This park contains more caves than any other state park in Iowa. A trail system links the caves, formations, and overlooks while providing a scenic hiking experience. Many areas on these trails have seen new construction, making the journey to the caves safer. Most of the caves may be entered by persons of average physical ability, but some are more advanced. However the park’s caves were closed to humans between 2010 and April 2012 in the hopes of protecting the resident bats from white nose syndrome.
The park is in the Driftless Area of Iowa. This region escaped being glaciated in the last ice age, while regions to the east and west were not spared. The park has been subjected to hundreds of thousands of years of natural non-glacial erosion.
The park’s caves, limestone formations and rugged bluffs represent a step back in geological time of thousands of years. Stalactites once hung from the ceilings and stalagmites rose from the floor. Souvenir hunters have robbed the caves of this rare beauty, but many formations remain. The park’s limestone caves, arches and chimneys including Dancehall Cave, Hernado’s Hideaway, Shinbone Cave, Wye Cave, and an unmarked cave within the Dancehall Cavern locally known as Steelgate Cave.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Artifacts such as pottery, as well as tools and projectile points made of stone have been found in the caves and surrounding area. These discoveries indicate that the Maquoketa Caves area has been of interest to humans for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. Early recorded history tells that the Native Americans in the area were likely visitors to the Raccoon Creek valleys. The first Euro-American explorers first visited the caves as late as the mid-1830s. The area was originally known as Morehead Caves or Burt’s Cave. It had become a popular place for exploration, picnics, parties, and dances by the 1860s. A dance floor was constructed north of Natural Bridge in 1868, and a pavilion, which was used until the 1920s, was built sometime later. By the turn of the 20th century the area had become seriously degraded, and its popularity declined. (wiki)
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an American national park comprising three geographically separated areas of badlands in western North Dakota. The park was named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. It has three sections: the North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.
The park’s larger South Unit lies alongside Interstate 94 near Medora, North Dakota. The smaller North Unit is situated about 80 mi (130 km) north of the South Unit, on U.S. Route 85, just south of Watford City, North Dakota. Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch is located between the North and South units, approximately 20 mi (32 km) west of US 85 and Fairfield, North Dakota. The Little Missouri River flows through all three units of the park. The Maah Daah Hey Trail connects all three units.
Roosevelt first came to the North Dakota badlands to hunt bison in September 1883. During that first short trip, he got his bison and fell in love with the rugged lifestyle and the “perfect freedom” of the West. He invested $14,000 in the Maltese Cross Ranch, which was already being managed by Sylvane Ferris and Bill Merrifield seven miles south of Medora. That winter, Ferris and Merrifield built the Maltese Cross Cabin. After the death of both his wife and his mother on February 14, 1884, Teddy Roosevelt returned to his North Dakota ranch seeking solitude and time to heal. That summer, he started his second ranch, the Elkhorn Ranch, 35 miles north of Medora, which he hired two Maine woodsmen, Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow, to operate. Teddy Roosevelt took great interest in his ranches and in hunting in the West, detailing his experiences in pieces published in eastern newspapers and magazines. He wrote three major works on his life in the West: Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman and The Wilderness Hunter. His adventures in “the strenuous life” outdoors and the loss of his cattle in the starvation winter in 1886–1887 were influential in Theodore Roosevelt’s pursuit of conservation policies as President of the United States (1901–1909).
Both main units of the park have scenic drives, approximately 100 miles of foot and horse trails, wildlife viewing, and opportunities for back country hiking and camping. There are three developed campgrounds: Juniper Campground in the North Unit, Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit, and the Roundup Group Horse Campground in the South Unit.
One of the most popular attractions is wildlife viewing. The park is home to a wide variety of Great Plains wildlife including bison, coyotes, cougars, feral horses, badgers, elk, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer and mule deer, prairie dogs, and at least 186 species of birds including golden eagles, sharp-tailed grouse, and wild turkeys. Bison may be dangerous and visitors are advised to view them from a distance. Bison, elk, and bighorn sheep have been successfully reintroduced to the park.
The scenery changes constantly in relationship with the seasons. The brown, dormant grass dominates from late summer through the winter, but explodes into green color in the early summer along with hundreds of species of flowering plants. Winter can be a beautiful scene as snow covers the sharp terrain of the badlands and locks the park into what Theodore Roosevelt called “an abode of iron desolation.
The every popular Western Meadowlark. The western meadowlark has distinctive calls described as watery or flute-like, which distinguish it from the closely related eastern meadowlark. The western meadowlark is the state bird of six states: Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.
The Hooded and Common Merganser. In most places, the common merganser is as much a frequenter of salt water as fresh water. In larger streams and rivers, they float down with the stream for a few miles, and either fly back again or more commonly fish their way back, diving incessantly the whole way. In smaller streams, they are present in pairs or smaller groups, and they float down, twisting round and round in the rapids, or fishing vigorously in a deep pool near the foot of a waterfall or rapid. When floating leisurely, they position themselves in water similar to ducks, but they also swim deep in water like cormorants, especially when swimming upstream. They often sit on a rock in the middle of the water, similar to cormorants, often half-opening their wings to the sun. To rise from water, they flap along the surface for many yards. Once they are airborne, the flight is strong and rapid. They often fish in a group forming a semicircle and driving the fish into shallow water, where they are captured easily. Their ordinary voice is a low, harsh croak, but during the breeding season, they (including the young) make a plaintive, soft whistle. Generally, they are wary, and one or more birds stay on sentry duty to warn the flock of approaching danger. When disturbed, they often disgorge food before moving. Though they move clumsily on land, they resort to running when pressed, assuming a very upright position similar to penguins, and falling and stumbling frequently.
The Ruffed Grouse. Ruffed grouse have two distinct morphs: grey and brown. In the grey morph, the head, neck and back are grey-brown; the breast is light with barring. There is much white on the underside and flanks, and overall the birds have a variegated appearance; the throat is often distinctly lighter. The tail is essentially the same brownish grey, with regular barring and a broad black band near the end (“subterminal”). Brown-morph birds have tails of the same color and pattern, but the rest of the plumage is much more brown, giving the appearance of a more uniform bird with less light plumage below and a conspicuously grey tail. There are all sorts of intergrades between the most typical morphs; warmer and more humid conditions favor browner birds in general.
The ruffs are on the sides of the neck in both sexes. They also have a crest on top of their head, which sometimes lies flat. Both genders are similarly marked and sized, making them difficult to tell apart, even in hand. The female often has a broken subterminal tail band, while males tend to have unbroken tail bands, though the opposite of either can occur. Females may also do a display similar to the male. Another fairly accurate sign is that rump feathers with a single white dot indicate a female; rump feathers with more than one white dot indicate a male.
The red-necked grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes. Grebes prefer shallow bodies of fresh water such as lakes, marshes or fish-ponds as breeding sites.
The red-necked grebe is a nondescript dusky-grey bird in winter. During the breeding season, it acquires the distinctive red neck plumage, black cap and contrasting pale grey face from which its name was derived. It also has an elaborate courtship display and a variety of loud mating calls. Once paired, it builds a nest from water plants on top of floating vegetation in a shallow lake or bog.
The barred owl, also known as northern barred owl or hoot owl, is a true owl native to eastern North America. Adults are large, and are brown to grey with barring on the chest. Barred owls have expanded their range to the west coast of North America, where they are considered invasive.
The common loon or great northern diver is a large member of the loon, or diver, family of birds. Breeding adults have a plumage that includes a broad black head and neck with a greenish, purplish, or bluish sheen, blackish or blackish-grey upperparts, and pure white underparts except some black on the undertail coverts and vent. Non-breeding adults are brownish with a dark neck and head marked with dark grey-brown. Their upperparts are dark brownish-grey with an unclear pattern of squares on the shoulders, and the underparts, lower face, chin, and throat are whitish. The sexes look alike, though males are significantly heavier than females.