We came upon it through serendipity. While on a three week car camping trip coming back from Michigan to our home in the Northwest, we stopped at the beautiful International Peace Garden in North Dakota for the day. Our plan was to go to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to camp out overnight that evening, not knowing that there were three units to it. On our trip out to Michigan, we had camped at the Badland’s National Park, near one end of Teddy’s National Park and thought it would be great if we could end up at this out-of-the-way Park on our way home.
After visiting the International Peace Garden and reading a map, we headed toward Bismarck, ND, so we could end up near the north entrance to the park, rather than drive further to the south unit. Our rather unplanned camp out turned out to be the best National Park we visited on our whole trip!
By the time we got there, it was nearing dusk, the wind was blowing, and clouds were developing. We were led down into a valley to the “Juniper” campground. It looked almost abandoned to our delight and this was July. Driving through the lightly developed grounds, we found a “walk in” site, maybe 150 feet from a parking slot. We quickly unpacked our camping gear out of our “soft” car top carrier (I’ll tell you later why I describe our car top carrier as “soft”), set up our tent, then walked to the nearest bathrooms.
We found them near the Ranger circle, where a fire was being started by a young Park Ranger. His “talk” was going to start at sunset.
Even though dusk was bringing on a chill and what felt like a rain storm, we couldn’t resist not coming to hear the ranger’s talk. After grabbing leftovers and some fruit for our dinner, we headed to our ranger talk. Our lone ranger was poking at the fire when we arrived, and no one else was in sight, though there were maybe a dozen other campers in the camp ground. We sat down in front, our feet propped up on the rocks that edged the fireplace, our eyes and hearts ready to hear the story of this National Park.
Our ranger knew his history giving us the essence of this Park’s past. Theodore Roosevelt had always been an ardent naturalist, even as a sickly child, his love of the outdoors led him into the woods where he collected specimens or sketched wildlife. In the fall of 1883, as a young man, Teddy came to the town of Little Missouri where he hunted bison for ten days and fell in love with the area and the strenuous lifestyle.
He decided to buy into a ranching operation, the Maltese Cross Ranch before heading back to his home in New York. One year later, his wife and mother died, and Teddy found himself heading back to Dakota Country. It was here that he found peace and healing, built the Elkhorn, a ranch house, near a bend of the Little Missouri River, surrounded by cottonwoods. He lived there two years before he went back to New York to work in politics. There is no doubt that his experience in the Badlands affected his progressive ideas about conservation. By the end of his presidency, Teddy Roosevelt had placed 230 million acres of land under public protection, created 150 national forests, numerous bird and wildlife preserves, 5 National Parks, and 18 National Monuments.
We left our “ranger talk” impressed and awed by the work Teddy had done. The imminent storm arrived, as promised just as we crawled into our sleeping bags. I have not experienced a stronger rain storm while camping. The lightening blinded our closed eyes and the rain was unrelenting coming down in droves. I thought we would get soaked but our tent held up and we kept dry.
The next morning, the sun shone and the air was heavy with humidity as we packed up our gear. One of the ranger’s walking by said he thought we received at least four inches of rain overnight. We dried off the “soft” car top carrier with an old towel and placed our belongings in the amazingly dry inside of the carrier. However, when we opened the car doors, water poured out of the back and front floors. The straps had carried the rain into the inside of the car where it dripped all night long. All the seats were soaked, as well as all of our belongings. Undaunted, we took plastic garbage bags and created seat covers and on we went!
We took the 28 mile round trip scenic drive through the Park, observing numerous bison, deer, elk, and birds (see photo). My husband especially enjoyed seeing the strange geologic formations, called “cannonball concretions” (See photo). I love big scenery and quietude. The River Bend Overlook built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Oxbow Overlook offer the best views in the Park. After visiting 11 National Parks and National Monuments on our trip, I enjoyed this Park the most, despite our rather “wet” experience. Quiet, secluded, astoundingly scenic, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit, should be on your radar for National Parks.
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Writer Bio: Theresa Shaffer is a long time writer and traveler who has published Haiku poetry and
historical legends. I enjoy my grandchildren, Argentine dancing, reading,