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It’s all in the Name

blue sky day

Friends, these red rocks are called scoria in North Dakota, but they are also called clinker.  They are very fragile and break into pieces when dropped or otherwise subjected to blunt force trauma.  It is formed from layers of bentonite clay being baked by a burning coal vein hence it official name, porcelinite. The formation of a china cup in the badlands of North Dakota. til Tomorrow MJ

Butte Candle

Friends,  This wildflower is called a butte candle and it grows right out of the scoria rocks that you can see in the background. This plant has several stems as seen above, and below image shows the whole plant orientation.

Typically many of the plants that grow in scoria are capable of concentrating selenium within their tissues.  Selenium is a mixed bag as it is a required nutrient for some animals and at the same time, toxic in large doses.  Selenium concentrations have been responsible for bird and fish poisoning.  While its effect on cattle is well known, the effect on grazing wildlife is not well studied.  The tiny hairs on this plant probably repel the grazers in the badlands and these plants are not abundant.  Are the badlands wildlife safe from selenium? A research question.  til Tomorrow MJ

Scoria Lily

Friends, this lovely bloom is often overlooked because it doesn’t bloom until evening and thru the night, then closes in the morning.  Locally it is called the Scoria Lily and does grow straight out of the red rocks (scoria) on a spiny, prickly plant.  The plant often has several blooms but is not really a lily.  The technical name is Mentzelia Decapetalia and indeed the bloom has ten white petals.  In this season of Lilies I thought I would share some Lilies of the Badlands, but saving the best for Easter morning.  til Tomorrow MJ


Friends, these brown round rocks are concretions, a cemented sandstone that is found throughout the badlands.  The Romans made a cement from limestone, volcanic ash and clay.  These elements were all present in the early badlands and it is feasible that a natural cement was formed  from mixtures of limestone (calcium carbonate) ,clays and volcanic ash.  This cement concentrated in a softer sediment and the cannonballs were formed.  Now the softer clay layer is eroding and these concretions are falling out of the walls.

The most interesting are the cannon balls that are 2-3 feet in diameter that are present in the Northern Little Missouri Badlands. In the southern badlands,  smaller cannon balls are often being exposed on slopes of bentonite that has a popcorn texture when dry.  The bottom photo shows a cross section of a small cannonball that has a white nodule in the interior. til Tomorrow MJ

Hot Rock

Friends,  this holey rock is part burned coal and part scoria.  Masses like these are prevalent and scattered throughout an area where a coal vein was burning in the recent past.   They resemble lava formed from volcanic activity and are highly vesiculated (new word for the day).  Walking the higher ridges around the coal vein area, great areas of the plains have sunk away as a result of the underground clay shrinking in the intense heat. The burned coal is a gray color and sometimes is tightly bound to the adjacent scoria as seen in this image. til Tomorrow MJ


Friends, I like to call this image “rivlets”, i know it isn’t a proper geological term, but it describes what i see.  These little rivlets are not yet rivers, but still display the properties of rivers.  The yellow stream on the left shows a braided formation while the middle shows a more meandering stream.  Both rivlets are washing yellow sediments downhill following the path of least resistance and going around the harder scoria (red) deposits as they are very resistant to erosion by water. The toadstool formations near the top of the image show the results of erosion on layers of  differing densities and hardness.  I love the colorful patterns after a rain or in this case, a snowfall,  melting and running downhill.  til Tomorrow MJ

Bentonite deposit

Friends, don’t adjust your monitor, these clay beds are definitely blue.  This bentonite clay, the raw material for scoria formation, is often found adjacent to stripes of  lignite coal.  Bentonite can be used in pottery to form ceramics and glazes as well as other commercial applications.  The most valuable applications are dependent on the ability of very small particles to hold water .  Suspensions, colloids and emulsifiers made with bentonite are commercially viable.  When water hits these bentonite slopes, the surface is extremely slippery, sticky and mucky.  Many times I have come back to camp with clay snowshoes attached to my boots that take days to wear off.  til Tomorrow MJ

Scoria Point in the Snow

Friends, this is Scoria Point on a September morning when we had an overnight dusting of snow. The next day it all melted, but the day was perfect for photography.  The saturated reds of the rock, golds of fall grasses, and greens of cedar trees as well as the fall foliage made for a delightful day.  I have visited these hills at least once a year since I was nine years old, and the landscapes never cease to amaze me.  My love for this country is very deep within me, I hope i can share it adequately.  til Tomorrow MJ

Mountain of Red Rock-Scoria Point

Friends, this is a formation called Scoria Point located within the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.  This red rock or scoria appears many shades of red, from pink to purple and all the oranges in between and the shade is dependent on the light.  The day this image was taken, the light was slightly diffused through some clouds and the color appears a rusty orange with pink accents.  But in the evening with a setting sun, the hill appears a bright orange and in the snow with cloud cover, the rock appears a very deep almost iridescent red.  I haven’t yet captured the spirit of this rocky scene, but i keep trying.  til Tomorrow MJ

Badlands Red Rock

Friends, this red rock is fragile and will break like any good china cup.  The formation process is similar to producing bricks or fine tiles.  A clay (bentonite) is baked by a coal vein that is burning underground.  The coal is a soft lignite and may be spontaneously ignited or the vein may be lit by grass fires whipped by the wind.  These fires may burn  trees and then travel down the roots to the seam underground.  When the various clays are baked and glazed by the igneous process, they are a form of porcelain or as it is locally called, scoria.  When a chunk of this light rock is dropped, it clinks on a hard surface, and it is often called North Dakota Clinker. I know i am at home when i see the scoria peaks at sunset.  til Tomorrow MJ


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