Sunday Snapshot from Sentinel Butte

wildfire ashes burned hill

Southeast of Sentinel Butte, a hillside bears the scars of an Easter Weekend wildfire.

Drought and wildfire caught the attention of people familiar with western North Dakota. Wildfires burned near both the north and south units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Below one of the state’s tallest points “Sentinel Butte,” hides the little town of Sentinel Butte –sheltered by hills covered by grasslands.


The record dry — September through March — drained stock ponds, creeks and streams. We toured the parched region of the Grasslands where the landscape waits for an authentic spring — that means rain or snow.

From one of the state’s tallest points, Sentinel Butte, we scouted the ranch country below — waiting for rain.

dry ranchland at sentinel butte

South of Sentinel Butte a dry ranch with a lonely windmill waits for moisture.

Now, this week rain and snow is laying a bit of moisture on the top soil, rinsing off the wildfire ashes and dust from the grasslands.

two track trail sentinel butte

A little-used two-track trail leads away from Sentinel Butte over the hill through the Little Missouri River National Grasslands

So, when it greens up, we’ll head back and show you the difference between drought grasslands and green grasslands.  Little towns such as Sentinel Butte will breath a collective sigh of relief when wildfire danger is reduced and cattle pastures improve.


Of course it’s not always brown here at Sentinel Butte. Sometimes the color blows me away. Here is an example. Subscribe to this blog and you’ll be the first to know when that green grasslands post is published.

Wondering where to stay and dine when you are in the Sentinel Butte area?  You’ll love Buffalo Gap Ranch!  It’s an authentic ranch with a mighty fine dining room.  Adult beverages available as well.   Easy to get to, it’s right off Interstate 94 between Beach and Medora.  


Coming up

We wrap up our series of the top attractions in the Badlands with the best places to eat in Western North Dakota.

Also, we’ll give you an idea of what it’s like to explore a prehistoric sequoia forest.  Subscribe to get a note in your inbox when those stories are published.


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Badlands?

A geological feature of sharp hills, bluffs and buttes marked by strata in an arid or semi-arid region and so fairly devoid of vegetation.

What are the Grasslands?

A geological feature of uninterrupted pasture and range grasses. It is a mixed grass prairie, meaning it has both long and short grass.

Where are the Little Missouri National Grasslands?

The Little Missouri National Grassland was once a part of the Custer National Forest, but is now a part of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, a National Forest unit consisting entirely of National Grasslands. A predominant feature of the grassland is colorful and beautiful badlands, a rugged terrain extensively eroded by wind and water. It is a mixed grass prairie, meaning it has both long and short grass.[4][5]

The boundaries of the grasslands on certain maps can be misleading. Within the boundaries of the national grassland are significant portions of state-owned and privately owned land, much of it leased by cattle ranchers for grazing. Overall, in descending order of land area, it is located in parts of McKenzieBillingsSlope, and Golden Valley counties.

What is Sentinel Butte?

Sentinel Butte is both a town and a tall point in southwest North Dakota. The town was founded in1902 as a Northern Pacific railroad town between Dickinson and Glendive.

The hill south of town is one of the tallest points in the state. This geographical feature was named in honor of two Arikara sentinels killed nearby in 1864 by the Sioux.