Boicourt Overlook and Into the Bowl Outing

Saturday, September 22, nine people met at the Cottonwood Picnic Area in Teddy Roosevelt National Park (South Unit) to join in an adventurous hike to "Boicourt Overlook and into the Bowl" on day one of the BCA sponsored “Boicourt and Long X Weekend.”  For weeks the weather had been unseasonably cold and wet, but on that day, an erratic jet stream saw fit to throw a dry, 80 degree day into the otherwise dreary queue.  The next day, the high was 42.

Photo by Connie Triplett

After negotiating several bison on the road, our little caravan met 45 minutes later at the roadside parking pullover for the Boicourt Overlook.  As folks loaded up for the trek ahead, BCA Executive Director Jan Swenson pointed out the several far distant buttes laying on the earth like recumbent giants and bearing legendary names like Bullion, and Sentinel, and Square Butte.  After a quarter mile walk out to the overlook to take in the awe-inspiring view of the miles-wide "bowl," we clambered down the steep and tricky horse and bison trail, past erosional soil pipes (also known as sinkholes), across spots of slippery gumbo, and onto the relative flatness of the "bowl."

With free roaming bison and prairie rattlesnakes, there is an element of risk in hiking and poking about in many national parks.  That, for me, is what makes it meaningful — the need for constant attention, to live in the present, and to avoid what the author Laurence Gonzales calls a "vacation state of mind." Do you think about tripping hazards or rattlesnakes at Disney World?

My intention was to show our group the burning coal seam that was ignited by the early May prescribed burn at the park, and since free burning coal seams, like free roaming bison and rattlesnakes, are dangerous, I explained how we would approach the area.  There's the possibility of soil subsidence, or cave ins, with red hot coals or ashes waiting below, like falling into an erosional soil pipe, only warmer.  But, believing that knowing is inseparable from doing, we carefully looked it over, including the red hot opening with two foot flames.  The observations sparked an Ah-ha moment for some folks trying to imagine how clinker is formed.

Our happy band went on to inspect an exceptionally fine-grained petrified stump that was acting as the caprock on its own waist high hoodoo in the middle of a dry gully. We continued to discover many other geological features, animal tracks and scat, and the largest blooming aromatic aster ever seen by the members of the party.

Eventually, it was time to start back, with some participants needing to start traveling north to set up camp at the Summit Campground and to prepare for another day filled with the aroma of sagebrush.