88. Dickinson and Medora ND and Theodore Roosevelt National Park Area

Thurs., July 23, 2020

Once again I left on a gray morning which by noon turned into a blue sky special. I had a 190 mile trip ahead with 160 miles of it on wonderful 2 and sometimes 3 lane back roads – the kind of driving I like. Maybe an opposing vehicle every 3 or 3 miles and lots of nature to see. Rolling hills, steep climbs and descents and big valleys.

I find the people to be excellent stewards of the land. Fields of corn and wheat and soybeans and fallow land. I got to see my first big field of sunflowers this trip. Unfortunately, the field was on the sunside of the road meaning all the flowers were facing the sun – away from me. Instead of seeing all their bright yellow smiling faces, I could just get a glimpse of the back edges on the petals. Oh well, it’s a taste of more to come (I hope). Fields of hay and grass have been mowed and the fields are littered with giant rolls of hay as ranchers prepare for wintering their livestock. Not much waste. Road medians, right of ways and land between the roads and RR tracks are mowed and also littered with the rolls of hay. I wonder about the economics. Do the RR or State/County road commissions sell the harvest rights to the highest bidder or is it first come, first served free? Regardless, it is nice to see neatly trimmed roadways and evidence of good stewardship. The ‘elites’ who complain of livestock abuses and land rape really should get out of their ivory towers and see America’s work ethic in person. Off soapbox.

As I mentioned in my prior post, I wasn’t able to get 3 or 4 night reservations in Medora, ND. Medora is a small totally tourist oriented town which serves as the gateway to the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

So instead I reserved a spot in campground in Dickinson ND about 30 miles East. north Park Campground is an interesting if boring campground. It’s large and quite new. It’s laid out totally on a grid and devoid of any real amenities but modern as far as utilities and hardpacked gravel sites. 3 sections of transient camping, 2 large sections of long term camping, a couple sections for storage and a street or two of manufactured homes. A good overnighted. Not so good for a vacation spot. Pretty sure it was built to take advantage of the huge fracking boom around here and the current high vacancies reflect the current depressed oil market.

Friday, July 24, 2020.

I woke up to a very light rain which passed quickly. Gray skies were showing tinges of blue in the west. I decided to take the Jeep and head to Medora and the Park. The town as well as the Park are located in the Little Missouri National Grassland, over 1,000,000 acres – 1,600 sq. miles – managed by the US Forest Service. The Park is comprised of 3 separate areas, the Elkhorn Ranch Unit (26 miles nw of Medora), the South Unit (at Medora with I-94 serving as it’s southern border), and the North Unit (60 miles north of The South Unit). Taking advantage of my old geezer National Park Pass, I flashed it for free access to the South Unit.

Within the South unit is a 36 mile long two lane curvy, hilly driving loop from the entry point and returning back to the entry point. There are many many overlooks and parking areas. There are also numerous short and long, flat and hilly, easy and hard hiking trails and a couple of spots where you can rustle up a horse for what I would guess to be a spectacular ride. This past Spring there was a large washout and cave in of part of the road so the final 12 miles is barricaded off. This means instead of doing a 36 mile long loop, you can drive 24 miles, then turn around and drive it back for a total of 48 miles. A good 3 hour drive if you don’t stop at every opportunity.

The views are fantastic, up close and personal. There are mountainous vistas; areas of typical Badlands; white dome rocks with shades of red reminiscent of southern Utah; and verdant forests and green belts created by the Little Missouri River meandering through the valleys.

It is said to teem with wildlife, feral horses, Buffalo, rattlesnakes, elk, deer and prairie dogs amongst others. It is ‘said’ because you really need to be slow, take all the trails and then be lucky to see most. About 4 miles in, I saw my first of about a half dozen prairie dog towns – vast flat and elevating green land pock marked with white 2-3’ diameter round hills (maybe a foot or so tall) with a entry hole in the center. It took a bit of time for me to finally see the animals but once I did, they were everywhere. I’m sure I saw over a 1,000 of those alert little animals.

Finally 20 miles in, the jackpot. There had been evidence from time to time of deposits on the road. Smashed road apples from the horses, I wondered? Then in the distance, a far distance, was a grouping of large brown bushes well up on a hill. Wait! Is there movement in or of those bushes? My trusty binoculars, late of boating history, revealed the presence of grazing buffalo rather than bushes. Elated to see but disappointing in that there was no way I was going to get a discernible picture at that distance. [In 2016 when I did this route, I was forced to wait, first in line in my car, for at least a half hour when a herd of about 20 Buffalo and papooses climbed out of a gully and elected to stop and mill about on a bridge, totally blocking traffic.] But maybe a half mile down the road and around a bend there was a line of cars, not in a scenic lookout, but on the road. Yes, a group of stragglers (or maybe leaders?) taking it easy along the road. Took some pic and decided to hurriedly leave back to the car when one of the Buffalo decided to come close and see what all those humans were about.

2016 and 2020

So I finished the last 4 miles, turned around and started back wondering all the while if maybe I should just shift the Jeep into 4 wheel drive and go cross country


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