By Jelane A. Kennedy
I must confess, I had never heard of Theodore Roosevelt National Park until a couple of mornings before our arrival. How we came to visit the park was by accident. Our eyes were set for Glacier National Park in Montana. We wanted to arrive before Labor Day, so while pursuing our atlas and looking at our destination I saw this small green area marked on the map-Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the upper part of North Dakota. I pulled our national park guide read a little. The drive looked simple and it seemed like a short detour. We had been on the road a few days and we both were in need of a hike, to stretch our legs. There had been some stormy weather in Montana so this short detour would give us a chance to chill a bit while the weather passed on.
The plan was to stop for a couple of hours, take a hike and then get back on the road. But once there we couldn’t resist staying. It was quiet, and charming with unexpected geography. I think this was so striking after the grueling ride that took more than two hours rather than the normal 45 minutes to an hour dealing with the Bakken oil boom and traffic that was generated from that enterprise (See my post on How I Earned by Road Warrior Badge). We felt like we had reached a safe haven. After our first small hike we knew we needed to explore more.
Our first hike was a nature trail, gentle and easy, Little Mo. The hike took us along the Missouri River. The trail guide gave a sense of the fauna and flora. We also got to see some of the shelters constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) back during the depression. These structures are always beautiful and blend well with the landscape. The spring and summer flooding from that had occurred that year was still evident and added to the mystery of the place. So we decided to check out the campground since we were now hooked. Many of the campsites were in reconstruction mode from the flooding but we found a great little site, gathered some dead wood and got ourselves set up so we could go out again for another hike.
We discovered that this was the less visited section of the park. We were in the North Unit and that it’s remoteness meant that more people hung out in the South Unit. The last time I was in North Dakota was when I had just graduated from high school and getting ready for college. My Mom decided to take us on a road trip to visit her cousin in Grand Forks, North Dakota. We set off on our great adventure our Ford Fiesta. So my memories were of very flat land, ranches and the moon so big it looked like you could touch it.
The flooding closed the scenic road through the park halfway, but we were able to get to the Capstone Coulee area. It was one of the areas that really captured our attention. We took the nature hike in that section. In some ways the Coulee’s looked like a pipe organ in a big natural outside church. The rock looks so dry and grooved. The colors were black, white, gray and reds as compared to the Badlands National Park ; in South Dakota we had visited years earlier that seemed more white and golden. I kept waiting for the wind to play a tune. Mixed with all this was the juxtaposition of the prairie grasses and junipers all around. Once we finished the nature trail, Eileen found another trail that took us up onto a butte where we could look out over everything. We saw no other humans and heard no cars. It was just the wind and we. We felt as though we had stepped into another time. We just sat and soaked it up.
On the trail earlier we also saw the tracks left by bison and a few of their moon pies. We did not run into any bison but we did have a friendly “oh Hello” with a very tame deer. It was cool to walk the trails that the bison follow. To think about how this was their land.
After our dinner we went to the Ranger hike/talk and learned more about Teddy Roosevelt. We didn’t realize it but this park is the only one named after a President. It was here in this area that his love of the out of doors came to fruition. Growing up in New York City he was a sickly kid struggling with even being able to breathe. Out here he found himself and learned of the power of nature to health. There is another third Unit to the park (Elkhorn Ranch) that takes you out to where his ranch was but you need a high clearance vehicle and Abbey just wouldn’t be able to make it with her low running boards.
It felt like in many ways visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park was like visiting the beginning. Yes Yellowstone was the first but this was the land that inspired a President that we all needed wild places to roam. We could have stayed longer but Glacier National Park was calling us. I’d like to return and check out the South Unit and stay awhile.
© 2016 Jelane A. Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran