24 March 2008

Spring Roadtrip: Makoshika State Park

Dave Carter and I were itching for a spring break getaway. No, we're not talking Vegas or Ft Lauderdale, but rather some good hiking and camping spot with weather a bit warmer than Butte's. We threw a dart at a map of Montana and decided on Makoshika State Park--a mere 450 miles or so (six hours for slow drivers like us)to the east near Glendive. At an elevation of just 2,000 feet or so (compared with Butte's 6,000 feet), we hoped for warmer weather.

Makoshika, a Lakota Sioux word for "land of bad spirits." This usually translates simply to "badlands" in English. The weather was not warmer than Butte and less sunny, though we did miss the spring blizzard that swept through our hometown on the divide. The campites are crowded close together, but that mattered little since we saw only two other camping parties in three nights:

The landscape is spectacular, much like the badlands of the Dakotas or Utah:

At the macro level there are columns:

Castle domes:

And other formations created by the forces of erosion on strata of various durability with caprock protecting softer strata:

At the micro level there are iron nodules that form within sandstone:

"Slickens" formed by the erosion and water-sorting/deposition of fine sediments:

And other weird formations such as this natural bridge:

Makoshika and the Glendive area are also rich in fossils, with more than ten species of saurians from the Cretaceous Period c. 65 million years ago, including Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex, as well as Miocence to late Pleistocene finds such as mammoths. Trails in the park will lead you to well interpreted sites such as the "Hadrosaur (duck billed dinosaur) Vertebrae Site:"



Off trail hiking is encouragaged, and by following the coulees you will come upon fossils like this plant assemblage:

And rocks that ought to be fossils even if they aren't:

Bring your rifles and pistols, should you wish. This state park has a premier shooting range (only in Montana!).

On the drive home, we stopped at Forsyth to see the Rosebud County Courthouse. Designed by architects Link and Haire along Neoclassical lines, it was built c. 1913 at a cost of less than $200,000:

It proved to be a good stop. We got that pesky leaking trailer tire fixed at Forsyth Tire Repair (quick service, good work). Better yet, we met "Iron Mike." He trucks his portable barbecue around, and we were lucky to find him hanging out the "open" sing in a parking lot. Best BBQ sandwich this side of Texas.

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For more information:

Bob Biek, "Concretions and Nodules in North Dakota" (2002) at https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndgs/ndnotes/concretions/concretions.asp.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks site for Makoshika at http://fwp.mt.gov/lands/site_283890.aspx.