Our 1st National Park

Trip Start Jun 27, 2009
Trip End Aug 07, 2009

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Flag of United States  , North Dakota
Monday, July 6, 2009

Valley City to Teddy Roosevelt National Park 7-6-09

Our journey out of Valley City was one of great relief. Of course, the city pulled one more trick on us by closing down the main road out of town. However they did not count on us being witty enough to figure out the trick to escaping their hamlet of doom: follow the detour signs.

Route 94 continued west in much the same fashion as before; a perfectly straight line. No seriously…you could drive 30 miles and never make a turn. Sure they threw some hills in their to keep you occupied, but the monotony got the best of me and only a few hours in we were stopping for lunch in Bismark, the capital of North Dakota. Jen went along with the plan, nothing knowing my true motive…I NEEDED TO GET MY CAR WASHED.

Anybody that knows me, and if you're reading this you better, understands that I keep my car is pristine shape. This means a nice car wash once a week, interior vacuums, etc. People comment on how clean I keep a black car. But after over 1800 miles of driving my poor Focus looked liked a junker. I searched on my GPS for a nearby car wash and under the guide of going for lunch…took the nearest exit to find the coveted washing station.

Glorious. That is how you would sum up the car wash experience. Every bug removed from the grille, every bit of dust power washed out of my brakes and wheels. It was wonderful. And then, just so I didn’t seem like a total meanie, we stopped for lunch at Subway. Mmm mmm fresh. You might be asking yourself, "Do Subway sandwiches taste any different in North Dakota?" The answer is no, they still taste like crap even halfway across the country.

Now it was on to our final leg of the trip. We were going to Teddy Roosevelt National Park because we read that the scenery is gorgeous. In addition to beautiful mountain vistas carved by years of wind erosion, there were prairie dog towns and deep canyons all that lay within the Bad Lands of western North Dakota.

But, for the entirety of our drive…the landscape never changed. It was the rolling green hills and lush cow pastures that had us begging the question, “Where is this park going to be, and why is it going to be so beautiful?” You see, my GPS was saying that we were a mere mile from the exit for the National Park…yet all I saw was green rolling hills! Where were the canyons? Where were the mountain vistas? Where were the prairie dogs?!

And then, just as we crested a tiny hill….the countryside changed instantaneously. This is no exaggeration, the green hills dropped right off into painted canyons of red, white, and black rock. The cow pastures disappeared. There, right in front of us was our first National Park. It was surreal.

To get into the park you had to pass through the cute, but touristy, town of Medora. We found the entrance to the park, proudly displayed our All Access Pass, and drove up the winding road where somewhere ahead lay our campground.

Turns out, the campground was about 10 miles in. However, the fun did not start there, but on the drive to Cottonwood Campground. You see, Teddy Roosevelt National Park is known for many things….beautiful vistas, rocks of every color, and prairie dog towns. And, on our way to the camp ground we came upon our first prairie dog town. They are the cutest animal ever. Please see the pictures!

Heading further up the road we reached the camp site, where we promptly selected a spot right on the Missouri River. It was beautiful. We set up our tent and decided to immediately go explore the park’s Ring Road, which led you on an 18 mile tour of the park’s most scenic and interesting spots.

We had just turned down the ring road in our car, when maybe 1000 feet in we came across the first crazy sight. Well, I shouldn’t say we….per se, but more like Jen screaming “oh my god look look!!!” …………..Now, as a tip to future drivers…or current ones everywhere, please heed the following information: While driving around steep curves that sit atop very high cliffs, death all around you if you fail to pay attention the road, you DO NOT WANT SOMEONE SCARING THE LIVING DAYLIGHT OUT OF YOU. That said, I managed to keep control of the car, and look around to see what Jen had found so fascinating. It was, a buffalo.

Now, the buffalo was captivating…but only another 100 feet or so down the road there was an entire herd of buffalo. What a sight. It was like a scene out of a movie. And they are much much MUCH bigger in real life.

Journeying deeper into the park we found some beautiful scenic pull off spots. Amazingly, I overcame my fear of heights due largely to the overwhelming grandeur of the park. I always ran out onto bluffs that I normally would not have had they been, in say…New Jersey. But here in North Dakota, the scenery was so spectacular that I couldn’t afford to miss any of it.

Our trip around the ring road included many pull off points (see pictures), one hike on the Coal Vein Trail, and of course…more prairie dog towns. Everything was breathtaking. As I mentioned in a tweet (that’s a message on Twitter for those of you still living in the text messaging stone age), this was the stuff cheesy Americana songs were written about. I totally understood it all now.

We went into town for dinner and headed back to our campsite. I began writing this journal there, when the sky darkened and the wind picked up. I checked the weather only to find this message: “Severe Thunderstorm Warning” for Medora, ND. That’s where we were….

Jen and I immediately put everything of value (including this laptop) into the car. We brought only the necessary items into our tent and I decided to double stake the tent down. The storms held off for a while…just long enough for us to get a couple hours of sleep. At midnight, the sky opened up.

The wind had to have hit 40mph, and our tent strained against the ropes. Jen was worried for her life, I was worried that our tent would fly away. Together, we were both quite nervous. I headed out of the tent as lightning flashed all around to inspect the tent pegs and anchor everything down again. The tent was literally trying to fold itself in half the wind was so strong. I had to brace myself against it to keep the poles from coming loose. The gusts tried to lift the rain fly off the tent and every time the wind got under it Jen and I were hit with a cold blast of air and could hear even more clearly the approaching thunder.

The rain started to fall. Big, heavy drops of rain hit our tent. Combined with the wind you had to practically shout at times to hear one another. I calmed Jen (and myself) by reaffirming that we were not the only ones going through this. I tried to even visually confirm this by looking out of our tent to see the other campers tents…but it was so dark and stormy that I could not even make out the shapes of them a mere 100 feet away.

The storm finally passed around 2am.

We woke up….barely woke up, around 8 am. The sky was blue, the birds chirping (perhaps because they were happy to be alive too), and we decided to get underway one of the longest segments of our trip:  7 hours to Havre, MT.

Despite the massive thunderstorm we both agreed that T.R. National Park was amazing. That’s all for now!

P.S. – while leaving the campground we nearly ran over a 4 foot Bull Snake. Even the Park Ranger was impressed by it. Cool sighting.
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