Roosevelt National Park
The North Dakota Badlands
Medora, North Dakota
June 14th, 1998

   Map name   As you drive along I-94 near the North Dakota- Montana border you will notice an abrupt change in the geography. You have entered the “Badlands”. That famed area of outlaws and Indians depicted in old 10 cent novels written around the turn of the century. They was properly named for their inhospitality to those unfortunate or desperate enough to pass through them. First deposited as sediment by a giant inland sea some 70 million years ago, these layers of sand, silt, clay and lignite coal, have been carved by rain and melting snow, wind and the waters of the Little Missouri River. Roosevelt National Park The tops of many hills display a brick red color. This is the result of the formation of “scoria”, similar to the true lava, but formed many years ago, when heat from adjacent, slowly burning coal beds, changed the clay into this hard red material, which is much harder than the other rocks and thus better resistant to erosion, producing a red cap for many of the bluffs. 37 miles west of Dickinson, North Dakota you will find the town of Medora. This little cattle town was founded in 1883 by a French nobleman, the Marquis de Mores, who named it after his wife. The Chateau deMores, a 28 room home, is still standing and is managed by the North Dakota State Historical Society. Guided tours are available. Roosevelt National Park It was also the year that Theodore Roosevelt came to the Badlands, looking for solitude after the death of his wife. He was so impressed with the territory that he would later return to start up two cattle ranches. The Maltese Cross ranch and a year later, the Elkhorn ranch. It was Roosevelt’s love of hunting that had brought him to the Badlands originally and it was to his dismay, that the great buffalo herds were gone. He also witnessed the disappearance of several other large game animals as well, due to the grasslands being slowly destroyed by overgrazing. Roosevelt National Park This experience and his heightened desire to protect and preserve such natural beauty would serve as a driving force during his presidency between 1901 and 1914. During that time he would create the National Forest Service and establish the first Federal Game Preserve. His conservation efforts led to the creation of the National Park Service. It is to this effort that this National Park is dedicated. The park is broken up into a North and South Unit. Our attention was to the south who’s entrance is in Medora. This park entrance and museum is opened all year round except winter holidays. Roosevelt’s first cabin at the Maltese Cross Ranch was relocated here and available for tours. There is a 36 mile well paved loop with many lookovers and stopoffs. We had stopped in Dickinson to visit our daughter, Vickie, and her husband, Eric. Our daughter Vickie They had moved to Dickinson several years ago when Eric accepted a Professorship at Dickinson State University. Now an Associate Professor of Biology, Eric was an ideal tour guide and Vickie was a wealth of information on the flora and fauna, we were about to see. Roosevelt National Park Our first stop was at a prairie dog town. Yes they live in towns. Hundreds of them, all in their individual boroughs along flat stretches, on both sides of the road. These small squirrel-like creatures maintain a constant vigil, and set up a crisp chirping sound whenever something or someone approaches. This is picked up by nearby neighbors and the whole town sounds off. We stopped several miles into the loop, to take a short trek into the brush country along the Jones Creek Trail. Roosevelt National Park At the trailhead we met 4 riders who had been riding for six hours and had mis-located their vehicle. This is not hard to do in such a rolling country side. Laura and Eric took one of them in search of their vehicle, while Vickie and I struck off on the trail. Roosevelt National Park Shortly Vickie’s ears picked up a sound and she went scurrying off into the brush, to emerge with a Woodhouse Toad. One of the many creatures that share the trail. After a short examination, the hopper was sent on his way to whatever destiny awaited him. We then continued along the trail to photograph species of wildflower for our yet to be developed web page on Nature. Having joined up with Laura and Eric, who had sent the horsemen on their way, we worked our way back to the loop to continue our drive. On the far side, we ran into an unexpected surprise. Roosevelt National Park Three wild horses, fairly close to the road. Keeping in mind the many warnings printed about the aggressiveness of the wild animals within the park, I slowly approached the black one. I was surprised how different his demeanor was from the domestic horses I was use to. This was his territory Laura Madigan, Editor and I was the intruder and he was making no beans about it, I WAS NOT WELCOME! He maintained his space between me and the mare with her colt, neither advancing nor giving ground. One quick click of the camera and I was gone.  The rest of the ride was breathtaking with valleys and bluffs changing with every turn. I could feel a certain disappointment coming on as we approached the end of the loop having not spotted any buffalo. Then as we made a turn, there he was. High on a distant bluff, all alone, grazing. As I lost sight of him in the next turn, I remembered Roosevelt’s dismay at the loss of the great Buffalo herds that once dominated this area.

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