I'm best known for my love of the lakes, so it may surprise some to learn that I'm originally from North Dakota. My love of the land stems from my childhood in western North Dakota, where I hiked through the North Unit of the Badlands with friends and family whenever possible. That dry, unforgiving land is in stark contrast to the lush lakes region I now call home, but it still holds a special place in my heart.
The Badlands had been calling to me for a while, so this year we took our family trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and historic Medora, North Dakota. We've visited many times before, but each time is an adventure filled with the amazing history and sights of the rugged west.
This month we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of our National Parks system, so I'm excited to bring you photos and stories from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, named in honor of the president who so passionately championed the national park system and protected over 200 million acres during his presidency.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park was established in 1947 and pays tribute to Theodore Roosevelt, known as the "Conservation President." He had lived in the Badlands for a brief time in the late 1800's where he raised cattle. One of his cabins, the Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin, has been moved and is now located near the visitor center of the park.
The park protects the Badlands, an incredible area of rugged terrain shaped by years of deposits and erosion. Layers of earth comprised of sandstone, bentonite clay, lignite coal and clinker have been revealed forming a grim rainbow and stunning scene.
The rock formations are stunning from a distance and intriguing when you get close.
While the land is harsh to us, it is home to a wide variety of wildlife. While we were there we saw bison, elk, turkeys, mule deer, rabbits, wild horses, bluebirds, cedar waxwings and magpies.
We saw dozens of bison in the park and they were often near or on the road, sometimes stopping traffic. We affectionately refer to that as a "North Dakota traffic jam."
Herds of wild horses roam freely through the park, too.
We saw many rabbits along the road in the park, usually in pairs.
I went out early one morning to photograph the sunrise and saw three bull elk on the road! Unfortunately it was still dark, so I couldn't get great photos, but it was an exciting moment for me. I photographed the elk you see here at the Medora Musical. He makes a guest appearance each evening during the show.
There are several prairie dog towns in the park, offering an up close glimpse of these funny characters. This guy found what appears to be a very yummy treat.
One of the main ways to explore the park is by driving the 36 mile Scenic Loop Drive. Its meandering path leads through most of the park and takes you to the hiking trails and scenic overlooks.
We hiked the Ridgeline Nature Trail in the afternoon. We saw wild horses, cactus and this incredible view.
Later that evening we saw this bison heading up the very trail we had hiked earlier in the day! We watched him climb the steps and head out of view. The next morning when I was taking sunrise photos I saw him descending those very steps. That must be where he sleeps at night, but I'm certainly glad we didn't get in his way earlier!
The bison were definitely my favorite part of the park. They are fascinating creatures, both powerful and stoic.
This handsome fellow was wallowing in the dust. It helps them keep flies away but it is also a way to show off their strength during the rut.
I first saw this massive bull as he napped in the hot midday sun. After a few minutes he woke up, heaved himself to his feet and began grazing. He was enormous!
Even with the harsh terrain, each view would reveal a surprise. I found these wildflowers growing next to the Scoria Point Overlook.
The Little Missouri River flows through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, bringing some much needed moisture to the area. I saw many tracks near its shores.
When we weren't exploring the park we were spending time in Medora. Medora is a quaint little western town that is situated right at the base of the Badlands. It has many attractions, cute shops and a family-friendly atmosphere. If you go to Medora, you have to check out the Pitchfork Fondue and the Medora Musical.
The Pitchfork Steak Fondue is so much fun. Your steak is literally skewered with a pitchfork and fondued in huge vats of oil. We'd tried it before so this time we tried the Cowboy Cookout, which has herb roasted chicken, BBQ ribs and buffalo roast. It was delicious!
After the meal we waddled over to enjoy the musical. The Medora Musical is an outdoor theatre set in the rugged badlands.
It features traditional western music and comedy and is very family-friendly. At one point they welcomed all the kids in the audience to come forward and the whole stage was packed! They occasionally have featured entertainers and we were thrilled that we got to see Flight Crew Jump Rope, an act from America's Got Talent. They were incredible and my five-year-old has been jumping rope ever since.
One of our other favorite attractions in Medora is the Theodore Roosevelt Salute to Medora and the National Parks. Joe Wiegand performs as Roosevelt and speaks to the audience in such a way that you feel you're witnessing the original. It is entertaining, educational and inspirational.
The rest of our time in Medora was spent making trips to the park, playing mini golf and eating ice cream. We had a great time and I encourage you all to check it out, too. (I'm not affiliated in any way with Medora or the park. I just love it!)
It felt wonderful to be back in the rugged Badlands of North Dakota again. I hope you've enjoyed the stories and pictures. What is your favorite National or State Park? I'd love to hear your stories and see your photos, too.