Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Crossing eastward through North Dakota, we didn’t expect to see anything as beautiful and exciting as Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Until then, we hadn’t heard about this park, at the meeting of the Great Plains with the rugged Badlands. A great habitat for bison, elk, wild horses, pronghorn, and prairie dogs, the park has three sections brought together by the Little Missouri River. The park features a colorful Painted Canyon and the old Maltese Cross Cabin, where President Roosevelt once lived. The Scenic Loop Drive took us past several overlooks and trails.

What should have been a trip through South Dakota, veered north due to the historical flooding of the Big Sioux River. Our plans included a stay by the river bank, which was under water (the river was recorded at 9 feet over the flood level).

I-94 took us from Montana into North Dakota. We passed Home on the Range, where supposedly deer and antelope play. In reality, the place is a therapeutic working ranch located in Sentinel Butte, offering assistance to youth who have experienced physical or emotional trauma. Rounding a bend in the road, we got a sneak peek of the canyon before arriving at our RV park, Red Trail Campground in the small town of Meteora. The town was named after the wife of the Marquis De More. The French explorer arrived in the area in the 1880s with dreams of becoming “the richest financier in the world!” – and his dreams were as big as his full given name: Antoine Amédée Marie Vincent Manca de Vallambrosa.

The Marquis was a Wild West dreamer and used his wife’s wealth to develop a cattle business in the area, often antagonizing the locals. In contrast to the Marquis’ business approach, Teddy Roosevelt conducted his business by making friends and influencing people, rather than buying or bullying his way into the business. The two men sometime collided but in the end chased the same business dream. Cattle ranching in North Dakota was a growing business opportunity in the 1880s. With the northern plains devoid of over-hunted bison, cattle were being driven north from Texas to feed on the nutritious grasses. The Northern Pacific Railroad offered a quick route to eastern markets without long drives ensuring freshness of the meat. Entrepreneurs like the Marquis de Morès were bringing money and infrastructure to the region. Roosevelt saw cattle as a sound business opportunity, but also as a unique chance to quench his thirst for the free countryside life, away from New York city.

We drove into the park at the South Unit Visitor Center and followed the winding path past the ruins of the cattle processing plant and Roosevelt’s cabin. We were greeted by birdsong and wind, and witnessed a plethora of wild life: horses, bison, prairie dogs, and even a lone pronghorn (which are not related to antelopes but curiously, to giraffes).

We admired the panorama and the Little Missouri River from Wind Canyon Trail, just a short walk up to a perfect viewing point. As the sun was setting, a storm was rolling in, black clouds and lightning sending us back to camp.

Overnight, we found out what gives the Badlands their name… winds whipping at our RV and wet mayhem unleashing, throwing tree branches around and rocking our “home”. Luckily, by morning light, the storm moved on, making way for a beautiful and crisp early fall day, perfect for further exploring Meteora and its Old West buildings.

Since we were just passing through, we didn’t get the chance to visit all that the park has to offer but hope to do so on a future trip.

Heading out, we stopped at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center to admire the view of the Badlands one more time before continuing our trip east. Along the highway, we couldn’t help but notice the giant metal sculptures near exit for the town of Gladstone. “Geese in Flight” and six other quirky sculptures are the creation of artist and retired teacher Gary Greff. In an effort to lure visitors, he placed the sculptures along the 32-mile stretch of road known as Enchanted Highway connecting Gladstone to the small town of Regent.

The long (almost 6-hour) trip finally brought us to our next stop in Ashby, MN. Both humans and canines appreciated a quick dinner and an early bed time.

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