Orman Dam Letterbox  LbNA # 29297

OwnerSD Kids    
Placed DateMar 18 2007
LocationBelle Fourche, SD
Found By The Dragon
Last Found Jun 26 2013
Hike Distance?

At the cache’s location the Bureau of Reclamation has done a great job of describing the Orman Dam and Belle Fourche Valley area’s history. The Reclamation Bureau protects and manages land and resources associated with Orman Dam. It is a center for water sports but the primary purpose for the dam is irrigation.

This earthen dam is one of our nation’s earliest attempts at turning low-moisture areas into cropland. Theodore Roosevelt’s ranching experience and travel in Dakota Territory led him to the conclusion that the conservation of water to irrigate the so-called “Great American Desert” could be accomplished. Through Teddy Roosevelt’s efforts as president, the Reclamation Act of 1902 was passed which created the Bureau of Reclamation as part of the Department of Interior. The Belle Fourche Irrigation Project was one of the first projects authorized under the
Reclamation Act.

Floods, inadequate equipment, and financial problems plagued the initial contractors of Orman Dam. And according to records kept by W. W. Patch, construction engineer, there were many day to day problems in building the dam. One of the problems was finding sufficient hay and oats for the several hundred horses used in construction. And during the wet weather it is the characteristic of gumbo soil to “ball up”, and the feet of unlucky humans and animals forced to travel in it seems to grow continually larger. When the gumbo soil is wet it’s a very heavy sticky mud; it is practically impossible to move stock across it.

The benefits of this clay soil are that it will hold water like a bucket and it doesn’t erode easily. Therefore gumbo is a good basin for irrigation ditches and the bottom lands of Orman Dam. On gumbo there is no sod. Each spear of grass grows independently from its own root. Compared with sod grass, gumbo grass is sparse; but in content it is much richer. Lack of water is the chief difficulty but dams like Orman are solving that problem.

Orman Dam and the water it supplied proved to be a boon to Belle Fourche and the surrounding area. In the early 1900’s irrigation also introduced a myriad of new cash crops to western South Dakota, including cucumbers, sugar beets, onions, pinto beans and even peanuts. Pickling plants were established to process the cucumbers, and in 1927 the Utah and Idaho Sugar Company built a plant at Belle Fourche to process the beets. The type of crops irrigated in the Belle Fouche area has changed; alfalfa and corn are now the primary crops replacing sugar beets and cucumbers. But the benefits from this irrigation project remain the same. More than 90 years after the completion of the Orman Dam project, Teddy Roosevelt’s dream of irrigating the arid western lands is still coming true.

Clues: From Belle Fourche begin your journey east on hwy #212. It’s about 13 miles from the Redwater Bridge letterbox. Before you turn north on the Arpan gravel road you will want to stop and read the historical sign, (CC C Camp), on the south side of hwy #212. After you turn north on the Arpan road it is about one mile to the Owl Creek road which take you in a north direction. After crossing a narrow cattle guard you will come to a y in the road; at this y there is a yield sign which is not facing your direction. Turn south west at the yield sign and it is a short distance to the lime stone rocks with the Bureau of Reclamation signs. Behind the sign, (A Century of Water for Western South Dakota), you will find two plastic boxes rocked away. One plastic container is for geocaching and the square one is for letterboxing. The letter box has a guest book and two stamps; please bring ink pads for the stamps. Our climate is too dry for ink pads. However if the area is wet please be careful; it is a bad letterboxing day when one is stuck in the stick gumbo soil. Thanks, and have a great letterboxing day! During Mosquito season you may wish to protect yourself.