View 107: The Badlands

The view of the Badlands from the Skyline Vista overlook in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The view of the Badlands from the Skyline Vista overlook in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I had seen photos of the Badlands before I left for my trip to North Dakota.  Most were not taken in winter.  I didn’t know if I would see the colors in the rocks in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and, for the most part, I did not.  The winter storm of the previous two days before my visit had caked snow on most surfaces.  The Sun was out but with ambient temperatures in the -25 to -10 Fahrenheit range was not allowing for much melting even on a cloudless day.

The Badlands were formed over 60 million years.  They are continuing to be changed by rain, thunderstorms and prairie fires.  Lightning can ignite coal beds which can burn for years.  These coal bed fires bake the overlying sediments into a hard, natural brick that geologists call porcelanite but is locally called scoria. The red color of the rock comes from the oxidation of iron released from the coal as it burns. The burning lends both color to the badlands and helps to shape them. These hardened rocks are more resistant to erosion than the unbaked rocks nearby. Over time, erosion has worn down the less resistant rocks, leaving behind a jumble of knobs, ridges, and buttes topped with durable red scoria caps.

Most of the Badlands rock formations where snow covered but I found an example of a scoria cap on this butte in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Most of the Badlands rock formations where snow covered but I found an example of a scoria cap on this butte in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Before I saw any wildlife, I saw tracks literally honeycombed in the snow on either side of the road as I drove deep into the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Then I saw this lone Elk on the top of a ridge.

A lone Elk on a ridge in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

A lone Elk on a ridge in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Later I found a whole herd of Elk but, like this individual, they were too far away to get much more than small dots on a hill.  Of course, after that I found a large herd of American Bison (buffalos).  I’ll have more buffalo photos later this week.

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10 Responses to View 107: The Badlands

  1. Carsten says:

    The picture with the elk is very elegant. A few tones of light blue and white. Voila! There you have a postcard.
    I hope you had a good journey.

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  2. Well Scott, I only know the Badlands from the song of Bruce Springsteen! But I love the way you portrayed them in Winter!

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  3. Looks COLD!!! but very beautiful. I like the second one the best.

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  4. montucky says:

    The badlands have their own unique kind of beauty, don’t they! Wide open spaces.

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    • They sure do, Terry. Now, I know what Big Sky country is really like. Want to go back when I can see the colors of these rock formations better. I didn’t have time to see a sunrise or sunset either which must be amazing from what I’ve seen in photos.

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  5. Gerry says:

    Just thinking about driving around in that deep cold makes me want to throw another blanket around my shoulders. I’ll bet you do get back there after the snow is gone. You’ll have a great guide!

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  6. Nye says:

    The Badlands look very beautiful in the winter, but I think I’d prefer to be there in the summer.

    Like

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