If you wander far and deep enough in the Little Missouri Badlands, you'll find some amazing things.
Petrified forests. Bighorn sheep. Massive vistas. Twisted formations.
And maybe even a waterfall?
Such was my discovery Saturday, Oct. 15, when I traipsed off a hiking trail in Theodore Roosevelt National Park's North Unit to photograph a creek. A sound similar to birds chattering brought me farther downstream, where I saw it.
A shaded sandstone ledge lying two feet above a circular plunge pool full of what looked like root beer.
Rushing over the sandstone ledge was a small, steady stream of water likely running from recent rainfall in western North Dakota. The stream, likely an intermittent one, was running noisily over the ledge with signs of erosion on a sandstone wall and above the ledge.
Just how big was this waterfall at one point? Heavy rainfall must certainly impact it, judging from the erosive scrapes along the sandstone wall.
What's more, does it even count as a waterfall? My interviews with geologists and a park ranger gave somewhat tenuous answers, but I think one quote summed it up well: The same fluvial processes present at Niagara Falls appear to be in action here. Boom. A waterfall.
North Dakota has only one other waterfall, a natural feature I've written about before and one that sent me on my way in traveling North Dakota.
The state's neighbors have plenty of torrential waterfalls (Minnehaha Falls, Bird Woman Falls, etc.), but North Dakota's rock just isn't inclined to produce waterfalls (pun intended). Streams and rivers have no trouble eroding away to establish a baseline, a geologist source told me today.
So that makes this little find in the national park even more exciting. Call it what you will, a noisy splash, an intermittent waterfall or a little trickle. It's hard to tell what this thing would be on any day of the year, whether the creek is flowing or not.
I've also decided not to reveal exactly where it is, just that it's in the North Unit wilderness. Too many historic, natural and cultural sites have been destroyed by people seeking them out or gathering there (i.e. Indian effigies, endangered species, etc.).
So enjoy the pics and ponder the question: What makes a waterfall?