(Everyone sing along) “Oh, give me a home … where the buffalo roam …” Our current rolling home was nestled RIGHT where the buffalo roam! We had a “Bully Good Time” (to quote the man himself) at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the New York Times’ pick for the “#5 Place to See in the World,” and its roaming herd of 550+ bison.
Sometimes you have to go searching find the bison; sometimes the bison easily find you! With 70,000+ acres to munch upon, they are under no obligation to stay close in … and yet, sometimes they do. Here’s a groaner, compliments of our son’s girlfriend Rhawnie: “What did the mommy buffalo say to the baby buffalo as she was leaving?” “Bison!” (get it?? hee hee)
But if bison scare you (and they should … they are mean, AND fast), how about some cute little prairie dogs instead? Visit Prairie Dog Metropolis, and you’ll have a few days worth of entertainment as these little guys pop in and out of their holes, chirping and screaming at you.
We also heard (too-close) coyotes, saw pronghorns, and free-roaming wild horses.
Obviously, the park is named for our 26th President Theodore Roosevelt, who despite being a rich-kid, big-city-New-Yorker, loved his time ranching in this area, where he sought a quiet place to mourn his massive grief after his wife AND his mother both died on the same day … on Valentine’s Day no less … in the same house in 1884.
Roosevelt once said, “I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.” Most importantly, he established the U.S. Forest Service, proclaimed 18 national monuments, created 5 national parks + 150 national forests + dozens of federal reserves, thereby protecting more than 230 million acres of land for future adventurers like us. If you’ve ever hiked or camped on a Forest Service or National Park trail, you’ve got Teddy to thank!
The Jones Creek Trail (above) wasn’t necessarily our first choice hike, but the trailhead of the one we wanted to take was on the other side of this water! With crazy rainfall in the area recently (and causing damage that closed Yellowstone completely!), what should have had us jumping stepping stones over ankle deep water was basically unpassable. Even the small Jones Creek created some squishy socks!
The Maltese Cross Cabin was Roosevelt’s home as he traveled back and forth from North Dakota to New York, stayed in here, and was moved to its location in the park in 1959 after being hauled around the country “on tour” to places such as The World’s Fair.
TRNP is divided into two sections, unimaginatively called the South and North Units, and with various areas including a petrified forest. Most people, including yours truly, visit only the South, because the North is a (by all accounts) very un-scenic 70 miles away. Plus, who needs to go anywhere, when these gorgeous views are right here?
These are the North Dakota badlands, so called because early travelers, including Native Americans, called it the “bad lands” because the rocky terrain, lack of water, and crazy temperature variations made it extremely difficult to traverse. A 36-mile scenic loop was no longer a loop, with a large section washed out. So we got to see the beauty twice, once on the way out and once on the way back. There are a number of scenic overlooks and super-short hikes to viewpoints.
Here, the Little Missouri River winds and curves throughout the park and the surrounding lands.
The tiny (pop. 150) town of Medora, where TRNP is located, packs a mighty punch in the form of their fabulous Medora Musical, which has been performed here for decades. It’s got live classic country-western music, high-energy dancing, live horses pooping on stage, patriotic numbers that Teddy Roosevelt would have loved, historical re-enactments, nods to the Badlands spirit, and a big fireworks finale, all set in the hills of Medora.
We signed up for a Backstage Tour, with a behind-the-scenes look at the set, and a look at how they have been making the show for more than 50 years. We chatted with the actors, saw the dressing rooms, and inspected the tracks that allow them to slide set buildings onto and off the stage easily.
While behind and under the stage, however, a huge Badlands-style rainstorm moved in and ended up cancelling the actual show for the night. Boooooo! As the show actors said with a sigh, “Well, that’s Broadway in the Badlands for ya.” Themagnificent resulting double rainbow (almost) eased our disappointment.
They also offer a “Pitchfork Steak Fondue” where they load a bunch of prime North Dakota steaks (beef, not bison) on authentic ranch pitchforks (hopefully clean) and fondue ’em Western style, to be served with all the fixins, just like Teddy himself would have wanted.
Everything in the town and the area harkens back to Theo, including the Rough Riders Hotel, a talented Theo impersonator with a one-man theater show, and an incredible golf course (one of America’s Top 100 Public courses) named the Bully Pulpit in his honor, settled in amongst the gorgeous meadows, woodlands and badlands, and where you tee off from one butte to another.
With dogs disallowed on hiking trails in TRNP, if you’ve got Fido along, we recommend picking up a portion of the 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail (a multi-use singletrack for hiking, biking and horseback riding) about five miles south of Medora near the golf course.
TRNP is the 36th national park (not counting national monuments, historic sites and other lesser-designated places) that we have visited since we started RV travel in 2013! We keep track of them all on a spotlight wall (soon to be multiple walls) in our sticks-n-bricks house. The posters are by Rob Decker, who studied under famed photog Ansel Adams, and are available at national-park-posters.com. (I don’t receive payment for this endorsement — we just really, really love his work!)
Of these 36 national parks, we have only slept INSIDE the park in a few of them, mostly because national park campgrounds rarely fit a beastly RV of our size. But a couple of sites at TRNP’s Cottonwood Campground could accomodate! What site #35 lacked in width, with our slides touching trees on both sides ….. it more than made up for in 93′ of length! That’s not a road; it’s our individual campsite!
The final event was the smallest, shortest horse parade through Medora on Flag Day.
Heading to this area from Montana, we spent an overnight at an extremely nondescript “campground” in the middle of nowhere …. but then, like a mirage in the desert, a restaurant right there in the parking lot! Being the only non-farmers in the place, we got a lot of side-eye, but it was worth it for the smoked pork shank and coconut crusted pollock! It’s surprises like this that make RV travel really fun.
Lastly, we get a lot of requests for trip route information, and all we can say is … don’t take this one!