Theodore Roosevelt National Park – the less visited but wonderful North Unit

The only drawback I can find with camping in National Parks and National Forests is the lack or interconnectivity via cell or wi-fi. On one hand it is great to get away from it all but on the other hand I love sharing my adventures with family and friends. So I have been in the Dakota’s for 4 days and will start to share my journey into this previously unknown territory to me. I broke camp and “barreled” out of the Chippewa National Forest in “record breaking time.” It only took me an hour and fifteen minutes to break camp, that is after I was dressed, had breakfast and the dogs were already fed. It take’s me a lot of time to moving things from place to place as my mind wanders all over  but mostly about what the adventure of the day would be. The challenge I am about ready to embrace is practicing MINDFULNESS: the buzz word in mental health counseling and New Age circles. Yes, I have talked to my clients about it but certainly did not recognize a great need to engage in the thoughtful practice of it. After all, it is much more challenge to be constantly searching for everything I put wherever it is not supposed to be and definitely not in its designated spot. But after constantly searching for items and loosing items ($$$$) it definitely is something I need to focus on. Perhaps tomorrow.

Soon the forest and lakes gave way to mildly rolling farmland and the miles clicked by steadily. I had planned a 350 mile day to make this day’s trip akin to the last weeks of training before an Ironman race. i.e. just putting in the miles. It would be around 470 miles to Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Unit) and I did not want to yet again be in a race with the setting sun to get settled for the night so I opted to plan to stay in Minot, North Dakota. With traffic light and the weather turning nicer as I headed west, I anticipated an easy drive on cruise control and made a very strong effort at behaving myself and not going much over the speed limit (say 3-4 miles). I sure felt like I was an old geezer crawling along at 65. But I can honestly say it is more relaxing not trying to guess if there would be a cop or a speed trap up ahead. Though the basic landscapes did not change significantly from farmland, I was entering into an area of ranches and grassslands. Soon though, I began to notice, once into North Dakota, an occasional oil pump churning away and some oil storage tanks and the further into the state the density increased. This I guessed was the fracking operations that I have read a lot about. The fact that they are drilling there I figured didn’t affect me until I also began to notice a significant increase in the number of oil tanker truck tearing down the highway. The drive soon became very unpleasant. I had made a reservation at the La Quinta in Minot and the whole surrounding area I was in was all new construction, I am sure fueled by the fracking operations. I took this opportunity when in town to get a moderately priced point-and-shoot camera to replace my beloved Olympus and then on to the motel. Kili and Simba were ecstatic to see the beds as I have definitely noticed that they do not have the same passion for camping that I do. They looked so handsome on the lovely white sheets that they were overjoyed to be rolling on! I must say I really didn’t mind a nice room, bed and shower. I am fortunate that they don’t complain about the lack of showering (due to lack of campground showers) over the last few days. But then I don’t complain about their wet dog smell either. We nestled in for the night and were soon found asleep.

Checking out of a hotel motel is sure a lot easier that breaking camp. I guess when I compare the two for most people it would be a no brainer. Hotel or motor home. But I shall keep that Girl Scout inside me happy and toil away at the set up and take down. Most individuals would probably not understand the sense of personal accomplishment I get from it. So after a 10 minute get the luggage down and into the car event, the dogs hooked up and bill paid I was off to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, sandwiched in between the oil tankers , observing the drilling, pumping and hauling of oil. When getting close to the park there was a sign for scenic look-out. Upon rounding a curve , spreading out for miles below was the rugged beauty of the badlands! It was like dropping into a different world in just a few seconds. With all that extra time I had not breaking camp I found myself at the Park Entrance by 11:00 am. I decided to camp there at Juniper Campground (I am sure you can guess what trees proliferate in the area) rather than take a quick drive through and then off to the South Unit which I anticipated would be much more crowded, as it is directly accessed by an interstate! I took a shaded site just above the Little Missouri. I now have a much better understanding now of why if one backcountry hikes or backpacks , one must bring their own water! I think the Little Missouri River is aptly named, though I am sure this is not the reason — it carries very little water. I observed mostly sandbars with rivulets of water interspersed amongst them. Clearly not a reliable water source as it is still June and the heat of summer is yet to come.

I have always been awestruck by the beauty of the west with all of its red rock, buttes, cones, spires, etc. but what seemed to stand out here was the definite strands of blue-gray which I learned is Bentonite Clay and a hallmark defining the badlands. Many areas appeared to be desert but there are also many areas that seemed lush.

I think the most disappointing thing for me is not being able to hike any of the trails that thread through all of the wonder formations. Traveling with dogs has definitely changed the way I get to experience the National Parks. Dogs are not allowed on any trails in the National Parks. Though my first choice would be to backpack into the backcountry, I have come to accept that at least for now that I will be experiencing the splendor of the parks from the numerous vista points. So I did the 14 mile drive out stopping at most of the overlooks and this too can be awe inspiring. I am sure my two fur buddies don’t quite get why I keep hopping in and out of the car ever few minutes and then we are off until the next go round. Viewing this broken topography of eroded sandstone, grassy planes, cottonwood oases on the Little Missouri and all of the many hues of the landscape is deeply satisfying and quite spiritual. It really brings home the feeling of being a minute grain of sand at a very brief nanosecond in time, in a landscape whose geological formation has evolved over millions of years. Returning to the campground, we had a peaceful late afternoon and evening under the juniper and cottonwood trees overlooking the Little Missouri.

Having moteled it for an unscheduled night we broke camp after only one night and headed down to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt NP and the gateway town of Medora. As I was low on gas I inquired of the closet gas station. So 15 miles down the road I found a quaint old dilapidated store/gas pump with I think the original pump and Old Standards Oil sign. Of course the price was high so I pumped $7.00 worth and went into pay. To my surprise the old relic of a gent tending his store fumbled with it and he moved as slow as molasses and was of few word and a tad unpleasant in manner. I was quite eager to move on though it could have been the perfect setting to strike up a conversation with a local. So onward south and, much to my relief, there were almost no more oil pumps, storage tanks or rigs but a very pleasant drive through grasslands and ranches with various pastures of varying shades of green and bales and bales of hay through out.

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