Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/485

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THE LITTLE MISSOURI BAD LANDS.

it is certain that these regions are full of interest and attraction for the traveler, the student, and the naturalist.

Although Bad Lands are everywhere much the same thing, and a discussion of one locality might seem applicable to all, yet there are differences—due, no doubt, to varying conditions in times long gone by. It is not intended here to discuss these differences, but to speak briefly of what may be seen in the valley of the Little Missouri River, in Northwestern Dakota.

This little stream, by courtesy a river, rolling its murky waters northward and eastward for a distance of about two hundred miles, near the line separating the Territories of Montana and Dakota, is bordered by landscapes which in detail are without parallel, and in general effect transcend the possibilities of description. As the visitor approaches from the east, there arises suddenly before him from the monotonous plain a wondrous array of myriads of hills and hillocks—hills of nearly uniform height, but of every conceivable shape and form. Some are almost rectangular, with precipitous sides; many are conical; many are dome-shaped; some have the form of a frustum of a cone, and, on the summits of some, perfectly conical heaps appear. The greater number are flat-topped, and, rising to about the same level, give the impression of some splendid rampart extending for miles and miles along the horizon; some slope up gently from a narrow valley for seventy-five or a hundred feet, and end in a lofty rotund tower of naked sandstone. To all this diversity of form there is added diversity of color. The sides of all these mounds are almost verdureless, so that the absence of green is conspicuous, but almost every other hue is represented. Colors occur in broad bands across the faces of the hills—red and gray and yellow and black, purplish-blue and ashy and pink in an unending series of shades and tints. Nothing is brilliant, but everything soft and beautiful. Here and there, from a broader base, a hill towers away above all its surroundings, and becomes a landmark visible from afar. In the parlance of the West such a landmark is called a butte,[1] and, if one has strength and patience to climb the summit of a butte, surely his reward is great. From no other point d'avantage on this continent does a man open his eyes upon a panorama wilder or more weird. In one direction a thousand motley heaps cover the plain like the tents of some wide-spread army; in another, the flat-topped mounds stretch away to meet the horizon, and seem like the steps of some Giant's Causeway leading to the sky; while, as evening comes on and the sun goes down, the play of colors, the shifting light and shadow present a scene in presence of which the most prosaic must for the nonce feel the inspiration of the poet.

But, if this weird region is thus interesting to the ordinary tourist, much more so is it to the student—to him who seeks to know the how,

  1. This term is also applied to a high hill of any sort, even to a mountain-peak.