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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
Here are a couple of articles explaining the role of fresh water in the hydraulic fracturing process.
In addition to the water used in the initial fracturing process, Bakken wells need additional water to flush salty deposits out of the system and keep oil flowing during production. See http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/11/131111-north-dakota-wells-maintenance-water/ for more details.