Thursday, October 10, 2013

North Dakota Badlands Day Two: Petrified Forest

The second hike of our second day at Theodore Roosevelt National Park was at the Petrified Forest.  The Petrified Forest is accessible by taking a very rocky dirt road to the far west side of the South Unit of the park, through open ranchland and past oil rigs.  The road is not well labeled, so make sure you take a map if you head out that way!  

Welcome to the Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness

The first item of interest was the gate to enter the park.  A first for the Tales of the Witch of November blog: an animated gif!  Joe demonstrates the gate for us all to enjoy.

And this here is a gate

It wasn't easy to pick a favorite hike of the weekend, but if pressed I would have to choose this one.  We started out across the grassy prairie under the wide, wide sky.  The car, the road, and all traces of civilization disappeared over the hill behind us.  We were alone.

Under the prairie sky

After half a mile or so, the scenery began to change.  The grasses gave way to rocks and brush, and we were back in the Badlands.  We encountered a small group of hikers, who told us that there was a rattlesnake about 100 yards ahead.  They had startled it out of a shrub, and "even got it to rattle at us."  I thought, "Oh great, you've made it mad for us!".  One of the group kindly offered to walk the 100 yards with us to show us where the snake was located.  We hiked to the shrub, but the rattlesnake was gone.  We continued on, a bit more cautiously than usual.

Into the Badlands again

Our destination was the Petrified Forest, about 1.25 miles in.  We started to see petrified stumps and logs: when we picked up small pieces of wood, they were as hard and heavy as stone.  This stump grew here about 60 million years ago, and now its descendants grow in the soil around it.

Separated by several thousand generations

Aghh!!  A snake!  A four-foot-long snake meandered through bits of petrified wood.  We were pretty sure it wasn't a rattlesnake (skinny head, no rattle) but we didn't know what exact kind of snake it was at first.   We stayed well clear of it.  Turns out it was a bullsnake - not poisonous.  Whew!

Anyone  here speak parseltounge?

While we explored the Petrified Forest, dark clouds began to roll in.  We got a bit nervous.  I was concerned about lightning, Joe was concerned about it getting dark, and neither of us wanted to get rained on.  We debated when to turn around for quite a bit ("Just a little further...just until that tree over there...I just want to look over here...") but finally decided just to turn around and head back.  Before we left though, we got a picture of ourselves being petrified treehuggers.

60 million year old trees need the MOST hugs.

What a fantastic hike.  I almost hate to write about it because I want to keep it a secret - the coolest, most perfect hike at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The route we took was the "short route" - if we were feeling really motivated, we could have hiked out to the Petrified Forest from inside the park.  It would have been ten miles.  Maybe next time??

Farewell, Petrified Forest!  I think it was this hike that solidified the fact that Joe and I want to come back here.  We're already planning to drive out again in the spring.  Wildflowers, more hiking, bison stomping around the Visitor Center, stargazing.  Hanging out in the bar with the cowboys and the Friends of the Cowboys.  We're going to to take Highway 2 out this time...and, of course, hit a few more Minnesota State Parks on the way.  :-)

We'll be back.

Total miles hiked today (this hike): 5
Total miles hiked in 2013: 114
Total Superior Hiking Trail miles hiked in 2013: 19.7
Total ticks today: 0
Total ticks in 2013: 54

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