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Natural Areas of North Dakota

Cedar Ridge

GIF--Location of Natural Area


Bonnie Heidel

Directions: From Marmarth, 18 miles south on West River Road, above Little Missouri River. It is accessible only under dry weather conditions.

Cedar Ridge lies at the eastern margin of Big Gumbo, where a bedrock warp results in the largest exposure of "gumbo" shale in the state. It is also the far northeastern edge of the extensive sagebrush plains of the western United States. Big Gumbo ranks among the state's most inhospitable blocks of land, and Cedar Ridge captures the character of Big Gumbo, epitomizing a stark western beauty with resilient life forms that endure the harsh environment.

JPG--Landscape and Vegetation

At Cedar Ridge, expanses of woody sage, barren eroding ridges, and patches of buffalograss are interspersed in a sparse mixed grass prairie setting. The Little Missouri River a mile away looks like a mirage in the interminable heat of a summer visit. Trees are conspicuous on this landscape. Widely scattered Rocky Mountain juniper (cedar) span the ridges and an outlier stand of ponderosa pine grows at one end. These stunted stands differ from others across southwestern North Dakota in their widely-scattered trees and western plants and animals.

Among the plants are at least three rare species, including the Oregon grape. It's an evergreen shrub resembling holly that's known from only one other spot in the state otherwise adorning the Black Hills and other western mountain ranges.

Cedar Ridge is also domain of western birds like sage grouse, sage thrush, Brewer's sparrow and golden eagle, plus big game; the pronghorn antelope.

But don't count on finding other than antelope, sagebrush, cedar, and pine here. Much of Cedar Ridge plant and animal life has a patient, almost secretive air. Its grasses and other plants do not always set seed in drought years. Predators like the great horned owl are nocturnal. Other animals and plants confine their activity to the brief wet interludes of the growing season. In other words, it takes more than a single visit to Cedar Ridge to appreciate the magnitude of its subtle wealth and beauty.

Like many other natural areas, its secrets are divulged slowly.

Facilities: None

Administration and Contact: Cedar Ridge is public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Information on use regulations is available from: Bureau of Land Management, P.O. Box 1229, Dickinson, ND 58602.

BONNIE HEIDEL is natural resources ecologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, ND.

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