The 2016 Summer Road Trip:Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, the first stop on our summer road trip, offers visitors a South Unit, a North Unit, and an Elkhorn Ranch Unit, which was the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch. We drove to the North Unit on our second day in the area, after enjoying a homestyle breakfast at Medora’s Cowboy Cafe.

The North Unit is 68 miles away from the South Unit and in a different time zone, which I found amusing (the South Unit is on Mountain Time; the North Unit is on Central Time). It is greener than the South Unit and lacks the multitudes of prairie dogs. But they do have buffalo.

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Our entrance into the North Unit was slowed a bit by rain and the buffalo hanging around in the road.

We stopped at the visitor’s center, which is simply a trailer with restrooms and a video to acquaint visitors with the park, along with rangers on hand to chat. We talked with a ranger who has been there for 40 years and clearly loves this place and loves talking about it. He admonished us to always ask rangers what’s missing from a park’s ecosystem and then launched into a story about how the bison have no natural predators left in the area. He spoke about a bison cow that had to be shot once she became too old and ill to even fend off flies (her tail was partly missing), and the other bison would have nothing to do with her. The ranger was adamant that she would not have suffered so much had there been a natural predator to take her down once she began failing. We realized that this is a piece of park management that we never think about. And that ranger knew we never thought about it! I admired his passion for the animals and the balance of nature in the area.

After our lesson on bison and predators, we headed out to the 14-mile drive into the North Unit. This road wasn’t a loop, like in the South Unit; we would have to turn around at the end and come back the same way.

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We were fascinated by the rock formations.

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I don’t know what kind of bird this is, but he seemed to be singing his heart out.

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This little lark also sang furiously.

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The stone shelter was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. This is the River Bend Overlook and that’s the Little Missouri River on the left of the picture.

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We put that stone shelter to good use.

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At the Oxbow Overlook, a fellow traveler offered to take our picture. We were a little damp at that point.

Once we came to the end of the drive and turned around, the rain let up but the clouds remained. Nevertheless, we could see the beauty of this place and were glad we had a chance to visit.

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We headed back toward the South Unit over this bridge. There are grasslands between the two units with plenty of places for camping and hiking, including part of the 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail.

Once we got back to Medora, we headed to the Little Missouri Saloon for dinner and to honor our last night in Medora. This happened to be on Memorial Day, and we were amused to learn that all their beer taps were dry after the holiday weekend, which included the Dakota Cowboy Poets event, and the beer truck wasn’t coming to refill things until Tuesday or Wednesday. They did have bottle beer, including Grain Belt from our own home town, so we were happy. And their burgers were fantastic.

Would I go back to Medora and revisit Theodore Roosevelt National Park? You bet.

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