My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hike to the Petrified Forest, South Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

One place in Theodore Roosevelt NP I really wanted to hike was to the Petrified Forest. The trail  is about seven miles away from the Visitor Center.  Taking the trail up and back is only a little over three miles. It can also be done as a loop trail in about 10 miles. We had to drive through the National Grasslands which adjoins the park to reach the trail.

View in National Grasslands
Bob and I decided to do the up and back trip. We wanted to go to the North Unit to camp that night, so we broke camp early and left about 7:00 A.M. We had to stop many times on the way to the Trailhead to take pictures because the  National Grasslands  was a very different habitat, with rolling hills of grass interspersed with a few of the Badlands features. We also found some oil wells scattered along our route. And we had to stop once to enjoy a pronghorn antelope with his harem of females. 

Cow and calf looking for grass by a butte

I couldn't resist this face

Pronghorn buck with his harem

View near trailhead

We finally got hiking around 9:00 A.M. Almost immediately, we met a bull bison grazing very close to the trail. I carefully watched his body language as we eased by him. I made sure to talk to him so he would know we were there. He just kept grazing and switching his tail and ignoring us so we kept walking until we were by him.

The Very Close Bison - I took this picture after I was further away from him

I was surprised by a cactus growing by the first piece of petrified wood we found

Bison patty world
  A short distance later, we found the trail branched. One branch led to the Petrified Forest, and the other was part of the loop trail. It had a herd of bison down it so we went down it a little ways until we could get pictures of the bison , then turned back and took the trail to the forest. We had found one fossilized stump in an outcropping just before the trail split. But then nothing but rolling hills of grass with distant outcroppings. Bob finally got tired of the flat, grassland walking and went back to the car. Within another two tenths of a mile I went through a wooded draw and came into a whole different world on the other side.

Long view from the petrified forest area

The park says rocks that make up the petrified forest in the park's South Unit came from huge dawn redwood, magnolia, ginkgo, cypress, date and palm trees that once provided shade from steamy heat 60 million years ago when this area was a swamp.

Some stumps shone like jewels

 For the next half mile, there was petrified wood everywhere. Most of it consisted of short stumps that looked like they had gone through a cataclysmic event that mostly shattered them. A few stumps were still in the ground, but appeared to have been smashed. And there were chips of wood everywhere as though a giant had been chopping many cords of wood.

One of the few stumps still in the ground - note the chips around it

Stumps scattered across the landscape

A log on some of the native clay

Stumps and surrounding prairie

An imposter - but it posed very well

The longest piece of wood I found - but it was only about 6 inches thick and looked like a slab

 Of course, I took lots of pictures as I came in.After I turned  back, I hurried so Bob wouldn't have to wait too long, but found pictures I'd missed on the way in that I had to take.
Had to stop several times to enjoy these recyclers of bison poop

This was a stunning, beautiful, and easy hike. Definitely one for your bucket list if you plan to visit this area.It was the easiest hike I've done on this trip.  Mostly flat with very little elevation changes and those were were short.

I'm finishing this blog in a suburb of Minneapolis, Friday, September 6.  I dropped Bob off at the Bus Station and then checked the alignment on my car as we hit several bad bumps while in North Dakota.

I'll be meeting my paddling friends tomorrow night or Sunday and we'll be paddling Monday morning.

For the entire collection of my pictures, click here.