Great photographs here give a sample of the Little Missouri River.
With the move to build a new bridge across the Little Missouri River, let’s look at how it cuts through the Badlands.
Crossing the Great Divide
The Little Missouri River is the most unpredictable, uneven, untamed river in the region.
Starting near Devils Tower in Wyoming, entering North Dakota at the far southwestern corner and heading north, the river is historic in many ways.
Theodore Roosevelt wrote about it. Before that, trail drivers moved cattle up from Texas and followed it. Today, it continues its own fickle and powerful course through the Badlands.
Much of the time, you can walk across it without getting your knees wet. In fact, hiking and mountain biking trails routinely cross the river. This year has been challenging to know when and where to cross it.
Obviously, as this video shows, you won’t walk across it at this time.
It can be Treacherous
Every spring, the Little Missouri River throws a temper tantrum and will not be ignored. We caught it in the spring when ice was carried downstream on the flooded interstate thoroughfare. It had jumped the banks and piled up ice so thick we could get nowhere near the VVV Crossing.
We returned to the VVV Crossing two months later. Instead of ice on the Little Missouri River, we saw green, and lots of it. The VVV ranch in the above photo is just barely visible in the left-center of the lower photo.
A bridge at Marmath is the first crossing of the Little Missouri River in North Dakota. Further north, concrete crossings accommodate traffic sometimes.
There are no bridges to cross the Little Missouri River between Marmarth and Medora. That’s 100 miles between bridges. That’s why there are low-water crossings such as the VVV Crossing next to the VVV Ranch in Slope County. Most of the year, fall, winter and summer, the crossing is sufficient to carry farm traffic and emergency vehicles. But when it’s impassable, it is fierce.
The river meanders north through the Badlands. On either side is West River Road and East River Road. We think West River Road is the most scenic.
At Medora, just a short portion of old Highway 10 remains in town, crossing the river on the west side of town.
North of Medora, Interstate 94 crosses the river. There are no more bridges until you get north of Killdeer, North Dakota, where that video of high water (above) was shot.
Another bridge is under discussion to be built north of Medora, south of the Elkhorn Ranch connecting Bell Lake Road on the west with Short Road on the east.
Considering there are only a couple thousand people in any one of the counties sliced by the river, whatever crossing is built will likely not get much more than occasional use.
Between bridges, it is possible to ford the river when it is low enough. The bottom is solid, but the water can be swift enough to float a little car downstream. A 4wd pickup does the trick in this video:
Just downstream from this image is the Long X Bridge on Highway 85. It’s about to be removed and a new four-lane bridge will replace it.
As plans move forward for a new bridge, we’ll keep you posted. Just subscribe to this blog, and get the free newsletter to keep you up to date on the proposed bridge near Medora, and the replacement of the Long X Bridge by Watford City.
Driving in the Badlands is a visual experience. That’s why we recommend one of the best road trips in North Dakota is to follow East River Road north of Medora
West River Road south of Medora.
If you are ready to drive through ranch country and get an overview of the river, we recommend Highway 16, the Marmarth to Beach Road. It’s the perfect gravel road trip. You can drive for miles and see no one, just awesome scenery on the way to the VVV Crossing as you follow the Little Missouri River.
You can drive to the VVV Crossing. It didn’t make our list of 7 restful spots in the Badlands…but maybe next time.
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