We come now to the lowest, but not the least, of the High Plains High Points – White Butte in North Dakota (elev. 3,506 ft). White Butte is in far western North Dakota, and is a distinct land feature rising as much as 500 feet above neighboring valleys. Western North Dakota is dotted with similar buttes and hills that spread themselves out so that one gets a sense of space and scale. It’s a fantastic landscape – one of my personal favorites – and also one that is currently under threat from a massive effort to obtain oil and gas from the vast oil field known as “the Bakken.” As little as five years ago, there was very little in the way of oil development in this area, but all that changed with improved techniques for what is known as “fracking.” It involves horizontal drilling and forcing oil out from between cracks and fissures in the rocks by way of water pressure. Today, hundreds of wells dot the flatlands between the buttes, and populations have exploded well beyond the capabilities of the area’s limited infrastructure.
I don’t want to go into a long discussion of all of the issues that come with massive oil development, but I do want to point out that one of the goals of the Great Plains Trail Alliance is to provide an alternative idea as far as what the human uses of the Great Plains should be. Where some people see natural resource extraction as the future, we see boundless beauty, and an enormous, largely untapped, recreation potential.
The oil companies aren’t going away anytime soon. They have far too much money and influence. It’s true that we all use oil, and so it comes to be called a need, but using something does not make it a need, only a tool.
What the Great Plains Trail hopes to do is reconnect people with other things that really are needs: sun . . . wind . . . sky . . . land . . . grass . . . and muscle.
And if you get a chance, go see western North Dakota . . . it’s wonderful!