This state park is located a few miles from Lake Sakakawea on the south rim of the badlands formed by the Little Missouri River. The park and surrounding leased land look noth and east across the rugged Little Missouri Breaks and include a network of hiking and horse trails that wander down into the badlands. Because it faces into the morning sun, the “canyon” formed by the river is not easy to photograph in the morning. I hope to return in the late afternoon on a follow up trip.
There is significant oil development evident along ND 22 north of Killdeer to the park entrance. Three rigs were drilling new wells in a one mile stretch of road just a short distance from the park entrance. Rigs and wells were visible along the north rim of the Breaks, disrupting the panoramic views from within the park.
Multiple rigs along a small portion of ND highway 22.
I stopped at a Coop in Killdeer a little before 7 AM on Monday morning to buy a drink and snacks. The parking lot was full of pickup trucks and semi trucks, all related to oil development. With the exception of the two ladies running the registers, I may have been the only one in the store that was not working in the oil fields. Like me everyone seemed to be looking for drinks and snacks for the day.
Killdeer Mountain Battlefield is the location of a significant battle in July 1864 between the Teton, Yanktonai, and Dakota (Sioux) Indians and US troops commanded by General Sully. US Troops were seeking reprisals following the Dakota Conflict of 1862 in Minnesota. Following the battle, the US Troops burned large numbers of native lodges at this important trading post. The actions of the US Troops cemented native antagonism against the encroaching whites and caused many natives to commit to continued warfare. See the North Dakota State Historical Society Killdeer Mountain Battlefield page for additional information.
The battlefield site, nestled at the base of the Killdeer Mountains, is located on private land. Please be mindful of any signs posted by the landowner so we can all continue to enjoy visiting in the future.
There are several oil wells a short distance to the east and south of the battlefield location, but none of these pump jacks were visible from the historic site.
Elkhorn Ranch is the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s second ranch in North Dakota. It is the place he came to for solitude and some hard work while he mourned the loss of both his wife and his mother on a single day. It was also where he developed his conservation ethic that lead to the protection of more than 230 million acres.
The 218 acre site is the least visited unit in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There are several interpretive signs near the parking area and at the ranch site (an easy 3/4 mile hike from the parking area). Building sites are fenced and the locations of many of the structures are marked with metal posts.
Even today, Elkhorn Ranch is fairly remote. The ranch is roughly a 50 mile drive from Medora; about 28 miles are on unpaved roads. But these back roads are not as quiet as they were only a few years ago. A number of oil wells are located along the roads heading towards Elkhorn Ranch, and semi trucks regularly head both north and south from the freshwater station near the junction of Westerheim Road and Bell Lake Road about half way between Medora and the ranch. (Use caution when driving or when getting out of the vehicle for a photograph. The roads are fairly narrow and these trucks are moving fast.)
There are oil fields in nearly every direction from the Elkhorn Ranch Site. An active pump jack is visible on the bluffs on the opposite side of Little Missouri River from the site of Teddy’s cabin. I wonder what Roosevelt would have thought about this “progress” in his beloved wilderness? Perhaps this quote by him is still relevant:
“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”
Oil Wells near Elkhorn Ranch
Elkhorn Ranch is indicated by the small yellow oval near the middle of the map. The legend for wells can be found at: GIS Map Legend.
This small butte is located on private land just a few miles north of Camel’s Hump Butte. The neighboring East Twin Butte is not included in the list of special places, but is protected by being within the backcounty recreation area that starts about two miles east of West Twin Butte. There is active oil development to the southwest of West Twin Butte in the Camel Hump field.
One of the most spectacular vistas of the badlands in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is from the Painted Canyon Overlook and Rest Area on I 94 located east of Medora. Scattered storms moving across the landscape created some dramatic lighting during our stop for a picnic dinner.
No oil development is allowed in the park, but Painted Canyon is at risk because very active oil fields are just outside the park boundaries. Some of these developments are visible on the east rim of the canyon from the overlook (out of frame to the right, in this case).
Theodore Roosevelt National Park may be the most recognizable location on the list of North Dakota extraordinary places. The park includes three separate geographic locations: the south unit, the north unit, and Elkhorn Ranch. The south unit, located just north on I 94 at Medora is visited by thousands each year.
The 36-mile scenic loop trail is a main attraction in the south unit. The loop travels through a variety of badlands habitats, providing a good introduction to the geology and ecology of the region. At some times of hte year, there can be significant traffic and limited opportunities to stop to explore and photograph along this road (only the pull-outs and overlooks make it possible to get safely out of traffic). Construction on the road to the scenic loop also meant 30+ minute delays during our visit. Similar scenery can be found outside the park, where it is more accessible and there is less traffic (for example, see East River Road).
Highlights along the scenic loop are Buck Hill and Wind Canyon. There are 360-degree views from Buck Hill, including a different view of the often photographed Painted Canyon. At Wind Canyon trail, a high ridge overlooks the Little Missouri River and some fantastic wind-sculpted sand and rock.
The south unit sits among very active oil development: the pale yellow area in the following map is the approximate location of the park. (Legend to GIS Maps)
Development surrounds and threatens the park. Oil wells are visible just outside the park on the ridges to the east of Painted Canyon (from Buck Hill) and to the northeast of the park from the scenic loop near the Boicourt Overlook (following picture).
Tracy Mountain is a little difficult to view from the road, particularly if one is looking for an angle that does not include evidence of oil development. This “butte” is about a mile from the nearest road and oil development is common to the south and southwest of the location along much of Tracy Mountain Road from its west end where it meets East River Road to the point of the photograph.
The best location I found during this trip was to the south east, just past the point that Tracy Mountain Road crosses Merrifield Creek. An aside: Merrifield Creek was the site of a pipeline (saltwater) leak earlier this year. The soil where the road crosses the creek had recently been replaced when we visited.
An oil well south of Tracy Mountain. Several wells are visible along Tracy Mountain Road, some of them back right up to the hills just south of the butte.
Here is a map of oil development in the area. Tracy Mountain is located roughly at T138N R101w, section 10, near the northeast end of the Tracy Mountain oil field. Active wells (the dark circles; see https://oilandwaterimages.wordpress.com/gis-map-legend/ for map legend) are located to the south and south west of Tracy Mountain field. The active Medora and Fryburg oil fields are located to the northwest and northeast, respectively.
Story: North Dakota now produces 1M barrels of oil a day
Oil production in western North Dakota now exceeds 1 million barrels a day.