Finding the Beach in Beach, North Dakota

So last week mule Polly and I rolled into Beach, ND with a wagon full of relics. Man there was everything clanking around in the old wagon from arrow-pierced bottles to a short film of two dung beatles rolling their namesake across a road.


Welcome to Beach, ND (Mike Archdale photo)
Beach, ND

Only one thing was missing from my collection of Great Plains stuff – relics from the Lost Sea – like fish fossils, sharks’ teeth, or even a lowly fossilized sea shell. Then, before I got to head into the hills with my hammer, the weather caved in and Polly and I took refuge in Ardis Stedman’s Quonset hut.


Bernie’s lodgings


Polly’s lodgings

Pinned down by the type of weather that shreds a sailor’s sails one moment and leaves them flapping becalmed the next, I set about exploring Beach. That’s where I found the bottom of the Lost Sea.

Literally.

Tama Smith, owner of Prairie Fire Pottery, had heard I was looking for relics of the Western Interior Seaway, the ancient ocean that submerged the Dakotas millions of years ago. She told me to visit her studio. She had something that might interest me.

The day I dropped by Tama’s pottery, she was glazing pots, dipping them into a vat of pigment, before placing them into a kiln for final firing. A chunk of what appeared to be rippled mud was perched among the pitchers and jugs she was covering in grey, green and red glaze.

“That’s it” she said as I eyed it.

“It” just looked like a slab of mud that had had a piece of corrugated tin pressed into it, something you might find dried up at the bottom of a river bed. Which is pretty much what had happened. Only, instead of a piece of river bottom, it was a chunk of the Lost Sea seabed. That’s right, a real piece of petrified sea bottom. Well, petrified sediment.

And what was it doing in the Prairie Fire Pottery? “I use it for a mold,” Tama explained, “to make garden pavers.”

To make the mold, she’d pressed wet clay into the piece’s corrugations. When the clay dried, she popped it loose and fired it. This gave her a mold or die, for making her pavers.


Tama and her chunk of the Lost Sea

To make a paver, she pressed wet clay into the mold, then glazed and fired the pieces to 2,400 degrees. Or, in her words, “I make rocks.” Lost Sea rocks to be precise.


Chunk of the Lost Sea (forward) and a Prairie Fire paver (behind)

Thanks Ardis and Tama for introducing me to the bottom of the Lost Sea. The weather’s clearing now so in the morning we’re heading for Golva, ND. Then we roll on for Ekalaka, MT.

So do I have a chunk of the Lost Sea aboard the wagon? Though Tama offered me a sample, I had to decline. Polly won’t let me pile anymore relics into her cart. You, on the other hand, are welcome to pick up as many of those Lost Sea-inspired pavers (or jugs, mugs and platters) that Tama’s making. Just give her a shout over at Prairie Fire Pottery.


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