Erosion made the North Dakota Badlands. Wind and water cut through the sediment that was deposited here eons ago. Without getting in to deep geological discussions, the simple answer is erosion.  Though the region only gets about 12-15 inches of precipitation every year, when it does rain, it can be a heavy, erosive downpour.  So, a creek like this keeps eating away at the soil and carving new bluffs and buttes.  There is some thought that the deposits of minerals, gravel, clay and other ingredients are the result of runoff from the Rockies millions of years ago. The streams and creeks flowing to the Little Missouri River have carved a rugged landscape through what is apparently sediment from the Rockies.

The North Dakota Badlands are carved by erosion

The zig-zag course of a creek flows to the Little Missouri River, continuing a carving process that began millions of years ago. Hiking the public access land along the Little Missouri River is doable year round, and very hard to wait until green summer to get started. We get out early — often around Easter.

Erosion in the North Dakota Badlands is evident from the Little Missouri River.

A float down the Little Missouri River from Medora to Watford City displays the cutting nature of the river through the layers of rock left behind by glaciers. A few years ago, we floated down the Little Missouri River to see one of the remaining wilderness regions of the country. The layers of prehistoric sediment are obvious.


Course Change

There’s no question the region is being shaped in a gradual process from south to north.  The Badlands of Marmarth are much softer and more vegetated than the rough, younger Badlands of Killdeer and the Little Missouri State Park.

It took millions of years to make the Killdeer region look like the Marmarth region of the Badlands.

It’s thought that once upon a time, the Little Missouri River flowed to the Missouri River at or near today’s confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri River southwest of Williston.  Then, glaciers and erosion reshaped the land. Instead of lowing north, the Little Missouri River takes a sharp turn to the east and empties in the Missouri River near Mandaree and Killdeer.

Here’s a more scientific and thorough explanation.

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Coming up, the final segment of why longhorn cattle are important to the ranches of Western North Dakota. And later, a story about Sitting Bull.