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Geology of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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Little Missouri River Valley

Little Missouri River Valley (Photo credit: jimmywayne)

The majority of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located within the Little Missouri River Valley in a remote corner of North Dakota. The landscape hasn’t changed much since 1883, when the young Theodore Roosevelt arrived on his buffalo hunting trip. This is where the 26th President really began to develop his ethos of conservation. The rugged landscape and Great Plains made a deep and lasting impression on the young man which affected him throughout his Presidency and for the rest of his life, as he actively promoted the accessibility to and sustainability of the vast tracts of public lands.

So what is it about this place which so captured his imagination, as well as the imaginations of the many visitors who flock here year upon year?

The Little Missouri River is naturally a large focal point of the park, and responsible for many of the geological features found within the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Flowing northwards from the Black Hills, through the park and on to join the Missouri River and tributaries, the river flows through what is now known as the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the ranch site and on towards the North Unit where it does an abrupt turn eastwards and on to the mighty Missouri around 50 miles away.

It was the Missouri River plus its many tributaries like the Yellowstone in Montana and the Little Missouri in North Dakota which carved the vast Missouri Plateau into the mixture of enclosed valleys and uplands created at lots of different levels along the rivers. High buttes arise over the uplands, continental sheets of ice caused damming in some of the tributary valleys and large lakes were formed. The recession of these ice sheets widened many of the larger valleys in the area.

That was clever wasn’t it?

I don’t know about The Badlands, they look great to me!

The majority of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is in the unglaciated section of the Missouri Plateau of the Great Plains which displays by far the most variety in landforms of any other section of the Great Plains – there are plateaus, mountains (small ones), badlands and river valleys, whereas much of the northern section, the glaciated part off the Missouri Plateau of the Great Plains is covered by a rather deep layer of glacial type debris.

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