Thursday, August 29, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

First thing this morning we took a ride along the bike path in Medora, the one I had done the night before.  As we were getting on our bikes, we noticed that the folks who had pulled into the space next to us overnight were from Tennessee, so we visited with them for a while--from Cleveland, and it's always fun to connect with folks from as far away as we are! We rode up and down the trail a couple of times, since we didn't want to get out on the road, and then did some laps in the park before wheeling around the town.  We had seen a yarn shop the day before with a big SALE sign in the window, so Trisha really needed to stop there!  But she found some great deals on yarn and some lovely patterns for other upcoming projects--of course it's absolutely necessary for the multiple storage containers for yarn never get very much empty space in them!!

Then we spent some time driving through the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The entrance to this unit is right in Medora.  There are two more units of this park, the North Unit and Elkhorn Ranch, where Roosevelt had maintained a cattle operation for a period of time.  The visitor center had a wonderful video and display about the time Roosevelt spent in the Badlands of North Dakota (heretofore, I had always thought the Badlands were just in South Dakota, but not so!), and how his time here had such a profound influence on his decision to make conservation the hallmark of his presidency.  He did so much to establish so many national parks, national forests and national monuments, craftily utilizing all of his political skills to navigate various laws to be able to do this.  His legacy to the country, among other things, is the foundation of the national park system, and reading all the details of this leads to a better understanding of just why Borglum wanted to include him among the presidents on Mt. Rushmore.  Also learned that "badlands" was the name originally given by the Sioux--Mako Shika--literally "land of no good."  This was  apparently because these people had been used to being on flat prairie land and when they saw these black hills and rugged terrain, their first impression was not exactly positive!

As we drove the 36 mile loop around the South Unit we saw so many varied aspects of these badlands, and saw many more colors than most of the badlands in South Dakota.  We also saw lots of horses, just running free throughout the park, as well as lots of buffalo.  We encountered several herds of bison along the road, and, like so many free range animals, they had a complete nonchalant attitude toward the vehicular traffic.  At one point, we had to wait for a number of them to cross the road--these guys are huge, and it took no convincing for us to heed the many warning signs about enjoying them from a distance!  We also saw lots of new calves--interestingly lots of these little ones resembled cows more than buffalo as they're very young--not yet developing the distinctive large head and bigger upper body.  Also notice that many of them start out much lighter in color than mature bison, and they obviously darken in color as they get older.  At one point we took a hike along an interpretive trail and along the trail the guidebook had you stop at a juniper tree, to describe how buffalo often find juniper trees and scrape mud and brush from their thick coats.  Then the guidebook says "Look around and see if you see any other evidence that buffalo have been here."  Sure enough, right in the middle of the path there was such evidence--that you had to be careful not to step in!!  We also saw more prairie dog towns and got some good shots of these cute little animals.  Amazing how easily these tiny creatures can coexist side by side with the huge bison!

After we left the South Unit we headed north some 70 miles to the entrance to the North Unit.  The Elkhorn Ranch is only accessible by gravel road which the folks at the visitor center advised against trying to navigate in our RV, so we really wanted to see the North Unit, as the tour guide book said many people find this section the most beautiful of all three.  We we got to the campground there around 4:30, at least it said 4:30 on our watches.  When we tried to go into the visitor center there, though, we discovered that we were in the Central Time Zone!  The way the state is carved up between Central and Mountain Time Zones is quite unique, and I can't figure out how/why the decisions were made to do it this way.  Anyway, the campground was quite nice and we found a secluded site, tucked under some trees, as were most all of the sites.  After supper we went for a bike ride and saw a bit of the fabulous scenery here.  After we got back the camp host came around and told us they were letting everyone know that there were forecasts of severe thunderstorms coming in around midnight, so we thanked him for letting us know.  Then, about an hour later he came back around to say that they were now including a tornado watch along with the severe thunderstorm watch, and told us that the strongest building in the campground was the bathroom/shower building, that if it looked like the tornadoes were coming, he'd sound his tornado warning horn and we were all to beat feet to the shower building!  Well, given what we've seen with tornadoes back home, we knew we didn't want to be parked under a bunch of trees in a tornado, so we decided to hit the road and head for a better place.  So we drove about an hour to Williston, a good sized place, and first thought about finding a motel to stay in for the night, but seems like all their lodging places were sold out, with the possible exception of a couple of no tell motels, rent by the hour places which we decided to pass on!  So here we are, at a truck stop where they said we could spend the night, thankfully.  When we pulled in it was just beginning to rain, but now the thunderstorms have started up pretty strong.  The weather forecast calls for severe thunderstorms--which we can easily handle--but no mention of tornadoes.  Seems we may have gotten far enough north of the path of the tornadoes, so here's hoping that holds true!  The wind may be rocking us here, but the trusty carhouse just stays strong!!

Driving through Medora, noticed this little store and had to take a picture, in honor of our son, Todd!

In the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, looking down from one of the overlooks onto the valley and I-94 below

 Love the contrast between the golden grasses and the black hills

Met a nice couple from Louisiana, who took this picture

 Walked out to this little promontory over the valley

It's as if someone just took a marker and made this line across the rock

 Beautiful flowers along the way!

 Hiking along a trail we found on the loop road
 Wow!  A wonderful sight to see such beauty among the badlands!!
 Looking out from the high vantage point on this trail

 This is Sentinel Butte, 18 miles away from where we were standing!
 A solitary bison off in the distance
Berries from the skunk plant
 Tons of juniper tree berries

 These smooth, sometimes almost like cannonball formations are concretions, where some of the softer rock has eroded away from rounded sections of harder sandstone
 Just let your mind wander for a minute as you look at this formation and see how many different images come to mind!!
 Really interesting rock patterns

Lots of free range horses

 Looks sorta like mushrooms!

 Coming up on a herd of buffalo

 Baby getting a little mother's milk!
 Cute little baby!

 Prairie dogs, right in amongst the buffalo!

 Coupla kids, just hanging!
 Gladly gave this fellow the right of way!

 Two more kids, getting a little frisky as they ran around playing
 See how much this little one looks like a cow?
 This grasshopper hitched a ride on Trisha's window for quite a ways before the wind blew it away!
Out of the South Unit, heading for the North Unit, more sunflowers!
 Coming into the North Unit

 Lovely grove of tress as we entered the campground


  1. Great tour. We enjoyed our visit, but after being just in Yellowstone, it was a bit anticlimatic.

    1. Every place is really different, huh, Chuck? Some places seem to stand out in some ways, while others don't match up in that respect, but still show their own individual beauty. We've just been fascinated by how different so many of the places we've seen are.