Medicine Rocks State Park

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Medicine Rocks State Park

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In the late 1800s, Teddy Roosevelt said the area was “as fantastically beautiful a place as I have ever seen.” Covering one square mile, Medicine Rocks was referred to by the Sioux Indians as “Rock with Hole In It” due to the tunnels and holes burrowed in the stone. They also called it “Medicine Butte” and believed that this was a sacred area where spirits resided. The medicine man often prayed here, but it is said that the tribe itself camped on the outskirts. The sandstone formations have been created by years of weathering. Carved by the wind into odd shapes, some of the pillars tower 80 feet above the pine-clad prairie. Millions of years ago a floodplain flowed through these high plains, and as the climates changed sandstone was created. Many fossils are embedded in the rock formations, telling a story of the past. Indian artifacts can be seen ranging from tepee rings to a few rock drawings. The area is known for its abundant wildlife, including deer, pronghorn antelope, grouse, pheasants, bass and bluegill.

The Rocks

Medicine Rocks State Park manifests but a small portion of a complex sequence of geological events that took place some 50 million years ago. At that time, a huge inland lake covered much of the Northern Great Plains. The climate was warm and tropical.

This was the age of the mammal, for the giant lizard-like dinosaur had already succumbed to changes in its environment. The swampy, forested margins of this huge, ancient sea teemed with mollusks (clams and other forms of ocean life), turtles and small mammals, as well as palm trees, water lilies and other vegetation. Fossils, or the preserved remains attesting to the existence of prehistoric plants and animals, have been found in the rocky formations of the park.

Cutting through the lush swamps were slow-moving, shallow, silt-laden rivers. These rivers, resembling present-day waterways in the southeastern United States, transported sediments from the newly forming Rocky Mountains to the west. Some of these sediments were deposited as sandbars and channel deposits. Medicine Rocks represents the fossilized river channel of one of these ancient streams.

Through the ensuing ages, the climate changed. Dryer conditions caused the inland sea to retreat, leaving the continent high and dry. Some streams dried, others changed their courses. Compaction, great pressure, and eons of time turned the sediments to sandstone.

Some parts of the sandstone were cemented together more solidly than other areas, making them harder and more weather resistant. Over the ages wind, water and temperature extremes constantly wore away the rock. The more resistant materials survived this weathering process, called erosion, and are the knobs and pillars we view today.

The park’s formations owe their grossly pockmarked features to natural and dynamic events, for it is the selective weathering process that gives the rock a Swiss cheese-like effect.

Geologic processes are at work today just as they were millions of years ago. Pounding wind, runoff from snowmelt and rain, and freezing and thawing action continuously eats away at the land, giving shape, form and life-like qualities to the Medicine Rocks.

There are approximately 15 camping sites with vault toilets, a group-use area, grills/fire rings, picnic tables, and drinking water. The RV/trailer size limit is 20’ and campers may stay 14 days during a 30-day period. Due to its “Primitive” park designation, it is a pack-in/pack-out site and there are no fees to enter or stay there. The park is open all year. 

Directions:  Medicine Rocks State Park is located 25 miles south of Baker on Montana Highway 7, 14 miles north of Ekalaka.

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