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Jun 12th, 2011, 08:40 PM
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78 labeled photos.

First 30--after one of me and my hair sticking straight up from the wind—are the wild horses. The last 16 are prairie dogs facing every which way.

President Roosevelt’s quotes are in brown.


Both north and south are beautiful and worth visiting if time permits.

The badlands are the prevalent feature in either section, described by Teddy Roosevelt as “so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth."

The northern and southern sections of the park are separated by a 70/75-mph paved highway, a 1.25 hour drive. While there are some scenic views on this highway with a few spots to pull over, it is not a meandering in-the-park transfer. The two sections are really like separate parks.

North = Badland terrain slightly more prevalent than the south from what I noted. The paved northern loop is14 miles through 24,000 acres.

South = Abundant badland terrain, but not as rocky as north. The paved southern loop is 36 miles through 46,000 acres.

Herds of about 140 wild horses roam the southern section and we were privileged to be surrounded by horses at one point for close views of their daily routine. On each southern section drive we encountered numerous horses in different parts of the park.

The northern section of the park has a small herd of around 14 Long Horned Steers that run wild “to reflect the living landscape as Roosevelt experienced,” (as stated in the park brochure) and we saw 4 of them.

There are some Big Horn Sheep in the north, but we did not see them, perhaps because the extremely high winds made it too dangerous for the sheep to stand on the cliffs. So they took refuge in better protected, less accessible areas.

Otherwise, the wildlife is the same in the north and south, but more abundant and visible in the south.

Wildlife Sightings included:
- Buffalo in herds and single buffalos (every outing)
- Prairie dog towns with hundreds of them, but they sleep in until about 9 am
- Mule deer
- Long Horned Steer (north)
- Wild horses (saw some every outing! in the south)
- a single Pronghorn in the south (many seen from the highways nearby)
- one Smooth Green Snake in north
- one Wild Turkey in the south
- numerous raptors
- frequent views of the beautiful Mountain Bluebird
- lots of Yellow Headed Blackbirds

Often seen are elk, but we did not see them.

Husband sighting worth noting:
-My husband imitated the prairie dog danger stretch and alarm call. He really caught the attention of several of these creatures as he raised his hands over his head, arched his back, and chirped, just like they do. I think there should be a yoga position named after this elongated prairie dog stretch.

Non-wildlife sighting worth noting:
-In Medora a very elderly gentleman using a walker inched his way toward his pickup, tossed the walker in the bed of the truck, hobbled into the driver’s seat, and sped off.
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Jun 12th, 2011, 08:52 PM
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If you want to stay near the north section, lodging is a long ways away in Williston and Dickinson, North Dakota or Sidney, Montana. But good luck even getting a room in any of those places. The oil boom (along with the potash boom) in the region means few beds are available. We could not find one single room several days in advance in mid-May, which is off-season.

In the south section of the park there are more lodging options, but even several of the places listed in AAA had no availability, again due to the oil workers. We stayed at Badlands Motel in Medora, with badlands outside the door and the park entrance a couple of blocks away.

Badlands Motel is very basic and had good heating (also AC but too cold for that) and was extremely clean. Badlands offers a AAA discount and has cable TV and WIFI.

Trip Advisor had many negative comments about train noise at Badlands Motel. There are tracks that run past the motel, but we were never bothered by the noise during our 2-night stay. A couple times I walked outside and saw/heard the train, but did not notice it inside. We had a room as far away from the tracks as possible, near the pool and mini-golf, so that might have helped. While pool and mini-golf can generate their own noise, at least there is no midnight mini-golf or swims under the stars to keep you up at night.

A fancier option, under the same management as Badlands, is the Rough Riders Hotel, a couple streets away in Medora, a charming 4-block town, population 100.

But I bet any accommodation is fancier than where Teddy Roosevelt stayed on his first visit. According to The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkely: A “gruff manager…ushered him to a cot in a large communal room…alongside touchy frontiersmen and saddle-sore wranglers, it all looked very primitive. The wash basin where he tried to shave was clogged with dirty water and stubble, and the hotel towel was soiled with alkali dust. Instead of complaining Roosevelt relished the lack of amenities.”

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Jun 12th, 2011, 08:58 PM
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From Grand Forks, North Dakota we went to the northern section of TRNP first. Don’t do what we did and take the most direct route from Grand Forks, which passes through Minot, and then continues west on Hwy 23. It was fine up until we got to Hwy 23, but then it got hairy. The oil boom means many huge rigs and trucks traverse this narrow highway at fast speeds. Gravel and dirt would fly out of the truck beds and hit our vehicle with such force that we thought the windshield would crack. Very high winds, rain, and some flooding added to the danger, but even without these extra hazards, the 2 hours on this road was awful.

I later found out Hwy 23 is North Dakota’s deadliest highway. The whole trip took 7 hours, going the speed limit with a couple of stops to switch drivers.

After our harrowing drive, what a treat to pull up to the entrance of the northern section of the park and see a couple of buffalo grazing outside the visitor center. At first, I thought they were statues, a common misconception according to the ranger on duty.

We spent 3 hours doing the 14 mile northern loop twice, then drove 1.25 hours south to Medora. 7 + 3 + 1.25 hours made for a very long day.

Seven miles from Medora in the opposite direction of the entrance to the southern section (and on the way as you drive from the north part to the south part) is Painted Canyon with more badlands-type landscape. We definitely would have visited this lovely area if we had not cut our trip short due to both a sudden unexpected commitment at home and weather reports of torrential rain and flash floods for the entire next week.

We spent 2 nights in Medora and enjoyed three outings of the 36-mile loop in the southern part of TRNP. Each loop took us 2-3.5 hours.

From Medora, ND to Rapid City, SD was 7 hours going the speed limit and making a couple of stops to change drivers, plus enjoying a leisurely lunch and stroll in Deadwood, SD.

A better, safer option, if traveling from the east by car, would be to go through Rapid City, South Dakota to the southern section of TRNP and park and base yourself in Medora. Then, if you wanted to see the northern part of the park, devote one day—or part of a day—to traveling the 1.25 hours each way to the northern part of the park.

(Every report has a quote.) The winner is my husband. He resigned himself to the fact that I’d be spending a lot of time in the prairie dog town. As he put it, “We don’t just want a picture of a prairie dog. No, we have to get pictures of them facing north, east, south, and west.”

Right, and after we get them facing the four corners of the earth, we’ll go for north by northwest...

It was at that point I believe that he began his stretching prairie dog imitation.

Teddy Roosevelt provided a more pithy and literary observation about the park, and its badlands in particular. “They look like Edgar Allan Poe sounds.”

We chose mid-May to avoid crowds and see the baby buffalo and foals. Only a few other vehicles were in either the north or south. It was very cold (mid 40s, maybe it hit 50) and windy. The winds were so strong that we opted out of hiking the numerous marked trails for fear of loose branches or something flying through the air and impaling us or at least poking us in the eye. Photo #1 in the album shows my hair standing on end from the whipping winds. Usually it is a little warmer. We saw snow still on the ground.

We read that the restaurants, shops, and museums would be open May 15 but on May 18 a lot of things were still closed. The only restaurant we ate at near TRNP was Elkhorn Café in Medora for breakfast. Very good.

There is an annual cowboy poetry festival the Fri and Sat of Memorial Day weekend in Medora that looked interesting.

June 10-Sept. 10 is the Medora Music Festival, a big event and attraction for the area that is billed as one of the top 100 events in the USA. Dates may change slightly year to year.

For anyone feeling presidential, Roosevelt confessed, "I would not have been president if it hadn't been for my experience in North Dakota."

Even for those not seeking the Executive Branch, a trip to North Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt National Park offers spectacular natural beauty.
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Jun 13th, 2011, 02:25 AM
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Excellent report. I always wondered what that area was like.
Thanks for posting.
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Jun 13th, 2011, 04:49 AM
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Very interesting, Lynn. Thanks.
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Jun 23rd, 2011, 07:20 PM
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Nice report and even better pictures, atravelynn. Love all the prairie dogs but I can see why your husband might have been surprised at your diligent capturing of them this way, that way, the other way. The park does look cold. But very beautiful.
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Jun 24th, 2011, 04:45 AM
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Loved the pictures, the horses have their "hair" standing up in the wind too. Thanks for the report.
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Jul 16th, 2012, 10:46 AM
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I went again in May 2012. A composite of the May 2012 trip and the May 2011 trip, with embedded photos, can be found at the link below.

Buffalo calves, feral horses and their foals, prairie dog towns, and badlands all await in Teddy Roosevelt National Park in May.

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