Rugged, Desolate Beauty ~ Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Part 1)

“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.”  ~  Theodore Roosevelt

Clouds dance across the Painted Canyon, first stop in the park off Hwy. 94
Clouds dance across the Painted Canyon, first stop in the park off Hwy. 94

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, named after our 26th President of the same name, lies in western North Dakota.  Part of Teddy’s spirit may still roam here, given his love for this land, for it was his time spent here that played an instrumental role in his development of conservation policies that remain in place today.

The Lakota people were the first to call this territory the “badlands” due to lack of water, extreme temperatures, and the rugged terrain.  Teddy Roosevelt first came to the North Dakota Badlands in September 1883 to hunt bison and was enchanted by its desolate, melancholy beauty.  It was the death of his beloved wife Alice Lee, due to complications from childbirth, and mother Mittie, who succumbed to typhoid fever, both in the same house, on the same day, February 14, 1884, hours apart, that brought Roosevelt back to these lands, heartbroken and seeking nature’s healing powers.

Bison freely roam these plains.
Bison freely roam these plains.

We entered the gateway town of Medora on a hot, muggy day so we chose the 36-mile scenic drive of the South Unit over hiking that first afternoon.  After spending much time in similar parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, this park (imho) paled in comparison.  But the expression “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies here, as in digging a little deeper I have found some hidden gems.  But before I get to the good stuff, I’ll share a bit of a saga that’s been going on behind the scenes here.

Terry taking in the views.
Terry taking in the views.

Unfortunately the day of our arrival we learned just how much Terry’s father’s health had deteriorated over the past few days.  We both felt it imperative that Terry head to Ohio now instead of wait until the 25th of this month as he had planned.  What to do about an airport and flight was the next question, as we are in the middle of nowhere. The closest “big” town to us is Dickinson, 40 miles away, but surprisingly learned they have an airport another 7 miles outside of town.  So with flight booked and bags packed, we headed for the airport the next day, a very rainy day at that.

With Terry safely at the airport, I headed back to the park.  As I approached Dickinson a message scrolled across my dashboard stating STOP SAFELY NOW, and within seconds the truck decided to stop me.  There I sat in the driving rain blocking traffic, which never makes for happy drivers. With Terry at the airport contacting Ford and a tow service, I directed traffic while drivers scowled at me through rain-streaked windows.

Fast forward and an easy fix soon became anything but as the sensor broke while being removed so now we are awaiting parts and dealing with a warranty company that has been less than cooperative.

Many hours later, in a rental car headed back to the park, the skies opened and I found myself wishing for an ark.  Suffice to say the drive back at 40 mph was the longest 1.5 hours I have spent in some time.  I later learned that we had received 6-8″ of rain in a matter of two hours, which is probably why I felt I floated home most of the way.  But Terry is where he needs to be and I arrived safely.

The silver lining in this ongoing saga was a visit from dear Colorado friends Stan and Marilyn.  For two days we enjoyed great conversation, lots of laughs, and a lovely hike. They agreed to a hike I really wanted to do in the remote northwest corner of the south unit, the Petrified Forest Loop Trail. I was determined to hike it solo or with friends but agreed that it is probably best done with others, especially if the solo woman is somewhat directionally challenged. 😉  The petrified forest, hard sandstone spires topped with caprocks, and dodging bison during their rut made for an interesting hike.

We rounded out our time together with a stroll through Medora and a lovely dinner at Theodore’s, which we all highly recommend.   The food was excellent and the company, of course, priceless.  I can’t thank them enough for brightening up my week.  We look forward to seeing them again soon in Colorado.

Next up:  More hiking, prairie dog towns and concretions, my favorite!

53 thoughts on “Rugged, Desolate Beauty ~ Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Part 1)

  • I hate to keep opening my comments with “Wow!,” but I can’t help it. Your pictures are sooooo beautiful, and, despite what’s going on with your FIL, your sense of humor shines through. I’m glad you didn’t have to go on that hike by yourself. I’m sure it was a lot more fun, too. Take care with those bison. Can hardly wait for Part 2.

  • Oh LuAnn, I’m so sorry to hear about Terry’s father. What a challenging day you had, all around! Truck problems compounded by a torrential rain. ;-( Glad to hear you weathered it safely. And it sounds as though you had a lovely and spirit-uplifting visit with good friends. (I understand what you mean about directionally challenged — which means you and I shouldn’t go out hiking alone together. ;-))

    • Terry’s dad is soon to be 95 so we are thankful to have had him around this long. At this point we just want to be sure he is kept comfortable. This has been a week for the record books for both of us but thankfully things are looking up. As for hiking, I can do ok with a good map in my hand but it is always better for me to be with someone who knows their right from left hand at all times (lol). Having said that, you might not want to hike with me alone. 🙂

  • Sorry hit the send button too soon. I am sending wishes for peace for his Dad and for both of you.
    The pictures are absolutely gorgeous as always. Stay safe and may the road be less arduous ahead.

  • LuAnn glad to hear you have overcome another challenge in your life. Just be sure you won’t open the door when the Bison knocks 🙂
    Im sure Terry’s dad was happy to see him and they can spend time together. Along that lines we too are going to Phil to visit my 96 yr old mom. I sure hope we won’t hear anything while we are in the middle of nowhere my constant fear when we are out in the boonies.
    Glad everything worked out for you. Take care

    • I said to Terry that it is wonderful to have this lifestyle where we can be available when family emergencies arise but hadn’t stopped to think that we might be in the boonies when that happened. Thankfully all is good.

  • Oh geez. When it rains, it pours…literally and figuratively. So sorry to hear about Terry’s dad & your mechanical issues. Glad you got some good friends to keep you company. Thinking of you both!


    • I prefer to think we just got a lot of the bad “stuff” out of the way at one time! We were thankful that Terry was able to get some important medical issues handled back in Ohio and with much persistence the warranty company and the dealership have seen things our way. I thought of you Nina as what took me a few days to move along would have probably only taken you a few hours…the great negotiator. 😉

  • I think you’re about due for some improved weather and other circumstances. Sympathies go out to Terry and also for your white-knuckle drive back to camp. But I’m glad you got to enjoy a bit more of the park. That shot of the painted hills is gorgeous in the header.

    • Thanks Gunta. Let’s just say that we are glad to be putting this week behind us. Life can’t all be sunshine now, can it? The park is really more beautiful that I originally thought, particularly when the sun is lower in the sky and catches the many colors of the rock formations.

  • It always seems like just when we are faced with a difficult situation (Terry’s father) another thing happens to add to the stress. So happy for you that your friends were able to pay you a visit and you were able to get out and enjoy more of the park. Your photos are beautiful. This national park is one we have had on our list to visit ever since we drove by the the painted hills when we were heading west one year.

  • We may be visiting that park next summer, it’s got its own quiet beauty. Looking forward to your other discoveries. I’ll have to remember Theodore’s!

    Hopefully the car situation gets worked out without too much pain. Thinking of Terry and wishing him strength.

    • Thanks Lisa. This park is not a Yellowstone or Yosemite (imho) but its stark beauty draws you in. Wish we would have had less rain but that is the way it goes sometimes.

      Terry got lots accomplished with his father and (fingers crossed) the truck will be ready by tomorrow.

  • You had a lot to deal with on your own LuAnn. You made light of it but thank goodness you came through it all safely. Best wishes to Terry’s father.
    Interesting post. I never knew that about Roosevelt”a wife and mother.

    • Terry got to spend some quality time with parents and got a lot accomplished with his father’s medical care, thank goodness. Seems I had a taste of some of your crazy experiences of late! Truck is finally fixed after a week of pushing the dealership and warranty company. Went to pick Terry up at the airport yesterday and his plane had mechanical issues so he is not getting in until today. What a week, but I think things are finally looking up. 😉

  • So sorry to read about Terry’s dad. What a challenging day you had, and I so admire your driving through that heavy rain on your own, and in a strange car. Unfortunately things have a habit of going wrong at the worst possible moment….’Murphy’s Law’, but you coped really well. How lovely to have your friends visit, and to be able do that hike with them. The Petrified Forest trail looks really awesome. Best wishes for much improved health, to Terry’s dad. xx

    • Thanks Sylvia. At this point with Terry’s father, it is more about just keeping him comfortable. We are both thankful that Terry was able to spend some quality time with his folks and get some issues resolved towards dad’s medical care.

  • We visited FDR and your photos are a good reminder of our trip. You may remember our post about the Frisky Buffalo in our tent camp. The Badlands are an acquired taste, but they have a desolate beauty that’s unique. We hiked the Petrified Forest trail, and when we stopped at the Ranger’s Station for a map, it was a toasty 103º F. Sorry to hear about Terry’s Dad, but I’m sure that he’s glad to be able to fly home to see him. Take care, and I hope the everything works out well. ~James

    • Thanks James, and you are right, the Badlands are an acquired taste. Unfortunately we have had more rain here than sunshine but such is life sometimes. We are both grateful that Terry had the opportunity to spend this time with his folks and get some much needed issues resolved relating to his father’s medical care. At this point it is just about keeping him comfortable.

  • You don’t do things by halves my friend! I’m sorry to hear of T’s dad and my thoughts are as ever, with you all. I think perhaps you missed your calling as one of those people that direct traffic or beckoning planes…really it has opened up a whole new world for you! I am glad that your post ended with something that took your mind off of things as I do enjoy a happy ending and also knowing that you are stating sane.

    • Thanks for the warm thoughts Ste J and you are right, I typically don’t do things by halves. We are grateful that Terry got to spend some quality time with his folks and get some important medical care issues resolved to keep his father comfortable. It has been quite the week and I have learned a few things about myself in the process…never a bad thing. 😉

  • Sound like you had a stressful week. Glad Terry made it and you arrived safely! You captured the stunning views of this majestic place, LuAnn. Thank you for sharing FDR’s story.

  • It looks a little dangerous to be hiking by yourself there, with wide open space which is easy to get lost and not much people around? I love the Terry shot. Too bad he can’t continue… but other things can wait. It’s always family first when it comes to those situations. I’m a big fan of awesome-looking rock formations, so I’m enjoying you touring us.

    • Hi Rommel! I just found this comment in my spam folder so sorry for the late reply. Hiking by myself is something I don’t do often, especially in an area in which I am unfamiliar, but without my other half here I decided to step out or be bored for the week. I really wanted to explore this park because I knew I would need to dig a little deeper to find its hidden gems, and I certainly did!

  • at home i was able to look at many posts that i have missed, and i am happy right now to be in town where this comment will reach you!

    you win the intrepid award, though it would not have been fun to have been stranded in the heavy rains…

    glad that terry was able to spend time with his father…z

    • Thanks Lisa. I’m not sure I am deserving of such an award but all turned out well. We are just thankful that Terry was able to spend some precious time with his father before his passing.

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