Little Missouri State Park


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.


Killdeer Mountain Battlefield

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.



Confluence of Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers


In the past, these rivers were important highways traversing the west.  The Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition passed this location on their way west in April 1805.  There is a museum run by North Dakota Historical Society that is worth a visit if you are in the vicinity.

The confluence of these two large rivers is not easy to photograph from the ground, at least not in a manner that makes it interesting.  This was made more difficult by the  smoke haze that plagued this trip.

The confluence is not far from Williston, often considered the epicenter of the Bakken oil development.  Nearby major highways are heavy with oil field truck traffic and there are a number of oil wells in the area (based on GIS map data).

Elkhorn Ranch


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.”

Wells - Elkhorn Ranch

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.

West Twin Butte


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.


Second Trip

This past weekend I made a second trip to the Bakken oil fields. This trip included locations north of interstate 94 and traversed many regions of the state with the most intensive oil development: Williston, Watford City, and the Ft. Berthold Reservation near New Town.

I left Bismarck very early on Saturday morning, reaching the Painted Canyon Overlook shortly after sunrise. Well, it was shortly after the time when the sun was scheduled to rise, but the canyon was enveloped in a thick haze due to large wild fires raging further west, primarily in Washington State. The rest of the day was not very productive photographically. I took a few close-range shots of landscape features, but large, panoramic vistas were not appealing. The haze, the heat (92 degrees F by mid-afternoon), and the depressing nature of the oil development around Williston and Watford City made me decide to return to Bismarck rather than camp out.

I stayed indoors and out of the heat on Sunday, heading back out early on Monday morning to visit locations on ND 22 between Dickinson and New Town. Haze was still an issue, but the temperatures were significantly cooler than Saturday and Sunday. This trip was not as productive as the first, at least in terms of number of images.

Areas of Special Interest included in this trip:

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit)
  • Little Missouri River
  • Little Missouri National Grasslands
  • West Twin Butte
  • Elkhorn Ranch (Theodore Roosevelt National Park)
  • Confluence of Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers
  • Killdeer Mountain Battlefield
  • Little Missouri State Park
  • Lake Sakakawea

Separate posts for each of the locations including a few notes and photographs will follow over the next several days.

Painted Canyon Overlook

Painted Canyon Overlook, Theodrore Roosevelt National Park

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).

Little Missouri National Grasslands

The Little Missouri Grassland is the largest grassland under federal administration at a little over 1,028,000 acres.  It encompasses parts of McKenzie, Billings, Slope, and Golden Valley counties in North Dakota.  Ownership within the grassland is mixed:  lands are owned by federal and state agencies and by private individuals. Many of the public lands are leased for grazing.  The public lands within the grassland collectively are one of the extraordinary places in North Dakota.

We did not explicitly document grassland areas in Slope and Golden Valley counties during this trip.  A future trip will include careful documentation of the existing diversity of habitats and an assessment of the impact of oil development.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit)

Theodrore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit

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.

Theodrore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit

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)

Wells - TRNP South

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).

Theodrore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit


Little Missouri River

The list of extraordinary places includes the entire length of the Little Missouri River. Our path came near the river in a number of places on this first trip, but we did not make an explicit effort to locate as many documentation locations as possible. Here are two representative locations for this trip.

Bend in the river north of Logging Camp Ranch Road (a few miles west of Burning Coal Vein Campground).


A spectacular view of the river from the Wind Canyon Overlook in the south unit of Thodore Roocevelt National Park.

Theodrore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit

We did not see evidence of oil development close to the river in the areas we visited on this first trip. Analysis of GIS data on oil activities will be included with efforts to document the river more thoroughly on a future trip.