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Notes on the Geography of The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands

The Little Missouri River flows north to join the Missouri proper. This has become bigtime fracking country, but these pictures were taken in the 1990s, when things were still quiet, and where the badlands weren't good for much except grazing and tourists.

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The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 1

We're just east of the badlands here. The country doesn't look especially dry, but the pattern of fallow and stubble is a reminder of the dryfarming technology that helped settle it: rainwater percolates into the fallow earth, where a "dust mulch" is supposed to keep the moisture stored for the next year. A crop can then be grown on two years' worth of moisture.

The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 2

An antidote to loneliness.

The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 3

Cultivated land extends to the very break of the plains.

The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 4

Sometimes, it's rough pasture that gives way to the even rougher badlands.

The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 5

Even within the badlands, there are patches of prime ranch country, especially along the river.

The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 6

At some other spots there's more forest than range.

The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 7

Soft material carved by erosion in a country so dry that vegetation can't take hold enough to stabilize the surface. That's the definition of badlands. Graze here and the risk of rangeland degradation is high.

The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 8

The federal government bought a lot of this land back from homesteaders in the 1930s, and this acquired land is now administered by the U.S. Forest Service.  It hasn't won a lot of friends among local ranchers, who graze the land under restrictive permits, but the national grasslands have done a lot to improve the health of the range.

The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 9

Water is as important here as fencing and grass seeding, because cattle congregate at water points, natural or artificial. A lot of money has been spent developing water points and then limiting grazing around each, mostly by fencing.

The Western United States: Little Missouri Badlands picture 10

Like most of the Great Plains, these badlands don't see a lot of visitors. Maybe it's just as well, because most of the people out here like it empty.


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