Monday, October 7, 2013

North Dakota Badlands Day Two: Painted Canyon

After our adventures at Jones Creek and Buck Hill on Day One of our trip, we were super excited for the two adventures on tap for Day Two.  We explored one of the most visited parts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and then one of the least visited.  Off we go!

The Painted Canyon is super-accessible for folks just driving by Theodore Roosevelt National Park on Interstate's the Rest Stop!  No park pass needed.  There is a small Interpretive Center on site, plenty of parking (for cars and lots and lots of semis), picnic tables, and a trailhead that leads down into the canyon.

The view from the top

From this perspective, it's easy to see that the Badlands were "carved out" as opposed to being like mountains, which are "folded up" or "pushed up".  Looking down on the Badlands is like looking back through millions of years of history.  Look at the strata patterns in the rocks!

Into the canyon

The Painted Canyon Loop is about two miles long.  We saw several other trails branching off the main trail and going into the distance - further evidence of plenty of backcountry hiking as we saw yesterday on Jones Creek.  The main trail was well-marked with these brown signs that LOOK like rusted metal, but are actually plastic.  Makes sense, with the wind that we had to deal with the whole time!  It wasn't tough to stay on the main trail, until...


This giant bison lumbered out of the woods and right onto the trail in front of us.  We had already carefully navigated the steep, steep trail down the side of the canyon, and were not too keen on turning around and going straight back.  But Mr. Bison was also not keen on giving up his nice place on the trail.  He gave us the stink-eye as we stood there, trying to figure out what to do.

This land is my land, it is not your land.

We thought we could see where the trail picked up on the other side of the bison barrier, so we scrambled up over some rocks to avoid him.  Surely that 2,000 lb critter (with the delightful scientific name of Bison Bison Bison) could not get to us up here.

Leaving bison zone

People may pooh-pooh a trail that starts and ends at an Interstate Rest Stop, but don't you be one of those people.  It was a great hike - challenging, with the steep path into and out of the canyon - and once we were down in there we couldn't even hear the road above.  It's wonderful that such a wild, amazing trail is accessible as it is to overland truckers, families going to Fargo to visit the folks, and other people who just have an hour or so to enjoy the Badlands before getting back on the road.

Back at the top, with fall color

When we returned to the top, we met an over-the-road trucker and her snorty English Bulldog, Winston.  She asked us if we'd just come back from hiking, and we told her about the bison on the trail.

"Oh yes!" she said. "In the spring, they come all the way up here by the rest stop.  This place is crawling with them."  Apparently, when the female bison are calving, the males will sort of circle around them and watch from afar.  This includes coming up on the rest area grounds.

Not sure if we believed her, we said farewell to her and snorty Winston and stopped in the Interpretive Center.  The ranger on duty confirmed her story.  We saw a few pictures of bison staring in the Interpretive Center windows.

"But how do they get up here?" we asked.  "Surely the canyon walls are too steep for them to climb?"

"Oh no, they come right up the trail that you hiked on," the ranger said.  "They're surprisingly nimble for being so big."

Joe and I looked at each other.  Apparently our great idea of climbing up on the rocks above the bison wasn't all that great.  It could have just nimbly charged up after us.  Well!  Now that we knew, we wouldn't make that mistake again.

Total miles hiked today (this hike): 2
Total miles hiked in 2013: 109
Total Superior Hiking Trail miles hiked in 2013: 19.7
Total ticks today: 0
Total ticks in 2013: 54

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