By Maggie -- Aug 08, 2014
Who needs to travel to Africa for a safari when there's Theodore Roosevelt National Park right in our own backyard? We've had a blissful 3 days in western North Dakota, full of sunshine, wildlife, hiking and really nice people. Both of us agreed, this park is in the top five of the "Kaplandia Favs" list.
We found a site easily at Cottonwood campground in the South Unit of the park. Once we were settled in and had made dinner, we wandered around the campground and came across a park ranger giving a talk about President Roosevelt in the small camp amphitheater. He told stories of Pres Teddy's time spent in the North Dakota badlands, and how his love for the landscape here helped shape his presidency. His presentation set the stage for our stay at the park. Over the next two days, we encountered some of the most beautiful scenery we've seen on our adventure, and we felt a deep sense of calm and peace from sunrise to sundown.
Our hike yesterday was a 6-mile loop of grassy rolling hills, leading to two separate petrified forest sites. We were on a mission to see buffalo up-close and personal, but we missed them completely. We did see plenty of wildflowers and groups of cowboys on horses. We took really deep breaths because the air was so clean and smelled so good. The best part? Hardly any people. We've been weary of National Parks after our less-than-stellar experiences at the Great Smoky Mountains and Acadia. The crowds of tourists and busses and RVs took a lot of the charm away from those special places. But who would have guessed that a park in North Dakota was so rich and vast and, well... perfect?
We headed into the small town of Medora to check it out. Sadly it was full of the usual tourist trap shops full of mass-produced crap. We walked back to our car and passed a small shop on a side street where a white-haired woman sat calmly looking out the window. I locked eyes with her and felt the need to walk inside. The shop was smaller than a bedroom and full of bags of fresh nuts, seeds, chocolate-covered almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios... all with handwritten labels in neat, side-ways cursive. Right away she asked us if we were on our honeymoon. "How did you know that?" I said quickly. She said she just knew. She grew up on a ranch back in the National Park land. Her grandfather was a rancher. We bought two bags of nuts, and asked her if she knew of a grocery store in the area where we could pick up some veggies for dinner. "Well, there's nothing around here, you'd have to drive to Dickinson. But you know what, my grandson brought me 60 pounds of potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers.. do you like cucumbers?". And off she went, hunched over and careful, up to her apartment above the shop to grab us a bag of vegetables. Her eyes glowed with warmth and we just loved her. We could tell she was well-loved. For the brief time we were there, she had many regular visitors. We wished we could be regular visitors, too.
We're heading south today to the Black Hills and to catch the last couple days of Sturgis. Our time in South Dakota will be brief because we've got a long drive to Yellowstone ahead of us. Western North Dakota was surprising and enchanting, and it restored our faith in our country's ability to keep America wild. We're in love!