It’s not exactly a school photo, but it is a friendly photo. Yes, we photographed that bison after it face down in the snow — and for good reason — to eat. It wasn’t until the end of winter they got a snow face like this. The winter started out mild as these images show.
A mild start to winter
Winter started mild and we got some “autumn-like” images from the wildlife at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We checked back with them a few times until late winter, then, it was apparent, the open grazing was buried in snow. But that’s okay. It’s one of the reasons bison are at the Park.
Here’s how it progressed:
As fall ended, we caught a distant herd of bison in the North Unit at the far end of the scenic drive near the Oxbow Overlook. That day, there were several small herds on the prairie. Later in the winter, they moved down into the Little Missouri River Valley.
On warm days, such as those we had in December, prairie dogs would sneak a feeding run out of their burrows like this one in the South Unit. Their “towns” expanded greatly during the dry season a year ago. Now that more moisture is available, they’ll be coming back together which means it isn’t hard to see a few pop up in every town when it’s warm.
On a snowy foggy day, off in the distance, about a half-mile, in a valley in the South Unit, a pair of elk spotted us on a ridge above them.
At the first prairie dog town up the hill in the South Unit, a bull elk paused to watch us go by. It was early December, and though it was cold, it was not very snowy.
The wild horses in the south unit run wild all winter. At the beginning of the winter, before the loop was closed due to snow, we found a small band trotting off to another grazing area.
First came the cold
A faint sundog overhead, bison stroll down the road like it’s a summer day, but it’s not. They were on the move in the South Unit, long before snow moved in, but it was cold – below zero. Their massive hides insulate them against the cold. We didn’t have much insulation, so we didn’t stay out too long.
Early winter, snow is sparse, and a small herd of bison at the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park graze quietly. We found this small herd just north of the Wind Canyon overlook. And believe me! Wind Canyon earns its name on a cold winter day. They were hunkered down in a valley away from the wind.
Then came the snow
Near Concretion Cannonball trail in the North Unit, this bison came down the hillside very fast toward me. I don’t know if he was in a hurry, or just trying to catch up to the rest of the herd. I didn’t stand there long to find out.
What a snow mask! It’s how these big beasts find forage in the winter. They sweep the snow out of the way with their face and dig down for grass. By the end of winter, snow began to build up and bison continued to graze the forage below the snow. Much different kind of grazing than in the early part of winter when it was cold, but no snow.
Now, as I write this, its winter’s end and we’ll make a few more trips to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but we’re sure looking forward to green, LIKE THIS:
One of the most iconic scenes in North Dakota is found in the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, south of Watford City, North Dakota. The stone shelter overlooking the Little Missouri River is a classic structure built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937.
If you’re getting cabin fever, here are two ideas:
1. Head over to the Long X Visitor Center and Pioneer Museum in Watford City. Take a break in the museum and in the gallery of Beautiful Badlands ND images.
We’re moving images in and out of the gallery to keep in fresh all month.
2. Follow us on Facebook and we’ll keep you up to date almost every day on things to do in the region.