We had a delay in leaving Minneapolis when torrential downpours struck! Fortunately, we knew that there was a line of threatening weather coming, so we unhooked quickly and made it back into the RV just as the sprinkles began. Sitting in the coach we watched as once again the heavens opened up and poured down upon us. It was past us within an hour, so we hit the road to begin our way to North Dakota very thankful that we hadn’t encountered the storm on the highway!
The remainder of the drive was pleasant and the roads this day are pretty good which makes the 320 mile journey a bit more peaceful. As you would expect, the scenery is much the same muchness – cornfields abound! One of the highlights of the day was our stop at the Welcome Center in Fargo. It had quite nice grounds for walking the dogs and an informative visitor center. As you can see in the pictures, there was a display that paid homage to the movie Fargo and a sign advertising the “Best for Last Club 50th state”. In good humor, this club was formed to recognize all those who have seen every other state before stepping foot in ND. Thus, as they see it, saving the best for last! Clever marketing, I think!
Our first night in ND was spent in a lovely campground in the town of Jamestown. In reading about this area I discovered that it is a birder’s paradise during the migratory seasons in large part due to what are called prairie potholes. These potholes are remnants from glaciers and fill up with snowmelt and rain making a marshy type environment that birds love. According to the EPA website, more than 50% of North American migratory waterfowl spend time here. We passed several of these along I-94. And see, you thought North Dakota was boring!
The next two nights we stayed in Medora which sits at the entrance to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt NP. This quaint little town has retained much of its old west charm and was fun to stroll through. It, however, is not why we are here and most of our time is consumed with touring both the South and North Units of the park.
This area’s connection to Teddy Roosevelt began in 1883 when he traveled here to hunt buffalo. Falling in love with this wild land, he invested in cattle and operated two ranches not far from town. In fact, it was to one of these ranches that he retreated to in 1884 while grieving the loss of both his wife and mother. During the two years he spent here, his views on conservation and the need to preserve the nation’s natural resources were firmly cemented into his mind. Throughout his presidency he championed the cause of conservation and was responsible for the establishment of five national parks, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game reserves, and 150 national forests. A sum total of 230,000,000 acres of public land! While president he is quoted as saying:
“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm. The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value. Conservation means development as much as it does protection”
I think his legacy proves he was a man true to his word.
Now about the park bearing his name. The South Unit is a 36 mile loop drive through North Dakota’s badlands. We decided to do this portion on the day of arrival since its access was 1 mile up the road from our campground. It was a gloomy and white sky kind of day so the long range views were not as spectacular as they probably are when bathed in blue sky and sunlight. Nevertheless, the area, in a word is stunning. We spent the drive gawking out the window, taking pictures and looking for bison. We saw lots of prairie dogs, a bunny rabbit, two wild horses, and a magnificent elk but no bison! (Though there was plenty of evidence they were in the area by the piles of dung on the road). It took us about 3 hours to complete the loop allowing for plenty of stops to get out and enjoy the expansive views.
The North Unit is located 68 miles from Medora and so after lunch on day two we hopped in the car and made our way there. First stop was the Painted Canyon Overlook which is an exit right off I-94 that boasts a panoramic view of the badlands. Unfortunately, this day was as gloomy as the day before but wow what a sight! It is always amazing to come across this diverse topography in a drive. I mean one minute you are driving through North Dakota farmland and the next you are looking into a canyon of badland. And, I mean this literally.
After this stop we head north on a two lane state road that is marked by its remoteness. There is evidence of life as we pass fields of baled hay and several fracking sites but as far as towns or people go not much. We saw school bus stop signs and wondered where in the heck do these kids get driven to?! Not to mention where do people go for groceries? Certainly a different kind of life from those of us used to having such amenities close at hand.
The north’s scenic route is a 14 mile in and out on the same road and with few people visiting we had the road pretty much to ourselves. Keenly disappointed that we didn’t see bison yesterday, we are rewarded on this day by not one, not two, but three sightings! Large magnificent beasts these icons of the west are incredible. With only about 500,000 remaining in North America it is hard to imagine a time when an estimated 20-30 million roamed this continent. This National Park maintains a herd of 300-700 bison to allow ample room for them to roam.
All-in-all this was a great place to visit not only for the beauty but also to learn the history of a president who made these parks possible. And, as usual the pictures don’t do justice…
In closing my advice is don’t save ND for last, there really is much to explore!