In last week’s post, we made a stop at Devils Tower National Monument in northeast Wyoming. In case you missed it, here’s a link. We were on our way to western North Dakota to spend Thanksgiving with our families, the first since January 2020. It was great to see everyone in person after being apart for nearly two years.
It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, my Traveling Partner was spending the day with her sister conjuring up ideas for quilts, a passion they share. I was left to entertain myself, I could think of nothing better than another visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). I drove the Red Rover to Medora, the county seat of Billings County and a tourist town near the entrance to TRNP. Since it was late November and a weekday, most shops were closed for the season, even the Cowboy Cafe was closed.
I did see the old Billings County Courthouse where my Traveling Partner and I were issued our marriage license nearly fifty years ago. It’s now a museum but that was closed too. The county has a population of less than 1000 people while Medora is permanent home to 135 of those residents. Yes, my friends, it’s sparsely populated, just the way they like it!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
On the west edge of Medora is where one can find the entrance to TRNP. The pay kiosk was closed for the season so I made a stop at the visitor center to show my Senior Pass and chat with the park ranger. I asked about photo opportunities and any updates to the park since my last visit over two years ago. She told me just that morning, a ranger on patrol found an old buffalo bull dead near the Wind Canyon Overlook. A crew was headed out to load the bull on a flatbed trailer so it could be disposed of with reverence. This peaked my interest! She also told me about the upgrades and renovations at Peaceful Valley Ranch. Another point of interest.
With this information, I headed into the park. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been to this park countless times. I try to go every time we are in western North Dakota. My first visit was in July 1961, I was eleven and attending 4-H camp. Then it was named the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park, the only memorial park ever established and named after a person. It became a national park in 1978. While I can count on one hand how many cars I saw during my visit, it’s busiest during the warmer months, May through September. An estimated 800,000 visitors enter the park each year.
I made my first stop at the Skyline Vista Overlook. The day was cool and overcast, the expansive landscape nearly matched the shades of gray in the clouds. The only color in the scene was the sun lighting up the clouds on the horizon. Last year was very dry year in most of western North Dakota, little rainfall and almost no snow the previous winter. The parched grasses crackled under the sole of my hiking boots. This view overlooks the village of Medora.
At this overlook, I noticed evidence of the web of life. A deer served as a meal for a pack of coyotes. Pardon the gruesome photo!
Across the road from the overlook, a few hardy prairie dogs were having a last meal or two before spending the winter in their cozy underground homes.
As I drove along the scenic drive, I passed the empty Cottonwood Campground and vast open spaces that appeared to stretch to the edge of the earth.
I passed the entrance to the Peaceful Valley Ranch, I would stop on my return. My favorite spot in the park is the Wind Canyon Trail. After parking, I hiked up the trail to take in the view. I stood there for a long time gazing at the scene, creating impressions in my mind. The breeze was cool so I kept moving along the path to its highest point. It made my day whole! Here’s what I saw.
The Little Missouri River begins its journey in Wyoming traveling north and east through parts of South Dakota and Montana before entering North Dakota. It winds through the arid Badlands before emptying into Lake Sakakawea north of Killdeer. This river along with it’s tributaries sustain life in this part of the world. In the photos above, there are places where the buffalo and deer can easily cross the river to the other side for food and shelter from the wind and snow.
Around the corner from Wind Canyon, the park crew just finished loading the old buffalo bull onto the trailer. He was a big fella and looked to be in decent shape. It was just his time. Photos just didn’t seem appropriate.
I continued up the road to the Boicourt Overlook. The sign pointed out several buttes looking to the west, some over twenty miles away. Another Badlands scene to remember.
Since the Loop Road was closed for construction, I headed back towards the entrance. The body of the bull and all the park staff were gone without leaving a trace! I made a few stops along the way for photos of the Badlands architecture carved by nature.
The Peaceful Valley Ranch has been in the same location since the mid-1880s. One of the owners was a good friend of Theodore Roosevelt. He spent about four years living and ranching in the Badlands of then Dakota Territory. It’s entirely possible that he overnighted in the original cabin and hunted big game with his friend. Beginning in 1918, the owners began offering trail rides of the area. After the surrounding territory became part of the National Park Service (NPS), concessionaires continued to provided guided horseback rides until 2014. The past few years the NPS has worked to upgrade the facilities as funds become available. The recently installed restrooms and remodeled ranch house are welcome additions. Here’s how it looks today. It’s a peaceful place.
While I was wandering around the grounds shooting photos, the guy in the photo below drove up in a government truck. He’s a park volunteer, driving many miles a couple of times of week to help make the park a better place. The lone horse recognized him right away, knowing there was a bucket of oats for lunch. The volunteer helps with the wild horse and buffalo round ups when the herds need thinning. He said the grass was sparse this year so there would be fewer horses and buffalo for the next few years. We had a very nice chat, it’s always a bonus when you meet a friendly person along the trail.
The volunteer left but came back a few minutes later to point out an eagle sitting in a tree near the driveway. I would have missed it. That eagle was patient or tired or searching for its next meal. Here are a few photos I took as I slowly walked to the tree.
I saw other wildlife while driving through the park. There was one lonely wild horse who paid no attention to me. The deer I saw skittered off as soon as I raised my camera.
The buffalo were interested only in resting or eating. I didn’t bother them much, they can be unpredictable. I observed from a distance protected by the Red Rover.
In the north country, daylight wanes quite early in the late fall. As the sun fell to the horizon, I exited the park with another set of good memories. Don’t fret, I’ll be back soon!
To learn more about Theodore Roosevelt National Park, click here.
Until next week, happy travels!