Geological Wonderland in Montana - Celebrating Thousand Year Old Landmarks

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Unique landforms created thousands of years ago are on display in Missouri River Country's. Come celebrate the unusual Montana landscape for a visual treat. Spring is the best time to tour the area with pleasant temperatures and the greening of wild grasses. Geology road signs tell the story of the land and make it easy for visitors to locate top spots.

Montana's Missouri River Country is celebrating a mile stone thousands of years in the making. Through the waving blades of long-stemmed grass, distinctive rock features pop out of the surrounding hillsides. Missouri River Country is a land of rolling hills and hidden treasures unlike any geological features you've ever seen. Spring gives visitors sweeping views of the ultimate natural art. Filled with gullies and gulches, crevices and creations, you'll wonder how the Missouri River countryside was shaped.

Missouri River Country's landscape has been molded over millions of years and is the result of sweeping climate change. The area was a shallow sea 250 million years ago. Then it flooded, and after the waters receded, a lush wetland was left behind. Compression forces from the developing Rocky Mountains to the west spread across the continent and created rolling hills in the area. Warmer temperatures brought a dry spell and large quantities of sediment began to accumulate. Some of the mineral deposits moved across the area in the following tropical period when rivers began to flow again. This warm period was followed by another dry period. This resulted in the creation of an enormous desert plain. Today's landscape is similar to this 2.5 million year old desert.    

At the end of the second desert, glacial ice from the north swept down and covered much of Missouri River Country. As the glaciers and ice began to melt, the receding waters left behind major changes, including the path of the Missouri River. The ice age ended around 20,000 years ago. Time, water and wind combine in a perfect mixture of erosion that continues to change the landscape. Many of the wondrous formations we see today were created after long exposure to the elements. There are geological features scattered across Missouri River Country, including a few along the beaten trail. There are road signs to point out and explain the area's geological wonders.

  •     Hell Creek Formation - this exceptional earth creation snakes along Hell Creek near Jordan in Eastern Montana. This formation is a chain of strata created when wavering river levels deposited visible layers of sandstone, siltstone, fresh and brackish-water clays and mudstones.

This area is home to hoodoos and other concretions. Concretions are uniquely shaped large rock masses that often resemble an egg. A concretion that is perilously perched on a pillar of softer sediment is called a hoodoo. These remarkable features are found within the Hell Creek area and the Badland area/Fort Union Formation.

  •     Poplar and Bowdoin Domes - each of these domes is located near its namesake town. The domes resemble an elongated, rising bubble of earth. Pressure and uplifting from within the earth pushed these landforms above the surface.
  •     Montana Badlands/Fort Union Formation - The area was once thick vegetation, but time and compression have created an estimated 200 billion tons of coal. Most of the coal is buried under layers of soft sedimentary rock, but wind and water have eroded the soft rock to expose layers of earth in an extraordinary manner. East of Culbertson, this unique area spreads across miles of Montana terrain.

Scattered red rock, called clinker, is found throughout the Fort Union Formation. Clinker forms when fire or spontaneous combustion causes the area coal to burn. The burning coal bakes the surrounding sediment to create hard red rock.

  •     Medicine Lake Refuge - 31,660 acres of wildlife refuge showcase glacial drift prairie. The area features rolling hills and prairie potholes with shallow wetland depressions. A 99 foot tall observation tower is located at the refuge headquarters. Visitors are treated to sweeping views of the gentle prairies, with a chance to catch wildlife in their native habitat.

Early to late spring is the opportune time to visit Missouri River Country. Warming temperatures make for pleasant days on the open prairie landscape as melting snow begins to turn the grass green. Visitors will find spacious highways with a front seat view of the charming vistas. Another option is to hop on the Amtrak Empire Builder train. The train travels across the Montana Hi-Line with several stops along the way. You'll be treated to unmatched panoramic views from your window.

Missouri River Country offers an exciting geological wonderland for all ages. Spring is the perfect time to visit this dynamic area that was created millions of years ago. For more information on Montana's Missouri River Country and the new experiences that await you, please visit

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