Shortly after leaving Billings, Montana we turned on to I-94, it runs from Billings through the bottom half of North Dakota and then onto Minneapolis. It is the least travelled interstate we have ever been on. Very few cars and even fewer trucks. Towns and gas stations are few and far between. I actually think there is more traffic on the Alaska Highway than I-94.
Not long after crossing into North Dakota is the very small town of Medora self proclaimed “North Dakota’s #1 Vacation”. The real draw to Medora is the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Theodore Roosevelt first came to Medora in September 1883 on a hunting trip. The 24-year-old big game hunter, Roosevelt, came to shoot a trophy buffalo . This took him 10 days since by the time he arrived the last large herds of buffalo were gone and the few remaining were hiding in the “badlands”.
We are more use to the “badlands” of Death Valley National Park or Anza Borrego State Park in California. In those desert badlands nothing grows not even weeds. Here in the Dakotas “badlands” are places that can’t be farmed or a bad place to lose cattle, but even in August they are green.
During his two weeks in Medora, Roosevelt fell in love with the badlands and became interested in the cattle business. Before returning to New York, he entered into a partnership to raise cattle on the Maltese Cross Ranch.
This is the actual cabin that Roosevelt had built on the Maltese Cross Ranch. It was very fancy for its time.
It is a three room cabin with a wood floor and separate rooms for a kitchen,
a living\dinning room
and a private bedroom for Roosevelt .
The ranch hands slept in a second floor loft.
Five months after Roosevelt returned to New York his wife, and his mother, died on the same day. Grief-stricken, Roosevelt decided to leave the East and he returned to North Dakota in 1884 and established the Elkhorn Ranch . Roosevelt spent two years in North Dakota before returning to New York and his political career. During that time be became a real cowboy riding herd, roping and branding. He later said “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.” It is also said that he got the idea for the famous “Rough Riders” from his days as a cowboy. Perhaps more importantly he got his ideas for conservation and preserving the west while in North Dakota. To quote the park: “During his presidency, Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks , and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act under which he proclaimed 18 national monuments. He also established the first 51 Bird Reserves, 4 Game Preserves, and 150 National Forests.”
Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a south unit and north unit that are separated by 70 miles. Neither of Roosevelt’s ranches are actually in the national park, but the area of the park is the best representation of how the badlands looked back in the 1880s.
We first toured the south unit which has by our count 5 separate prairie dog towns each more that a 1/2 mile long.
It has herds of wild horses
The loop road through the south unit is 38 miles of badlands scenery
One day we drove to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Like the south unit, the north unit has prairie dog towns and buffalo. It is different from the south unit because where the south unit has many different valleys and canyons, the north unit is primarily one long valley along the Little Missouri River of open woodland, primarily Cottonwood and open prairie.
Although, we didn’t see any of the grass species of birds that North Dakota is noted for, while having a picnic in the North Unit we saw a Red-headed Woodpecker. Our 499th life bird!
This is a flock of Chipping Sparrows that for some reason chose this broken limb to roost on. At one point we counted 30 birds on this limb.
We saw Eastern Kingbirds everywhere in North Dakota.
Our site at the RV Park was VERY close to a tree.
There are many more pictures on our slideshow