Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Coming north from Wyoming, we went through a sliver of South Dakota, giving Sturgis a wide berth. It was the day after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ended, but I wasn’t taking any chances. We did see a lot of motorcycles – and vehicles carrying motorcycles – heading south, so our timing and location was good.

Well, there it is, we have offically entered North Dakota. After taking our pictures, I turned around, and there was the South Dakota sign, shot full of bullet holes. Great target practice on those faces, I suppose. There was a big pullout by the signs, which was a perfect place for a lunch stop. Then I noticed another signpost:

We were sitting smack dab on the Great Western Trail, which was a famous trail that herded millions of cattle from Texas to Canada between 1874 and 1893. Because of the trail, the ranching and livestock industry received a huge boost, and the trail also was a big part of North Dakota heritage. I tried to picture all the cattle and cowboys coming through as I ate my lunch.

It was still a long road to Medora, our destination for the day, and the hills were shrouded in forest fire haze.

I have seen pictures of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but I was totally awestruck by our first glimpse of it. This picture is of Painted Canyon, which also includes a park visitor’s center and rest stop on the highway.

It’s hard to understand why this park was given Theodore Roosevelt’s name without understanding the history of his involvement here. He originally came out to North Dakota to hunt bison in 1883. He invested in cattle operations – the Maltese Cross Ranch. Then, in a terrible double whammy, he lost both his wife and his mother on the same day – Valentine’s Day of the next year – and came back to heal and to find solitude. He started the Elkhorn Ranch, but ultimately lost a lot of money on the investment. He witnessed – and actually had a small part in – the threats to the environment caused by overgrazing and overhunting. Conservation became one of his major concerns, and as US President he created parks, forests, and federal reserves with over 230 million acres of protected land. In Medora, the town bordering the national park, he looms large.

“I have always said I never would have been President if it had not been for my .experiences in North Dakota.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

We started our day in TRNP early, with a hike, on the hopes of seeing more wildlife and less people. The visitor center at the South Unit wasn’t open yet, and neither was T. Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross cabin, but we checked it out upon our return. This is the original cabin, but it was moved here from another location.

On our way to our chosen trail, we saw a flock of turkeys and many prairie dogs. Prairie dogs have huge “towns” in several areas of the park. There was a turnoff where some young ladies were saddling up for a horse back ride. This prairie dog was irate that they were near his turf, and was “barking” up a storm. The comical thing was that, every time he barked (which sounds like a chirp) his tail would go up and down. I’m sure he thought he was being very fierce!

We hiked through fields of sage, and along and through the (mostly dry) small canyons created by Jones Creek. Then we saw them – bison!

We thought this was exciting, until we realized there was a herd, and they were commencing to cross our path. There was no going forward. This created a little bottleneck of hikers: two who had been ahead of us, and then some others came up behind us. We all oohed and aahed at first, taking lots of pictures. Mainly it was enjoyable to watch the herd just going about their day. We then discussed our dilemma: at what point would we be able to go forward?

The baby bison decided to have breakfast right on our path

This large male seemed to be the gatekeeper for the herd and stood on the path for quite some time, eyeing us and chewing on what looked to be dirt and rocks. He did slowly move off. Cal and I were the first of the hikers to move past. We decided he was not really interested in us unless we proved to be a threat to the herd.

When we saw a second herd off in the distance, possibly intersecting with the trail ahead, we decided it was time to turn around. This ended up being a 5 mile hike.

There is a scenic drive in the park, so we spent the rest of our time exploring in the truck, with a few short hikes at points of interest.

We climbed to the top of Buck Hill – it was windy!
Lunch with a view

We had an additional treat in store – wild horses!

It didn’t look like the colt had been long on its legs
A TRNP-style traffic jam

Next time – Medora, ND happenings, and a visit with Theodore Roosevelt

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