On Memorial Day weekend, my husband Mick and I got up early Saturday morning, packed his Subaru with two weeks’ worth of clothes, two camp chairs, a cooler of water and cheese and a few other snacks, hiking boots, rain gear, a road atlas, binoculars and camera stuff. We got on the road early and began our two-week road trip that would eventually take us in a big loop through North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, back through Washington, Idaho, and Montana, then through Wyoming and South Dakota. We stayed at park lodges, locally-0wned hotels, and a few chain hotels – no tent camping for us. Day hikes with a clean bed and shower for the end of the day suited us.
I could have stayed for the rest of the summer in a few of the spots we visited, especially the coast of Oregon, which is wild and beautiful in ways that only the west coast can be with its sea stacks and big waves and ceaseless wind. But each place had its own beauty, its own rhythm and feel that magnified how visiting a place in person is the only way to really know it. And I use the word “know” a bit lightly here; we would have had to spend far more time in each place to know it beyond its surface.
But back to that first Saturday. We drove all day to reach Medora, North Dakota, which is at the entrance to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
We got our room at the Badlands Motel in Medora, which is run by the TR Medora Foundation, and is nestled on one end of town right next door to the Medora Community Center.
On Memorial Day weekend, the community center happened to be hosting the 30th annual local cowboy poetry gathering. Mick and I wandered into the community center and chatted with a few of the cowboy poets, one of whom, Bill Lowman, recited a piece for me on the spot. (Here’s a clip of Bill Lowman reciting the same piece on the local news: http://www.kfyrtv.com/ndtoday/home/headlines/Cowboy-poetry-gathering-in-Medoa-381026311.html) I wasn’t looking for poetry on our road trip, but found it anyway.
The next morning, we headed for the Painted Canyon, and then into the South Unit to see what could be seen. And there was a lot to see.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park exists because Theodore Roosevelt fell in love with this land, found it to be a healing place, and wanted to preserve it for future generations. It became a national park in 1947. One thing that surprised us is that the South Unit is on Mountain Time, while the North Unit, which we traveled to the next day, is on Central Time. Next week, I’ll post photos from our visit to the North Unit.
In the meantime, Happy Summer Solstice!