Home Away From Home, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The best-laid plans go awry. We decided last night that we would not sleep past 6:45 and would not spend an hour drinking coffee. Well, we didn’t spend an hour drinking coffee after I woke up at 7:15, a little later than planned.

We headed out for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and took the 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive. We decided that we would stop at each interesting overlook. Our first stop was Skyline Vista, a short .2-mile loop trail on a short, paved path. It led up to a viewing area overlooking the Little Missouri River.

Our next overlook was at the River Woodland where we could see a portion of the Little Missouri River bottomlands. Cottonwoods lined the river course where their roots got abundant moisture. Juniper trees were abundant.

As we traveled on, the road was lined with cottonwood trees on either side and it was quite shady. The diversity of the park is quite obvious as we see prairie land, Badlands and then verdant grazing lands.

As we wound around the road, we saw a lone bison on a hill at a distance and then when we got to Prairie Dog Town, very appropriated named by the way, we saw another lone bison lumbering along. We slowed down and then stopped as he crossed the road right in front of our car. Naturally, we gave him all the room he wanted.

Next up was Wind Canyon. Labeled a moderate hike with gravel and dirt surface with stairs it was only .4 mile round trip. As we walked up we could see people on the left of the path climbing the rocks and sliding down the sandy dunes. While it looked like fun it was too early in the day for that messy walk for us. We continued on to the top of the high bluff where we were overlooking the Little Missouri River. At the edge of the river, we could see hoof prints but we couldn’t determine what kind of animal made them. As we stood there looking, we started chatting with a couple, Pam and Brian, from Florida who are staying at Medora Campground and leaving tomorrow for Glacier. We chatted for a few minutes and then headed on out.

We saw a dirt road, East River Road and decided to explore a bit off of the beaten path. It actually led out of the park and we ended up on grazing land, land if damaged was punishable by law. We did not see anything grazing though. Kind of a bust.

We ran into Pam and Brian again at our next overlook and chatted for about 20 minutes exchanging ideas and travel information. Further on down the road, we stopped at Coal Vein Trail and there we met up again so all four of us took the trail. It’s a mile loop with numbered posts that explain how the trail has changed since an underground coal vein fire in the 1970s. We saw examples of brick red rock or clinker which formed when the coal veins caught fire and baked the rock above changing it into much harder rock. Sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone are sediments washed down from the Rocky Mountains. We also saw bentonite clay, a substance made of ash from distant volcanoes. Fortunately, the area is dry because the bentonite is very slippery when wet. We caught a slight whiff of something that smelled good and though we finally identified the source we didn’t know the name of the shrub. We had a very enjoyable hike albeit a very hot one. When I got back in the car I checked the temperature and it was 95 degrees!

We quickly got in the car and turned on the AC, then headed on around the Scenic loop until we reached the “Closed” sign. We later found out that the highway from mile 24 to mile 28 had collapsed and it is going to take an engineering feat to repair it and it could take a couple of years. It is the original road that was built from the Old East Entrance.

We then decided it was time to either find a place to picnic or head back to the coach. We had already seen a small herd of horses and a couple of bison so we could leave the park if necessary.

Suddenly as we rode along, we saw a lot of bison on either side of the road turning into the Peaceful Valley Ranch. Of course, we pulled right in and joined the long line of traffic. Since we were either moving slowly or not moving at all we enjoyed our sandwiches right there in the car. Another picnic plan foiled!

As we were returning to the entrance of the park we stopped by Visitor’s Center and got some of our questions answered. There are approximately 400-500 bison in the area and around 200 wild horses. Originally there were many more feral horses in the park but the National Park Service decided to remove all the horses from the park. However, in 1970 a change of policy recognized the horse as part of the historical setting so new policies were written to protect and manage the herds of horses. Now, the park conducts a roundup every three to four years to herd the horses to a handling facility. There they can be sold at public auction and the cost ranges from $400 to $2000 each. More recently, the park is trying other means for herd management including contraceptives, low-stress capture, and genetic research. They also partner with some nonprofit advocacy groups.

We also visited the replica of the cabin where Roosevelt lived. It is located in the back of the Visitor’s Center. There I got one of my earlier questions answered. I knew that Roosevelt’s mother and wife died on the same day, the wife in childbirth, but I never heard anything about the baby. It was a girl and she did survive. Six months later Roosevelt left his daughter in the care of his sister while he returned to his cabin at Maltese Cross Ranch in North Dakota where he began the healing process from his crushing losses.

The park is very close to our campground so we rode back to the RV for a little respite and some ice cream. We couldn’t quite decide what to do with the rest of our day as it was getting too late to go to the North Side of the park. We decided to take a short ride to the Painted Canyon Visitor Center and Overlook. It is a nice center with good information. We happened upon a ranger talk and I got to ask him about the flowers that I had been walking through for the last couple of days, both in Devils Tower and here. They are indigenous sweet clover. Good to know. We decided it was too hot and too late to venture out on the one-mile hike.

After the Painted Canyon, we rode back to Medora and walked around for a few minutes, in and out of shops buying nothing. I think we were both so tired from the morning that we just needed to be seated in air condition whether it was inside a store, a car or our coach. It’s difficult for someone who lives at 43 feet above sea level to hike at 2600 feet in 95-degree weather.

As we rode back into the park for our final trip we saw bison several times but the most outstanding sight was at a distance. Two bison on top of a hill at Wind Canyon. We never could get quite close enough for Jerry to get a great picture though he did capture a few shots. We had hoped to see some wild horses but instead saw lots of prairie dogs with a coyote stalking them. Prairie dogs are not actually dogs but a kind of rodent. They get the name of “dog” from the dog-like bark they emit to warn others of danger. I had earlier asked the ranger if they managed the scads of prairie dogs and she said it was not necessary due to the natural predators in the park such as badgers, coyotes, etc.

As we neared the end of the road suddenly, we saw three horses, a mare and a nursing mare with her baby. As we sat there and looked at them eight more mares with babies emerged from the other side of the road. What a treat and what a memorable way to end our visit to Theodore Roosevelt State Park.

Home Away From Home, North Dakota

On to North Dakota

Twenty-one days and almost three weeks on the road. Wow! Things started out a little auspiciously this morning. I slept until after 7:00 which put us later preparing to leave. Jerry went out to move the car to the back of the coach because we could easily hook up right at our site. Then I tried to put the jacks up. Dang it, the battery was dead AGAIN despite have started the coach twice yesterday. Guess we’ll be using the battery disconnect at each stop which means we put down the front shade and it stays down for the duration of the stay. Kind of feels like a tomb inside because it’s so dark. Jerry moved the car back to the front of the coach and we jumped it again. Then I moved the car to the back to hook it up. The car was on a slight downward slope and Jerry couldn’t get it close enough to the coach to hook it up so I had to go in and back the RV up “just a little bit”. That’s scary. We finally got it attached, came in prayed and checked our Departure list and then Jerry looked at the dashboard only to see the check engine light on. The gauges were all reading fine so he decided to soldier on and keep a lookout on the gauges. About an hour into the 250-mile trip the tire pressure monitoring system began to beep. What now? We stopped in Belle Fourche for gas and Jerry checked the air pressure. It was perfect so he thinks possibly a bad battery in the sensor caused the alarm to go off. Guess we need to carry spare batteries for the TPMS.

When we finally entered North Dakota, our 31st RV state, the land just went on and on. We saw gently sloping hills, vast grasslands, hayfields, occasional oil rigs (think that was South Dakota as well as North Dakota) and open land as far as the eye could see. Obviously, the land was farmed but we saw few structures. Sixteen miles per hour winds buffeted us some but otherwise, it was an easy drive. Although our four-lane ended in Belle Fourche, the two-lane was an easily traveled road, wide enough with no drop-offs. And then we ran into road construction. Of course, but it was just a brief section.

As we neared Theodore Roosevelt State Park, we could see that we were entering the end of the Badlands. Two weeks ago we were in Interior in the Badlands and today in Medora, ND in the Badlands. As we were driving along just seven miles from our destination someone flagged us down and told us to pull over. Uh o – what? One of our locked bins had come open. That’s the first time that has ever happened. I was afraid something was wrong with the car. I am very leery when putting the car into towed capability and always doubt that I have done it correctly. You would think that after four years of towing flat down I would be an old pro but not so. I have an instruction list and I “try” to follow it line by line every time. This morning I couldn’t get it to work because I had skipped a step and you can’t do that.

We safely arrived at Medora Campground, a city-owned park and as I was checking in a guy from Georgia was checking in also. As I was walking out of the door, I commented that I was from North Carolina. The fellow checking him in said he lived in North Carolina for a couple of years, in Greenville which is about 30 miles from our home. He had been to Kinston several times. Again, small world. As I was checking in Jerry was outside chatting with the fellow who had flagged us down when he saw the bin opened!

We got set up and decided to take a quick ride over to the Teddy Roosevelt National Park which was only a mile away. We went to the Visitor’s Center, walked through a very interesting museum and talked with a ranger who gave us some ideas of what to do tomorrow.

Just laying around not paying us any attention
We took the Scenic Highway and were absolutely amazed at the breathtaking beauty around us. As I said earlier every park is unique. Every park is special and this one is no different. Just before we got to Wind Canyon where she had suggested we hike we saw a large herd of bison, probably a couple of hundred. The ranger had advised us about getting to close as it is rutting season and the bison are a bit, rowdy. Despite that there a man out of his car walking around taking pictures. Unbelievable! We rode on to Wind Canyon but decided that since I had on sandals we would forego the hike today and come back tomorrow. As we were leaving the park Jerry spotted a coyote near the wild horses and scads of prairie dogs.

We made a hasty decision to go to the Walmart in Dickinson which was 30 miles away. We were in need of the basics like milk and bread so off we went. The highway to Dickinson was mile after mile of land, hayfields sprinkled in between oil wells and grazing cattle and sheep. Thought we were told it was 30 minutes away it actually took us longer plus when we got in line to pay, we were behind a couple with a problem so we were over 20 minutes in line. Knowing we had tickets for the Medora Musical at 7:30 we sped back to Medora hurrying into the coach to put away the groceries and grab something warm to wear. No dinner tonight.

The Medora Musical is absolutely fantastic and a must-see for anyone in the area. It’s held in an amphitheater that is accessed by riding an outdoor escalator. The show revolves around the history of Medora and Teddy Roosevelt. Despite the misting rain, the performers did an excellent job. The weather forecast was calling for a thunderstorm around 9:30 so they shortened the show some so everyone could get out before the storm. Side note – it never stormed despite the weather predictions!

On another note, we have done our part for North Dakota extermination of bugs program. Jerry cleaned the windshield of the motor home yesterday so it was clean when we pulled out this morning. He commented just before we got to Medora that if we didn’t get somewhere soon he wouldn’t be able to see where he was going. The windshield was that dirty! When we went to Dickinson in the Jeep we had the same problem. In fact, I thought at one point it was raining as it sounded just sound big fat raindrops hitting the windshield.