Theodore Roosevelt National Park

View of the Badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

September 18 – 23, 2020.

I had never heard about Theodore Roosevelt National Park until this past winter. We were in Southern California at the time and North Dakota where the park is located seemed so far away. Never-the-less I marked it with a little star on my map just in case we ever got up that way.

Then the pandemic changed all our lives and we ended following an unplanned path to North Dakota.

I find it interesting that we have a National Park named after a US President. It seems like a risky thing these days to honor anyone from times that were not quite as enlightened as the ones we live in now. We have written about Teddy before. The Buffalo Soldiers that we met in Arizona this past winter didn’t appreciate him taking credit for charging up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War when in fact it was Kettle Hill he rode to the top of. But this park wasn’t named for Roosevelt’s self-aggrandizing personality or the way he treated other people. This park was named to honor his love of the land and his legacy of conservation.

Theodore Roosevelt first came to the badlands of Dakota Territory to hunt bison, six years before North Dakota would become a state in 1883. During this brief visit, he fell in love with the land and bought a ranch. The following year both his wife and mother died. Seeking solitude and time to come to terms with his loss he returned to the land he had become enamored with the previous year. That summer he bought the Elkhorn Ranch which would become part of a national park in his honor 25 years after his death in 1919.

Roosevelt cited his experiences in the Dakotas for his preservation efforts as president of the US from 1901-09. He created the US Forest Service and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act under which he designated 18 national monuments. He worked with Congress to create 5 national parks, 150 national forests, 51 bird reserves, and 4 game reserves.

The park has three units. Over 6 days we visited two, the South United and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. I suppose one of the main attractions of this park is the panoramic views of the badlands. But honestly, I was overwhelmed by the wildlife. And the petrified wood was stunning.

The old east entrance to the park.
We had to walk through a Prairie Dog town to get to the old east entrance.
The Maltese Cross Cabin. This is the original cabin Roosevelt had built on the Chimney Butte Ranch which held a partial interest in. After he bought his ranch at Elkhorn he eventually sold out of his interest at Chimney Butte. After he became president the ranch was acquired in 1904 by the World’s Fair held in St. Louis, MO. Later it became part of the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, OR, traveled to Fargo, ND, and the North Dakota capital at Bismark. In 1959, twelve years after the establishment of Theodore Roosevelt NP, it was moved one more time to the park grounds.
One of our favorite hikes was the two Petrified Forest Trails. You had to drive out of the park to get to these trails along the park’s west side.
Combine petrified wood with the badlands and the views were stunning.
Greg was pretty excited when he heard that there was a cypress swamp in North Dakota. But calmed down a bit when he saw that we arrived 60 million years too late to see it.
Petrified forest.
This area was a large cypress swamp 60 million years ago. The cypress stumps were covered with volcanic ash and other sediments. Over time the organic material was replaced with minerals, leaving lots of petrified bald cypress stumps. As the soft sediment beneath them erodes away, they settle or fall at odd angles. Today, the backdrop of the badlands makes them quite picturesque. This may be a more fun place to view petrified wood than the Petrified Forest in Arizona.
We camped on some National Grassland right outside of the park. On the return from one of our hikes, we had a surprise visitor.
Prairie Rattlesnake.
Mountain Bluebird. But we also saw some lovely birds from our campsite.
Mountain Bluebird
The park is teeming with wildlife including herds of bison. We saw this lone buffalo on the path to the Painted Canyon Trail. We had to leave the path and wade through the grass to give this guy a wide berth.
Painted Canyon Trail.
Rocks on Painted Canyon Trail.
View from Elkhorn Ranch.
We spent an afternoon wandering around Medora, the small town right outside the entrance to the park. It was the end of the tourist season when we visited so it was very quiet.
HIlls and whirlygigs in Medora.
Statue of Teddy Roosevelt outside of the Old Town Hall Theater in Medora.
We were hanging with our friends from Scamper Squad again so we decided since we had two vehicles to do a longer one-way trail. We hiked portions of three connecting trails, Badlands Spur Trail, Lower Talkington Trail, and Jones Creek Trail. But first, we went the wrong way and got lost.  Honestly, the scenery was a little prettier on our “lost” trail.
But back on the Jones Creek Trail, we saw some Green Claybank Tiger Beetles,
A Vesper Sparrow,
And a wild horse.
On our last day in the park, we went looking for more wildlife. We hiked partway down the Lower Paddock Creek Trail. Can you spot the lone bison in this picture?
We were looking for Prairie Dogs when I saw this Northern Flicker hanging out in a Prairie Dog town.
We found some Prairie Dogs too.
They were adorable.
So cute!!!!
And we found this rabbit lounging about.
American Goldfinch.
I only got one pic of this Red-tailed Hawk. Of course, he was flying away. They are always flying away.
Wild Turkey.
Wild horse. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the few National Parks where you can see wild horses. We visited one of those other parks, Assateague Island National Seashore.
A lot of the wild horses we saw were grouped together like this.
Wild horse.
Bison hanging out in the Badlands.
Greg takes in the badlands at Buck Hill.
View from the Wind Canyon Trail overlooking the Little Missouri River.
View of a herd of Bison from the Wind Canyon Trail.
View from the top of the Painted Canyon Nature Trail.
View from the Painted Canyon Visitor Center.
Sunset our last night at the park.

This week I will be sharing this post on  My Corner of the World, Travel Tuesday, Saturday’s Critters, and Sharon’s Souvenirs. Check out these links to see what other people are doing all over the world.

26 thoughts on “Theodore Roosevelt National Park

  1. Great photos, as usual. That snake sure looked unhappy. I hope that was a zoomed-in shot of it and not an “up close and personal” one.

    1. Yes, I think we (the snake and people) were all surprised. We pulled up to our campsite and there he was right outside the car door. We were close but stayed in the car until he slithered off.

  2. Beautiful presentation of one of our favorite parks. Next time , I hope you have time for the North Unit. It is equally fabulous. Hope you are doing well. We saw your camper on Cactus. We would have you over but are pretty much hunkered down. I look forward to your newsletter every time; always a joy. Best to you and Greg, Meredith and Ed

    1. Yes, next time we will do the north unit. So glad we got to visit.

      We will be here in Tucson until the 25th. Of course we’d love to see you but I understand if you are being cautious. I hope everything is different and we can see you next time we are in Tucson.

      It makes us do happy that you and We follow along!

  3. Growing up in the west, I have always had a love of deserts and prairies and badlands. Didn’t realize there was a petrified forest in North Dakota. It’s nice that you visit areas giving yourself the time needed to explore all more thoroughly. Totally enjoyed all your photos and writing.

    1. We didn’t realize there was a petrified forest in ND either. We actually saw a lot of petrified wood all over the park and even in the town, Medora.

      So glad you enjoyed our story!

  4. Hello,

    What a great park to visit, so many critters and beautiful landscapes. I have never been to North or South Dakota, I would like to visit some time. I am thankful Pres Roosevelt was such a great conservationist. Your photos are awesome, great post.

    1. Thanks Eileen! I am thankful too the Roosevelt felt it was so important to set aside these lands. I feel so lucky to live and be able to travel in a country that has so much amazing public land.

  5. Prairie dogs are my favorite! I have fond memories of watching and photographing them in the badlands of the Dakotas, way back in 2004. While I’ve been to Theodore Roosevelt NP, I don’t remember the bison or the petrified forests. Soooo cool. Although, I can’t fathom the trees being 60 million years old!!

    1. The prairie dogs are awesome! There are supposed to be some here in Tucson. I thought they only lived on the prairie. I’m going to have to find these desert dogs.

      The petrified forests were a bit of a drive outside the main park entrance – but so worth the trip!

  6. Yes, it does seem like the park is way the hell up there, even having slowly worked my way up there from Wyoming and South Dakota. But totally worth it.

    1. Next time maybe we won’t linger so long in other places and will get to see more of North Dakota. And Wyoming and South Dakota – which we zoomed through.

  7. I loved seeing the prairie dogs!!! How sweet! I have rarely seen buffalos, thanks so much for sharing those photos, they are such majestic animals! Cute bunny ears! What a great selection of photos!!

    1. Thanks, Rain! One of the first times we saw buffalo was in Yellowstone National Park. They were walking down the road blocking traffic – they are so big and such good traffic stoppers. Glad you enjoyed the pics!

  8. Fantastic! These are some of your best photos yet. Every time I read one of your posts I’m tempted to quit my job and hit the road. One of these days…!

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