Tuesday, July 15, 2008

TR’s Place

There is beauty everywhere you look, if you actually look for it. For sightseers like us, beauty does not exist only in redwood forests, rock-bound coastlines, and cascading waterfalls. Beauty isn’t only in waving fields of grain, Frank Lloyd Wright architecture or soaring cathedrals.

Come along with us through the North Dakota Badlands, specifically in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Roosevelt himself wrote in 1885 that “This broken country … has been called always by Indians, French Voyageurs, and American trappers alike, the ‘Bad Lands.’ ” Yet he came here several times, first to hunt, then returned to establish a cattle ranch, and grew to love the “grim beauty” of the place.

We first visited the Painted Canyon area, essentially a highway rest stop on Interstate 94, with a scenic overlook and a National Park Visitor Center. This was only an appetizer.

After waiting out two days of terrible winds, gusting up to 70 miles per hour, we had a perfect sightseeing day on Sunday, and immediately headed out to the South Unit of the National Park. They were celebrating Mr. Roosevelt's 150th birthday (this year) and the centenniel of his presidency (1901 - 1909).

The Visitor Center had a boring 13-minute movie, but some fascinating displays of Roosevelt’s time in the area, including some of his personal clothing and belongings. The reins on this wooden horse and the clothing on the mannequin were actually used by TR while he worked his ranch.

Not from this time of his life, but on display also, was an undershirt Roosevelt was wearing when he was shot during a campaign speech! To his doctors’ dismay, TR insisted on finishing his speech before receiving medical care.

At the Visitors Center we bought ourselves T-Shirts with this logo on the back.

Behind the Visitor Center stands the Maltese Cross Cabin, his first home in the area.

Ranger-Historian Joseph Caviso explained that, while it appears today as a simple log cabin, in its day it seemed nearly a mansion: a second story, three rooms, and a wooden floor made it stand out in severe contrast to the typical settler’s cabin. The Maltese Cross was TR’s first ranch, with two other more experienced, if less wealthy, partners.

The cabin is furnished with period pieces, some of which were actually used by Roosevelt either in this cabin or his second ranch, the Elkhorn, 35 miles north, but now marked only by foundation blocks.
This writing desk and a nearby rocking chair were among Roosevelt's belongings.

The main event was the 36-mile scenic road through the park.

We spent nearly three hours on that road, totally captivated by the “grim beauty” Roosevelt himself had loved.

The herds of bison were an attraction, especially the young’uns.

We also saw wild horses and one mule deer, but the largest population of wildlife we saw lived in towns of their own, prairie dog towns.

They are skitterish critters, but this one posed for us.

And scenery, always scenery.

The Little Missouri River has shaped the land, along with other water and wind erosion factors.
Some features call for closer examination.
From the Internet:

Lightning strikes and prairie fires can ignite coal beds, which then burn for many years. When a coal bed burns, it bakes the overlaying sediments into a hard natural brick that geologists call porcelenite but is locally called scoria. The red color of the rock comes from the oxidation of iron released from the coal as it burns. The burning both lends color to the badlands and helps to shape them. These hardened rocks are more resistant to erosion than the unbaked rocks nearby. Over time, erosion has worn down the less resistant rocks, leaving behind a jumble of knobs, ridges and buttes topped with durable red scoria caps.

From 1951 until late 1977, a fire burned near here in a coal seam. The intense heat baked the adjacent clay and sand, greatly altering the appearance of the terrain and disturbing the vegetation. A wayfaring trav'ler offered to take our picture to show that we were here together.

Back in the town of Medora, we did a quick tour. The local folks have done a fine job of converting a tired old town into an inviting place for travelers to spend a dew days.

It isn't overdone like many of the "tourist traps" we have seen, but the nicely refurbished buildings quietly reflect the western heritage of the town.

Quite by chance we found another "chapel" to add to our collection. This one is St. Mary's Church in Medora, often referred to as The Chapel in the Badlands."

Built in 1884, it is now the oldest Catholic Church still in use in the state of North Dakota.

To complete our day we drove about eight miles west to the Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch and Steakhouse, where we enjoyed a tender "petite" 12-ounce ribeye steak, marinated and broiled to perfection.

We have visited the Badlands before, both in Montana and South Dakota. Folks, if you want to see the true beauty of the Badlands, come to North Dakota as we did in this phase of ... Our Life on Wheels.


  1. What a wonderful description of the "Bad Lands"! And the photos are exceptional as well! Once again you have made us feel like we are there, with you guys, as you continue your adventure! Thanks for the great blog . . . and for capturing the images for all time!

  2. its a wonderful description of the "bad lands" and the pictures are amazing to look at.


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