Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

I didn’t get any photos here.  Sorry for the unbelievable negligence.  This is where former President Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed his first outdoor adventures.  Roosevelt hunted bison here in the 19th century, enduring 7 consecutive days of rain before shooting one.  The Park Service’s historical writings describe Roosevelt as an “inexperienced dude from New York” on this outing.  He established two cattle ranches in the vicinity.  One can still walk to the site of Teddy’s main ranch house, though nothing remains of the structure.  Historians credit Roosevelt’s experiences in this area for ultimately inspiring him to establish the U.S. National Park System.

When I arrived in town traffic was backed up half a mile from the park entrance.  I thought I might encounter thick crowds, but a ranger explained it was just a town parade.  He said the park receives 10% of the visitation at Yellowstone, and this was my experience.  Road traffic was light, and I didn’t see anyone else hiking the trails.

The park is a more colorful version of South Dakota’s famous badlands.  Said color is provided by a distinctive mix of juniper trees, deciduous shrubs, and grasses carpeting the several hundred foot tall dirt mounds and treacherous gullies.  Wild bison abound throughout the park and are easily seen from the road.  I watched herds of large adults shepherding calves small enough to sit in a person’s lap.

Burning coal beds, ignited by lighting or wildfire, were present under some of the dirt mounds into the 1950’s.  The soil is composed of bentonite clay and is known to become extraordinarily slippery and soft following a hard rain.  Substantial rain fell on the area while I was there, and I had no trouble walking the trails or driving the dirt roads.

The Little Missouri River National Grassland borders the park.  Dirt roads of varying difficulty interconnect for miles in all directions.  The area sits atop the famous Bakken shale formation.  Oil and gas wells are scattered throughout the grassland.  Cattle ranches are too.  I found a secluded place to camp off one of the many spur roads in the grassland.  My only neighbors were three flaming gas wells, each a long distance away.