After two months in Montana we entered into North Dakota, a new state for us. Unfortunately the very hot weather followed us. Our first stop was the tiny town of Medora, pop 128. Our reason for coming here was to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
This 70,448 acre park, located in the badlands of North Dakota, became a national park in 1978. The North Dakota Badlands were formed through large volumes of sediments of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone and clay being deposited into the plains.
Over time the Little Missouri River carved the terrain into many strange and brilliantly colored formations. Erosion from water and wind continues to shape the badlands today. Theodore Roosevelt first came to the badlands in 1883 at the age of 23 to hunt bison and experience adventure in the west.
After the tragic death of both his mother and wife only hours apart on February 14, 1884, he returned to this area to grieve in solitude. He liked the area so well he established a ranch and adopted a rancher’s lifestyle. Even though the ranch failed, his love for the beautiful rugged land brought him back time and again for the rest of his life. During his presidency he signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, proclaimed eighteen national monuments and worked with Congress to create five national parks, 150 national forests and dozens of federal reserves. This resulted in 230 million acres of protected land, earning him the name “Conservationist President”.
The park is divided into a North unit and a South unit. We spent the first day exploring the North unit which was located an hour from our campground. In the park was a fourteen mile scenic drive with colorful majestic formations. We also saw some bison.
Another day we drove the South unit of the park with a 36 mile scenic drive. The entrance to this section was located less than a mile from our campground. We had a wonderful day seeing bison, prairie dog towns and herds of wild horses.
We saw many herds of bison, one of which walked down the middle of the road, passing on both sides of the car. This time of year is rut season for bison and they can be more volatile and quick to anger than usual.
Our favorite part of the day was, seeing several herds of wild horses. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few national parks where you can see free roaming horses. By the late 1800’s European settlement of the plains had reached the Dakota. Ranchers turned horses out on the open range to live and breed. When needed, they would round up horses and their offspring and use them as ranch horses. When the area that would become the park was fenced in 1954, they removed 200 branded horses.
A few small bands of horses eluded capture and went unclaimed. These horses continued to live free range in the park in stallion led groups. The park conducts roundups every three or four years and sells horses at public auction.
We were told this little foal was just two weeks old.
Next up: the capital city of Bismarck.