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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Burning Coal Vein and other Little Missouri National Grasslands environs

We spent the weekend in the Little Missouri National Grasslands (LMNG), camping in Slope County, at the Burning Coal Vein US Forest Service campground, attending the Badlands Conservation Alliance outing, gathering with old friends and making new friends.  While Saturday was cool and windy, Sunday was a perfect 75 degrees and sunny.  We also got a brief, but enjoyable, visit with our old friends, John and Jennifer Hanson, of the Logging Camp Ranch, just before we departed for Medora. (Note: It appears that the USFS is now officially calling the LMNG the Dakota Prairie Grasslands.  I think I'm too old to make an adjustment to this nomenclature.)  They gave us the excellent news that John has been appointed to the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission!  He'll be a jolt the commission needs.

My pictures tell the story better than my words possibly could.  I hope you like these.  If you go be sure to do your research in advance and buy yourself a map.  And take water.

I wonder how many times I've driven by this sign?

The LMNG is managed for multiple uses. Horseback riding is popular. We saw many mountain bikers and hikers and other campers.

Kim Shade's Ranch entrance sculpture

Don't go if you don't like getting your car dusty.

BCA group gathers to discuss a long ago mineral transfer that protected some of this landscape

Purple coneflowers are in bloom

One of the many Maah Daah Hey trail markers

This is the symbol for the Maah Daah Hey trail

Juniper Spur Overlook at the Burning Coal Vein.  The Rocky Mountain junipers once grew in a columnar shape because of the sulfurous fumes, however, the coals no longer burn, hence the junipers have reverted to their natural shape. We've decided to call this sandstone spire Lillian's Pinnacle.  However, the USGS map says it is "Juniper Spur".  So it goes.

Sandstone shaped by wind and water

Photo by Jim Fuglie
Lizzie was Dee-lighted that she got to come on this outing with us.

One of the most robust yuccas I've ever seen!

Fleabane.  Pesky Lizzie keeps getting in my shot.

One can see the ribbon of a segment of the Maah Daah Hey trail in the distance

A side trip to the Little Missouri River, which is woefully low in this drought. Here we partook of crackers and cheese and cocktails.

Sandbar willows on the banks of the Little Missouri River

We managed to snag campsite numero uno

And I spotted juneberries at our campsite. Which we picked. (Photo by Jim Fuglie)

Manna from heaven - juneberries

The temperatures dipped into the 40s in the night so we snuggled Lizzie in our extra blankets inside the tent

Wild plums

This tablecloth and cooler have been used at hundreds of campsites in the US and Canada

The hike for day 2 was to the Ponderosa Pines Research Natural Area

A ball cactus found tucked within a rock

Blooming ball cactus. Photo by Connie Triplett

I spotted this chartreuse caterpillar


Jan Swenson surveys the view

Time for lunch and learning

Laura Anhalt and Tracy Potter 

Meadow wanderings

When one walks across it, the air is pungent with the fragrance of the creeping juniper.

Deer bones

Western Salsify (Goatsbeard)

Last view of the Teepee Buttes

Bullion Butte
 Back in Medora, the annual Car Show had just wrapped up, so we only got to see this sweetie when we stopped for ice cream.

Then, hoping for more juneberries, we headed down Scairt Woman Road to the Ice Caves in McKenzie County.  No luck there, but another pleasant hike before turning our car toward Bismarck and home.

This "toadstool" is our clue that we are on the right road to the Ice Caves

Jim emerging from one of the ice caves
My knowledge of geology is minimal but I do know this:

I am in love with sandstone.  With what water and wind does to sandstone.

Happy trails to you, gentle reader.  Pray for rain.


  1. "Solid stone is just sand and water, baby; Sand and water, and a million years gone by."

  2. This is EXACTLY the song that was in my head as I was writing this, and so frequently. Thank you so VERY much for turning me on to her music. Love ya Mella lady!