Geology Roadtrips - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Illinois

Black Mesa, Oklahoma

Sitting in the Oklahoma panhandle near New Mexico, Black Mesa is the state’s highest point at 4,973 feet. The trail to its top is a great hike. It starts in the Triassic Sloan Canyon Formation and rises through the Sheep Pen Sandstone, Exeter Sandstone, Morrison Formation, Cheyenne Sandstone, Kiowa Shale, Dakota Sandstone, Ogallala Formation, and finally to the basalt of Black Mesa— thus taking the hiker from the Triassic into the Miocene-Pliocene. The trail crosses a unique mix of Rocky Mountain woodlands and shortgrass prairie vegetation. The views into Colorado and New Mexico from the mesa’s top are spectacular. Also, dinosaur tracks in the Morrison are exposed near the trailhead. And four miles up the road is the Oklahoma-Colorado-New Mexico triple junction, established by surveyors in 1900 (another marker set 300 feet to the north in 1881 incorrectly locates the junction). The trail is owned by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department and is co-managed by the Nature Conservancy.

Neil Suneson, Oklahoma Geological Survey
Phone: Black Mesa State Park: 580/426-2222
Directions: The trailhead starts 4.8 miles north of the junction of an unnumbered county road and Oklahoma Highway 325 near Kenton in Cimarron County. It is about 3.6 miles one way.

Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve, Kansas

The idealistic images many people have of the Midwest and fields of prairie grass as far as the eye can see are a reality in Kansas’ Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve. As Lee Gerhard of the Kansas Geological Survey says, “This is where the West really begins. Those waves of grass that go on forever — this is where it is.” The prairie grass grows on top of Permian limestone where the chert-bearing soil is thin and not well suited for growing crops, so this expanse of land has never been plowed. Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays, the National Park Service offers tours of a limestone ranch house built in 1881.

Phone: 316/273-8494
Web: www.parktrust.org/zb-exp.html
Directions: Just north of Strong City on Route 177. For additional information, contact the National Park Trust, Route 1, Box 14, Strong City, KS 66869.

Mickelson Trail, South Dakota

The George S. Mickelson Trail is a 100-mile hiking and biking trail that runs from north to south through the Black Hills along the abandoned Burlington Northern railroad line. Trail goers can cross 100 bridges, pass through tunnels and see a range of different ages and types of geology. Completed in 1998, the trail is named for the state’s former governor, George S. Mickelson, who died in a 1993 plane crash. Web: www.mickelsontrail.com

North Dakota
by Edward C. Murphy, North Dakota Geological Survey

Killdeaar Mountains Day Hike

The Killdeer Mountains, located adjacent to the Little Missouri River badlands in western North Dakota, consist of two mesas that rise approximately 700 feet above the surrounding countryside. A strenuous half-mile hike along the Medicine Plateau primitive trail on South Killdeer Mountains begins in Paleocene and Eocene nonmarine rocks at the base of the mesas and ends in caprock of the Arikaree Formation (Miocene), consisting of tuffaceous siltstones, sandstones and carbonates.

Bullion Butte Multi-Day Hike

Because there is  no established hiking trail in this area, this would primarily be a cross-country hike.  Bullion Butte is situated within the Little Missouri River badlands in southwestern North Dakota and rises 900 feet above the Little Missouri River at Logging Camp ranch.  A two-day hike (14 miles) from the ranch to Bullion Butte passes primarily through Paleocene nonmarine rocks (Fort Union Group) to the summit of the butte, which consists of Eocene caprock.

Another option would be a four or five day, 50-mile cross-country badlands hike from Marmarth to Bullion Butte along the Little Missouri River.  The hike would begin in nonmarine, Cretaceous, dinosaur-rich rocks (Hell Creek Formation) and pass through very rugged marine and nonmarine rocks of the Fort Union Group.

Dahlen Esker Day Hike

The Dahlen Esker, located in northeastern North Dakota, is about four miles long, 400 feet wide, and 50 to 80 feet high.  It is one of the best examples of an esker in North America.

For details on how to reach the hikes, call the North Dakota Geological Survey at 701/328-8000.

Ash Hollow State Historical Park, Nebraska

Ash Hollow State Historical Park in Garden County was a major stop on the Oregon Trail. The grounds include the type area of the Ash Hollow Formation, the youngest formation of the Ogallala Group (Miocene). The formation is mainly fluvial deposits derived from erosion of parts of the Rocky Mountains in north-central Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. It is also a major part of the High Plains aquifer in Nebraska, and springs run along the floor of Ash Hollow Valley near the park visitor's center and museum. Native Americans used a natural rock shelter along the east side of Ash Hollow Valley beginning as early as 9,000 years ago. This shelter and its artifacts are preserved in a building enclosing the site. Ruts from wagons driven by settlers headed west along the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s are preserved in the park area and visible from a paved walking trail.

Bob Diffendal, University of Nebraska
Directions: Near the town of Lewellen, the park is accessible from U.S. Highway 26, which crosses the park a few miles north of Interstate 80.
Phone: 308/778-5651
Web: www.ngpc.state.ne.us/parks/hollow.html


Geotimes readers Bill and Carolyn Deckler recommend starting an Illinois visit at www.isgs.uiuc.edu/isgshome/geology.htm.
"From here you can link to information about their road trips (we have been on several) and geological information about Illinois," they say.

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