Theodore Roosevelt National Park

I love this petite Park to the North. Once a quarter I make my way north up SD Hwy 79 to ND Hwy 22 and then west on I-94 at Dickinson to Medora. I serve on the Board of the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association (TRNHA) and this year in the role of President.

Our mission is to support the Park and we do this through events – the Annual Bird Walk and the Astronomy Festival – and selling interpretive articles in the gift shops. Park Rangers are not allowed to fundraise or solicit donations so anytime extra funds are needed, the TRNHA steps in to assist.

Every time I sit down to write about Theodore Roosevelt National Park (THRO), I stutter and stop. My relationship with this space started more than three years ago when I first moved to Dickinson, ND in June 2014. That summer was a wet one and western North Dakota stayed green all the way into August.

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Everything about that time in my life could be characterized as intense: finishing my master’s degree, moving first from Montana to Richardton, ND, buying my house in Dickinson, moving to Dickinson, tidying up and finishing my manuscript for an international engineering conference, starting my new position as production engineer, lining up my schedule and travel arrangements for starting my PhD in Rapid City… the pace was unrelenting.

This was also the crest of the oil boom in the Williston Basin: traffic stacked up bumper to bumper along every western North Dakota highway, food in Walmart could not even be moved from pallets to the shelves before customers loaded up their carts, and pump jacks pumping – although sometimes not fast enough for a landowner’s taste.

Landowners figured out that speeding up the pump jack meant getting more oil out of the ground and faster – and larger royalty checks. Except they had no understanding of the equipment, safety, or downhole pressures and were exposing the field techs to considerable danger. The engineers could not figure out why pump jacks suddenly went berzerk until one landowner was caught in the act. From then on all pump jacks had locks on the controls.

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Not a dinosaur egg, but one of the otherworldly concretions in the North Unit
But this is a story about my favorite National Park. Mid-summer 2014 I had finished my work for the week and needed to get out of town, away from the ambient noise of diesel trucks, away from activity, away from people. I loaded up coffee, lunch, and my two scrappy gutter dogs and headed out to the swath of northern Badlands.

“Hang on, girls!” I tromped on the accelerator with my heavy boot and yelled as we hurtled down the onramp to the interstate in my trusty F-150 while Flight of the Valkyries pumped from the speakers. “We are going on an adventure!” Flinkie couldn’t wait and Bella couldn’t care less.

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Flinkie in her doggie car seat taking on the THRO Park bison
We drove around the loop in the Southern Unit. I was stunned. How had I not known about this Park? Never before did I see such landscape and apparently I was not the only one to be taken in. In many ways, this park is the Cradle of Conservation.

Theodore Roosevelt first went to North Dakota at the age of 25 to shoot a buffalo. The area meant so much to him that he bought land with the intent of running a ranch, the Elkhorn Ranch. Now the Park is separated into two units, North and South, with the remains of Elkhorn Ranch located between the two.

 

The Bad Lands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.” – Theodore Roosevelt

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By nature, I lead an intense life. But I cannot keep an unrelenting pace, so for my own peace, I need to get away to another nature – one of striking lithological color, rich in life, ambling movement, ancient wonder, and deeply breathable air. Neither words nor pictures do it justice. But oh how I love this Park.

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Standing at the edge of the Badlands looking north
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The entrance to the southern unit of the Park is in a little town, Medora.
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Ash tree in autumn color

 

A sweeping view of the North Dakota Badlands

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