Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Painted Canyon Overlook Closure - North Dakota

I've been reading today about two consequences of the sequestration in Congress that affected our National Park Service particularly in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.  It reminds me of, though completely unrelated to, how the Minnesota government shutdown in 2011 affected people interested in the natural resources of our state by closing state parks and rest areas.

First, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway in Minnesota and Wisconsin will not hiring nine park rangers this summers, a short article can be found here.  The rangers there are responsible for tasks that include law enforcement, safety, and monitoring invasive species among numerous other examples.

Sign at the Painted Canyon Overlook
Second (and what really got me thinking), it was also announced is that the Painted Canyon Overlook located on Interstate 94 and a portion of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park will not be opening on April 1st as part of budget cuts resulting of the sequestration.  Over 290,000 people drove into the overlook from Interstate 94 last year and almost 71,000 people went into the visitor center.  Honestly speaking, there are not many better stops along the interstate in North Dakota than this particular location.  The Bismark Tribune describes the cuts here.

Sunrise at the Painted Canyon Overlook
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park badlands area consists primarily of Cenozoic sedimentary layers that were deposited as sandstone, siltstone, shale and lignite coal.  The sediments comprising the different formations were derived from what is now Montana and Wyoming during the Laramide orogeny to the west.

Late Morning from the Painted Canyon Overlook
Before Pleistocene glaciation, ancestral rivers of the area flowed northward, eventually ending at Hudson Bay.  The continental glaciers that advanced during the Pleistocene blocked these north-flowing rivers.  This caused the rivers to erode new channels to the east and south.  By the end of the late-Wisconsin glaciation, rivers like the Missouri and Little Missouri were now entrenched in new channels.  The Little Missouri flows through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park before merging with the Missouri River.

It was the Little Missouri river that was primarily responsible for forming the landscape seen at the overlook.  Approximate rates over erosion of the Little Missouri are between 1-3 cm for every 100 years.  According to the North Dakota Geological Survey, since the end of glaciation, approximately 200 km3 of sediment have been eroded and carried away from the area, eventually to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River.

Of course, for people who have a few hours or days, they can still visit the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  It's unfortunate that the overlook will not be open for those who need a short break from the road and as a result, will not see one of North Dakota's best views.