On May 9th we decided to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, comprising of three geographically separated areas of Badlands in western North Dakota, and check off another National Park on our map. It was a three hour drive from the Elkhorn RV Park in Spearfish, where we were staying, but we won’t get this close again. The Park, established in 1978, has a South Unit and a smaller North Unit about 80 miles north, we just visited the South Unit near Medora, North Dakota. We stopped at the Visitor Center on I-94 West, where we first got a glimpse of the amazing Painted Canyon and the Badlands. Roosevelt first came to the North Dakota badlands to hunt bison in 1883 and he fell in love with the “perfect freedom” of the West. At his request, ranch managers built a 1 1/2-story cabin complete with a shingled roof and root cellar, the Maltese Cross Cabin, where he lived from 1883-1884 before he was President, later he built the Elkhorn Ranch (we did not have time to visit it) 35 miles north of Medora. In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became the nation’s 26th President and one of its greatest conservationists.
“I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”
We arrived at the town of Medora, at the entrance to the South Unit, and explored the town before driving through the Park. Medora was founded in 1883 along the transcontinental rail line by French nobleman Marquis de Mores, who named the town after his wife. The city has a western feel with wooden sidewalks, an old ice cream parlor and a theater. It is home to the popular Medora Musical from June to August, and it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state. We took the South Unit’s scenic drive, a 36-mile loop within the Little Missouri Badlands, and spotted wildlife including bison, feral horses, mule deer and prairie dogs. We drove out to the Petrified Forest Trail, a 10.6 mile loop trail, to view the petrified wood, one of the largest concentrations in the country. This was well worth the hike through prairie grasslands, along part of the Maah Daah Hey Trail,(a 144-mile trail through North Dakota, its Best Kept Secret) to view such magnificent pieces of petrified wood, which is literally where the wood has turned to stone. On our way out we stopped at several Overlooks to view the Little Missouri River as it winds it way through the Park. We are glad we visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but will probably not have the time to return for a second visit. Click on thumbnail to view images