ranbow range Meadowlark Ranch

Our range is a land of rollings plains, tablelands, buttes, canyons and badlands in the Little Missouri River watershed.

We are located just south of Medora, North Dakota at the end of the historic Great Western Cattle Trail, the last and longest of the 19th century cattle trails from San Antonio, Texas.

The story of our range is one of 4,500 years of silence, dotted by occasional wildfire, blizzards and thunderstorms that began when the post-glacial climate warmed and stabilized. The prairie became dominant and the Little Missouri River began cutting and eroding much of the Badlands views you see in the region.

Even today, serenity prevails over most of our ranch and grazing lands.

It is so quiet you can hear the rustle of two stems of grass against each other in the breeze over 50 feet away. Only three main roads traverse the 17,000 acres we have in our domain for our cattle to graze upon. Our prairies have little bluestem, side oats, grama grass, western wheatgrass, needle-and-thread, buffalo grass and Junegrass. The blooms of blazing star, Mariposa lily, penstemon, prairie clover, golden pea, globe mallow, yucca and coneflowers grace the landscape while winterfat, rabbitbrush, sagebrush and winter snowberry are common low shrubs.

We feel the prairie, not the spectacular badlands, are the centerpiece of our range and its most important feature. The deep roots of the prairie plants, some penetrating 12 feet or more, store organic carbon so important for our climate and soil health. The deep roots also provide pathways for water to infiltrate to the water table during the cool seasons. This infiltration supports the water table that feeds our creeks, rivers, ponds and reservoirs throughout the region.

The diagram below shows how prairie plant roots compare with turf grass.prairie root diagramYou can order a copy of this beautiful poster and learn even more about these important functions at http://livinghabitats.com/root-diagram/

Between badland buttes and the wide, rolling plains are many narrow canyons and sheltered slopes.

These harbor western red cedar, chokecherry, serviceberry, ash, willow, elm and western cottonwood. Narrow marshes and wet meadows occur in some of the deepest defiles. The streams, ponds and small reservoirs in these places provide shade and refuge for our cattle and wildlife alike. Dantz Creek, Merrifield Creek and Davis Creek are the main tributaries of the Little Missouri River that water our range.

Just a few decades before Sylvane Ferris and Bill Merrifield ran the neighboring Maltese Cross ranch for Theodore Roosevelt in our neighborhood, large herds of buffalo migrated with the seasons across our lands.

Now mule deer and pronghorn antelope thrive on the plains and in the canyons. Cottontails, jackrabbits, badgers, coyotes, skunks, prairie dogs and ground squirrels are abundant and sage and sharptail grouse are often flushed from cover.

 

As our name suggests, we’re most proud of the many grassland-nesting birds throughout our prairies.

Besides the western meadowlark, at least 10 other species are commonly sighted, including the horned lark, lark bunting, Baird’s sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, dickcissel and chestnut-collared longspur. Many of these are double-brooded in years of good rainfall, when 12 to 14 inches of rain can be expected, much of it from May through August when fledgling grassland birds most need a productive prairie with many seeds and insects.

To further encourage our feathered wildlife, we move cattle continuously through the spring and fall into different fenced portions of the range to maintain a light grazing pressure. In the winter, we move cattle to private areas of the ranch surrounding Tracy Mountain and the Moody Plateau, where we conserve grasslands for this purpose that are surrounded by forested canyons and water sources to provide the best cold weather shelter.

If you plan to visit our ranch, the best time of year is April through June.

During this time, several calling meadowlarks at a time can be heard over many parts of our range. It’s a special time, in a remarkable landscape and would be made all the more special by your visit!