Sunday, July 11, 2010

North Dakota Wonders

We are finally able to put North Dakota on our map, showing we have traveled here and spent at least one night here. Actually, we will end up spending three nights here. For many miles as we drove west on I-94, this is the scenery we saw.

Now, there are probably lots of people who find this landscape boring. But we are westerners and since about mid-April we have been surrounded by thick green trees everywhere we went as we traveled through the South, Middle Atlantic States, and Northeast. And the air was full of humidity so the sky was a pale blue, at best. Just look at how far you can see in North Dakota and how blue the sky is. We enjoyed this roadside sculpture, too.

But there is even more to this state. This is the backdrop for the RV park where we are staying in Medora.

Today we visited the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Known as the badlands of North Dakota, the landscape here is anything but boring.

We had read that the we might see White-Tailed and Mule deer, elk, buffalo and wild horses as we drove the 36-mile loop road. First we came on some of the horses.

We had never seen wild horses before, so it was a big thrill. About 85 feral horses, descendants from horses that escaped from local ranches decades ago, live here. They travel in bands of 5-15 individuals led by a dominant stallion. We especially enjoyed seeing this colt (or filly?) having some lunch.

We stopped at the Scoria Overlook. Scoria is a light-weight rock formed when a volcano erupts. The lava fills with gas bubbles and produces a rock similar to pumice, but heavier.

We followed the Ridgeline Nature Trail, a 6/10-mile trail providing good views like this.

It was good to get out of the truck and get a little exercise before it started raining, but the real thrills of the day came when we saw wildlife. At one parking area, we saw a lone buffalo above the road. We stopped and I took a picture. We got back into our truck and were getting ready to drive off when a woman returning to her car walked over and told us there were about 150 buffalo near the Little Missouri River, visible from the nearby ridge. Despite the mist, we walked up to the ridge to see this:

Here you see another part of the herd. Approximately 300 bison occupy the south unit of the park.

The herd was scattered across the fields, moving slowly toward our right. We could hear them snorting.

We watched the pair of young ones hone their head-butting skills for later years, as an older buffalo strolls by.

We finally tore ourselves away and drove on down the road, only to come on another small group of bison. This one seemed to pose for us.

And we weren't done yet. Shortly before we finished the loop drive, we came on a small herd of elk. Aren't their antlers magnificent? About 900 elk call the south unit home. They are supposed to be hard to spot except near dusk or dawn. Not today!

It was certainly a North Dakota day full of wonders.

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