Who knew there was a Theodore Roosevelt National Park? Well there is and it happens to be located on the western border of North Dakota, exactly where we were looking to spend a night. Perfect!
Originally, we were supposed to be spending a fast night there; stopping after a long drive and leaving early for a long drive the following day to Glacier National Park. Unfortunately, due to the forest fires in Glacier National Park we had to cut that from our schedule. We weren’t able to extend our campsite at Theodore Roosevelt National Park an extra night, but we found a place only a few hours away to spend the next night so we were able to spend a nice morning checking out the park which we would not have had the opportunity to do so otherwise.
Let’s back up, so we arrive about 4:30 at night and stopped at the visitor’s center as we entered the park. Which was a good thing, because it’s pretty far from the campground and other than entering and exiting the park there’s nothing else that would bring you by it. First and foremost my Sidekick inquired about their Junior Ranger Program. They did in fact have one, and she was already looking over the book when I started asking my questions. I spoke with a ranger about what there was to see and some hiking options. At this point I was hoping to add on an extra night at the campsite when we got there; but still didn’t know if I would be able to. So I came up with two plans, the half day plan in case we would only be there for our originally planned one night, and a full day plan with a long hike with a river crossing (which my Sidekick would have loved) in case we could spend two nights.
From there we headed into the park, on the lookout for anything interesting. As it turns out we found nothing, and by nothing I mean nothing. This is a very small park (relatively speaking), and has very little to it. After departing the visitor center there were no other facilities in the park. There was the occasional restrooms and picnic areas, the campground we stayed in, and several historic buildings not currently in use. If you wanted anything beyond a restroom, like a bed or hot water you would have had to stay outside the park.
Once we arrived at the campground, I read the message board about how the campground worked. It was self-service, if you had a spot reserved use it, if not find one with an envelope, pay the fee in the envelope, drop it in the lock box and now the site is yours. While that doesn’t sound bad, it’s a long way from someone who 18 months ago had never been camping and wasn’t planning on changing that anytime soon … what the hell happened to me! On that note, this was the first campground we stayed at without shower facilities. I would ask what I was thinking, but I already knew the answer – it was the only option. That was also the reason we were originally only supposed to spend 1 night there. As it turned out our campsite was already booked for the following night and there weren’t any other sites available. So one night and a half day of sightseeing it would be.
Once I figured out how this whole campground thing worked we proceeded to set up camp. Hard to complain too much, our site sat right on the Little Missouri River. Thus far we had camped in the woods, on the plains, and we could now added along the water. It was picturesque and serene. We had a quiet dinner and worked on the Junior Ranger book. Our after dinner relaxation was cut short when we were told there was a herd of bison across the street who the night before had come right through the campsite, and we should be prepared for the same. Luckily for us they found a different route to take that night.
The next day we got up, had a nice breakfast and packed up camp; everything went pretty smoothly. We then headed out for a drive to check out some overlooks, and walk a little 1 mile loop to see some views and check off, “complete hike” in the Junior Ranger Book. It was a beautiful day and it was fascinating to explore yet another type of terrain. The stone formations resembled that of the Badlands, interspersed with oddly contrasting lush greenery (which we had yet to really see in the plains) all running along the winding Little Missouri river. We were finally able to see some wildlife as well. As we drove through flat plain areas of the park there were prairie dogs as far as the eye could see, playing and talking to one another. And once we got some elevation under us we were able to look down and find bison in the river taking a drink of water or sleeping in the cool shade cast by the cliffs.
After our abridged visit to the park we headed back to the visitor center. On the way we found that same herd of bison across from the campground; 40 of them young to old spread out across the road without a concern in the world. We very slowly made our way through trying to take in a sight we aren’t likely to see again.
Once at the visitor center we found out that the next tour of Theodore Roosevelt’s cabin (which he lived in when he escaped to the Dakotas) wasn’t for a couple hours. So we took our time and had lunch and checked out every single possible thing we could in the exhibit hall, and watched a movie about the culture of the Dakotas. We were more than ready once it was tour time, but it was well worth the wait. Both my Sidekick and I enjoyed it and found it very interesting; and it’s not likely we will find ourselves wandering through North Dakota again in the near future. And with that tour complete my Sidekick was already to become a Junior Ranger (again). After the swearing in oath we were on our way.
Another wonderful National Park visit!