Published August 19, 2010, 12:46 PM

Changing landscape: A look into the past at Makoshika State Park

GLENDIVE, Mont. — Visitors can travel to Makoshika State Park one weekend and the next see the same park, at least a park of the same name. One storm has the power to rearrange the landscape. “Being an erosion-based park, this park is consistently remaking itself,” Park Manager Ryan Sokoloski said recently. For example, a cap rock named Mrs. Butterworth because of her shape lost her head in 2004. “That’s the most recent cap rock which has gone to the wayside,” he said.

By: Jennifer McBride, Northland Outdoors

GLENDIVE, Mont. — Visitors can travel to Makoshika State Park one weekend and the next see the same park, at least a park of the same name.

One storm has the power to rearrange the landscape.

“Being an erosion-based park, this park is consistently remaking itself,” Park Manager Ryan Sokoloski said recently.

For example, a cap rock named Mrs. Butterworth because of her shape lost her head in 2004. “That’s the most recent cap rock which has gone to the wayside,” he said.

Of Montana’s 54 state parks, Makoshika is the largest and is located about an hour and a half from Dickinson.

Though it resembles the landscape of North Dakota’s Badlands and connects to the same geological formation, the rock layers are older, Sokoloski said.

Makoshika is a variant of a Lakota phrase meaning land of bad spirits or “Badlands,” according to the park’s website.

Some residents say it is an evil, scary place, but “those stories get started and catch like wildfire,” Sokoloski said, adding the Native American name came about because it’s a tough place. It was short of water and buffalo and a very challenging place to get around in, he added.

“Makoshika has lots of microhabitats: The Badlands, grasslands, hidden ponds,” said Kelly Wicks, park tour guide. “It’s a lot more than just the Badlands.”

Though the park was not a place to settle, it is a favorite place for scientists as it shows the major geological timescales, Sokoloski said.

“Pound for pound this is probably the best paleontological park — certainly in Montana,” he said.

The park’s visitor center holds fossils found in the park and includes a triceratops skull and mammoth tooth. This is a place to get hands on with the past.

Seven-year-old dinosaur connoisseur Alex Gissendaner and his parents came from Florida on their vacation to see what the park had to offer.

He stood in the visitor center in his dinosaur T-shirt checking out displays. He could name a number of creatures from the past that many probably haven’t heard of but with all of his dino-knowledge his favorite is better known — the triceratops “because he has horns.”

Leave the visitor center and remnants of other creatures can be found throughout the park. So much so, that signs ask that visitors look but leave these important fossils alone for others to enjoy.

Park Ranger Tom Shoush estimates the park is 15,000 acres.

“To have a park this big kept in an undeveloped state is really unique,” he said.

Another unique aspect is a 200-seat amphitheater snuggled into a tree-covered hillside that overlooks rock formations and endless scenery. Here, the park hosts a number of events, including live music and it is also used for weddings.

The park offers open-range camping and has developed campsites, a disc golf course, three interpretive trails and a privately owned archery range. It hosts Buzzard Day every June.

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