills. The south side is hotter and drier and may have some grassy vegetation, where the north side is cooler and wetter and is tree covered.
Another difference is that these badlands have the Little Missouri River cutting thru them. The river is the main erosive force that revealed the badlands. It has been so dry up here that the river is almost dry. We are currently in extreme drought conditions, which is obvious in the crunchiness and color of the grass land.
We were fortunate enough to see the buffalo above grazing and enjoying what little water there was.
The layers of badlands are really interesting. In the picture below you can see the grey/blue layer which looks almost soft or like popcorn and the gold/bronze layer which is more crumbled. Both are crumbly and easily turn into dust in between your fingers. This land erodes at a rate of 2 to 4 inches per year. There are hard rocks in some layers that erode slower and create interesting tops/protrusions in the hills.
In the north unit, there are “Cannonball Concretions” you can see why they are called that. They are only in this one place in the park or so we thought until we went to the petrified forest where we saw one more.
The petrified forest section of Theodore Roosevelt NP has the third largest collections of petrified wood in the continental US. It is accessible via a 7 mile dirt road and an out and back hike. We went during the middle of day with temps in the 80s. Doesn’t sound bad until you realize that there is no shade. Even low 80 with full sun is hot, but the hike was worth it.
Peace and Love!!