If you enter North Dakota from the west, traveling from Montana along Interstate 94, one of the first things you will see is a billboard which simply says, “Be Polite.” I knew I was going to love ND.
The state has been on my radar for years but, let’s be honest, it is not exactly on the way to anything, with the possible exception of Canada. According to Wikipedia, “North Dakota is the 19th most extensive but the 4th least populous and the 4th least densely populated of the 50 United States.” That translates into “big and empty.” I can confirm this to be true.
I wanted to visit North Dakota in order to see the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP), which is located in the western part of ND. Even the TRNP is huge, with two sections, north and south, that are separated by nearly eighty miles. The parks began to intrigue me three years ago, after I visited the Badlands N.P. in South Dakota. To a certain extent, the TRNP is an extension of those fabulous lands in SD. I knew I had to go there.
Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th president, actually lived in ND for several years following the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day (just twelve hours apart). He credits the land with revitalizing his spirit and I have no doubt that is true. I found nature to wonderfully healing after the death of my husband in 2001 and during my work as a grief counselor I would often advise my clients to “get out doors.”
In Teddy’s case, not surprisingly, he had a “bully” outdoors to get into. The parklands where he once lived and raised cattle are as bold and dramatic as the man for which they are named. The rock formations, left by complex and dramatic geologic events many thousands of years ago, have created a colorful and magical land filled with canyons, hoodoos, concretions, and vistas. The Little Missouri River, a central character in the creation of this park, meanders peacefully through both parks. Bison are plentiful in both units, as are wild horses and prairie dogs. The northern unit has, IMHO, the best vistas. The scene from Riverbend Overlook (the most photographed spot in all of ND I was assured) is breathtaking.
I had hoped to spend two full days at the park but the weather turned hot overnight, changing the days from delightful temperatures in the high 70s to readings in the low 90s. This posed a problem: dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails and it was too hot to leave Tango in the van. Even the shortest of hikes was out of the question. So we visited every overlook and sat enjoying the views. Tango, being an absolute people magnet, brought some delightful people our way and we enjoyed short conversations with folks from all over the U.S. and some Asians. All of us agreed that TRNP is spectacular, well worth the journey.
My epic journey is winding down. We settled for a day and a half at TRNP and this morning we turned the van east and headed for Fawn Hill in North Carolina. It was a long driving day and we are still in the Dakotas. It’s big out here, folks, but worth the effort.❧