Saturday, September 21, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

"The badlands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly to properly belong to this earth."    - Theodore Roosevelt

   As we made our way west from Yellowstone, I expected Montana to flatten out into the gently rolling prairies I remember from my childhood in Alberta, Canada. I have crossed this section of the country by train a few times, many years ago, and somehow I'd forgotten how beautiful it was! Surely by the time we reached North Dakota, I thought, the landscape would be less interesting, right? Wrong! I was surprised and amazed at the stunning scenery, and delighted to come upon Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. We didn't have much extra time, but we took a few hours to drive around the park and do a little exploring. 

    Theodore Roosevelt first arrived in North Dakota's badlands in 1883. He came to hunt buffalo, and by the time he left he'd acquired primary rights in the Maltese Cross Ranch, where he ranched and lived as a cowboy. He actively ranched in the area for several years and maintained interests there for many more. He later said that had it not been for his experience in North Dakota that he wouldn't have become president. It was during this time he formed many of the ideas that later led him to develop a strong conservation program to protect America's natural resources and wild lands. It was neat to get a glimpse of this place that inspired him, and I'm so thankful it has been kept wild and free, the way God created it.

This is the Maltese Cross Cabin that was originally on Theodore Roosevelt's ranch, which was about seven miles from where it now stands in Medora, North Dakota, at one of the entrances to the National Park. With three separate rooms and sleeping quarters upstairs for ranch hands, it was considered somewhat of a "mansion" in its day!

This desk was in another cabin owned by Roosevelt, and he spent many hours recording his experiences in the badlands. It would be interesting to read them someday.
The small bedroom was simply furnished, and the leather trunk with T.R. on it was the actual one he used when he traveled between New York and Medora by train. I suspect that's a buffalo hide on the bed.
We stopped to see a prairie dog town, and the kids were delighted to see the little critters standing guard over their burrows. We had picked up Junior Ranger booklets which had some information and activities about prairie dogs, so of course they were excited to fill out their pages. We also borrowed a family explorer backpack that contained field guides, books, binoculars, magnifying glasses, and other resources to use during our visit. It's well worth checking the National Park websites ahead of time to find out what is available. Many of them also have printable lesson plans and online activities kids can do to learn more about the park and enrich their visits.
Poppy and Raphi peered down a prairie dog hole!
We took a little hike to Wind Canyon, and stopped to watch this big spider catch a cricket and spin it up to save for later. Yum, yum!
Wind Canyon
We hiked along a ridge line trail high over the river valley. We could see a herd of buffalo in the distance.
And speaking of buffalo, we ran into another herd of them down the road! Well, thankfully we didn't actually run into them, but had to stop and wait while they slowly made way for us. This is clearly their park, and we were the guests.
It was wonderful to be so close to them!
It was a perfectly gorgeous day, with billowy clouds floating in an endless sky of brilliant blue. The badlands stretched on as far as the eye could see, layers of color stacked and wrinkled and draped over the earth. 
And the kids were sworn in as Junior Rangers of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, under the watchful eye of the  bison on the wall. I'm so glad we stopped to explore and play, and that I was so wrong about North Dakota!


  1. It was a great stop. I'm glad I was wrong about that.

  2. Beautiful pictures, thank you for sharing! That area of the country, south western North Dakota and down into South Dakota, is just so incredibly peaceful and pretty (in my opinion). The warm sun, the wind, the vast views...I just love it! I'm glad that your family had such a nice time on your visit :)...I can't wait until our journey takes us back that way again.

  3. Me too! It was such a nice surprise! One thing this trip is doing is whetting my appetite to explore our country more deeply, to experience its beauty and history more. It's an amazing place!


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