Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Wide valley with river and aspens in autumn color. Copyright by QT Luong, www.terragalleria.com/parks
I celebrate the splendor and variety of the natural and human heritage with my photography. For the past twenty-five years, I have been privileged to travel, trek, and climb in some of the most remote and beautiful corners of the earth. Laying down in a colorful meadow dense with wildflowers, clinging precariously to a vertical icy mountain face, listening to the silence of desert sand dunes or to the calls of a bustling floating market might seem like very different experiences, however, I feel that they share the same life-affirming benefits.
For more of Tuan's national park images, visit www.terragalleria.com/parks
When a young Theodore Roosevelt came west in the 1880s, he encountered a landscape unlike any he had set his eyes on. The rippled badlands of the Dakota Territory, cut and carved through the millennia by the Little Missouri River, were stark and barren, and yet inviting to the young man.
The bluffs that wall in the river-valley curve back in semicircles, rising from its alluvial bottom generally as abrupt cliffs, but often as steep, grassy slopes that lead up to create level plateaus; and the line is broken every mile or two by the entrance of a coulee, or dry creek, whose head branches may be twenty miles back. Above us, where the river comes round the bend, the valley is very narrow, and the high buttes bounding it rise sheer and barren, into scalped hill-peaks and naked knife-blade ridges. -- Theodore Roosevelt, describing the landscape outside his Elkhorn Ranch in his book, The Home Ranch.
Today that landscape, named in honor of the country's 26th president who did so much for conservation of places such as North Dakota's badlands, remains largely unchanged, except for a handful of roads that dart here and there. The rutted and tortuous badlands, mottled grayish white, bluff and blue, present a maze. And yet the river bottoms are alive with cottonwoods, shrubs, and grasses that attract a range of wildlife. Most imposing are ponderous and powerful bison that demand respect and a wide berth. But feral horses also graze this landscape, as do bands of elk.
Theodore Roosevelt exiled himself to this landscape in 1884 after the death of both his wife, Alice, two days after giving birth to their daughter, and his mother on the same day, Valentine's Day 1884. Claiming a parcel along the Little Missouri River some 35 miles north of Medora, Roosevelt based his Elkhorn Ranch there to serve as the headquarters for his modest ranching operations.
The ranch is gone, but the Elkhorn Unit, as the area now is known, stands as one of three units of the national park. There the sublime setting, which still holds some of the cottonwoods thought to have shaded Roosevelt's porch, is a small testament to the conservation ethos he developed there and put to work from the White House.
But there are two other units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park -- simply named the North and South units -- that offer miles of trails to walk, beautiful viewpoints of the badlands as well as the grasslands, and a very definite connection with the landscape.
Traveler's Choice For: Birding, photography, wildlife viewing, hiking.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park and a few other units of the National Park System are unusual in that they have several "islands" that are separated by other public or private lands. That adds a little challenge to negotiating this park, but nothing that a little advance planning can't solve.
Hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park can be harsh and demanding, fully exposing you to the sun, though you can find a peek-a-boo type experience with patchs of scrubby forest providing some shade during the height of summer. Whenever you go, though, you'll be rewarded with some great views of the park and its badlands.
Deciding where to pitch your tent or park your RV in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is pretty straightforward if you're looking for a front-country campground: If you're in the South Unit, you head for Cottonwood Campground. In the North Unit, the Juniper Campground is your destination.
Theodore Roosevelt certainly had a way of words when describing the badlands that can be found in his namesake park: "The Bad Lands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth."
This is where you can find websites, helpful phone numbers, friends groups and cooperating associations, and, sometimes, books related to the park.