Let's start with a quick overview of the park. Theodore Roosevelt NP is located in western North Dakota (you have no idea how tempted I was to write "southwestern North Dakota," which is actually kind of true). It is in 2 pieces, the imaginatively named South Unit and North Unit. Each contains a chunk of the Little Missouri River with bluffs overlooking same, and some badlands. The South Unit is somewhat larger, and includes both a looping scenic drive and a chunk of designated wilderness (the North Unit has an out-and-back scenic drive and aside from the corridor around that, is all wilderness). Highlights of the park are the terrain and the wildlife. The latter includes (in the South Unit, at least), bison, elk, deer, pronghorns, feral horses, and prairie dogs. We saw all but the elk.
Arriving in the park on the 27th of August we might have expected to be cooking in the sun, but in fact it was raining (as it had been most of the way from Seattle). We actually considered a motel room, but high prices for low value decided us to stick with camping. With my husband's National Parks "geezer pass" we paid $7/night for our campsites, with flush toilets but no showers or other amenities (standard national park campground). The rain let up enough for us to make dinner and to attend an interesting and educational "ranger talk" on managing the wildlife in the park. That was interesting, in light of the greeter who met us as we entered the park.
|Wonder how much they pay him to hang out by the road and entertain the tourists?|
|We were hiding behind a picnic table at this point.|
|Pretty much the first thing we had to do was wade the river. It looked daunting, but proved to be less than knee deep, or a little over when I stepped in a bison track.|
We were hiking the Big Plateau loop, and began by hiking south between the river and the bluffs. We also began by losing the trail somehow, and pushing through the soggy grasses, but it led us to some pretty spots.
|Sunflowers and clay bluffs--pure midwestern beauty|
|Rutting season was just ending, and the bulls were out on their own again. The cows stay in herds, so lone bison tend to be bulls. They are big, and can be cranky, so we kept at least the recommended 25 yards away.|
|It got heavy enough on the boots to change my stride.|
|The trail came down here. The clay soil, when wet, is not only sticky but slicker than snot.|
|Did I also have mud on my backside? I'm not telling!|
|The Big Plateau. Big: check. Flat: check. Yup, that's the Big Plateau!|
|Always alert, but not terribly scared of us.|
|I've seen more colorful soils--most of Utah, for example. But the vegetation made these badlands different and interesting.|
|No fierce stallion, but this beautiful mare seemed to be the leader.|
|The author likes a kitchen with a view.|
Once we'd eaten and enjoyed the low light, we raced a few miles down the road to watch the sun set over the river.
|Cottonwood Campground. Despite the rain it was nearly full, with only walk-in (tent only) sites left when we got there the first night. At least that put us on the edge of the campground, with views.|
|We saw this because it was so cold when we got up that we decided to drive a bit before making breakfast!|
Coming soon: biking and hiking in the North Unit.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
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