Theodore Roosevelt National Park – National Parks Road Trip – Day 5

Heading futher west from Bismarck we stopped in New Salem, North Dakota, we saw Sue, the world’s largest Holstein cow. The larger-than-life statue stands atop a rise overlooking fields of grain. We stood under Sue shivering in our shorts as a cold temperature of 42 degrees hit while we watched the sun appear above the horizon.

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Another hour west and we arrived at the visitor center for the Teddy Roosevelt National Park where Margi, the park ranger, was very helpful providing maps and directions. From the visitor center we hiked the Painted Canyon Trail to see the start of the Badlands. This trail, while only a little more than a mile long has numerous drops and rises as you traverse the badlands. While there was plenty of evidence of wildlife in the area, we saw none on this hike, however the interesting erosion patterns of the landscape made the hike worthwhile.

This visitor center also serves as a rest area on I-94, but to see the bulk of the park you must exit the interstate at Medora, and enter the South Unit. After purchasing our annual passes for the National Parks, we headed into the main portion for a day of driving the auto tour loop, interspersed with various hikes.

Our first hike in the South Unit on the Ridgeline Trail and Buck Hill Trail provided another overview of the badlands, as well as a herd of wild horses. Later on the drive we stopped to observe an entire colony of prairie dogs, followed by a group of bison crossing within five feet of our car. By the time we had finished the drive we also came across turkey, coyote, hawks, and eagles.

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Returning to Medora for lunch at the Little Medora Restaurant, named after the nearby river. We tried our first elk burgers; which were excellent though not much different than beef burgers. We spent an hour hanging around the town, as well as a brief visit to an upscale golf course called Bully Pulpit. As with many places in arid areas the lush green golf course seems out of place.

Returning to the park we hiked Wind Canyon Trail and the Boicort Trail. Later we spent more time watching the comical movements of the prairie dogs popping out of their holes in the ground and scurrying about. The prairie dogs seemed curious of the bystanders who stopped to watch them. We again saw bison throughout the day and more wild horses.

Returning back to town we had a dinner of pizza at the Badland Pizza and Saloon where servers from many foreign countries waited tables. After dinner we went back to the Teddy Roosevelt National Park to try to see the elk feeding in the pastures. We did not see elk but raced back to Wind Canyon to watch the sunset over the river. As we climbed the trail to the peak  the sky of deep pinks and peach colors that streaked across the sky and reflected in the river was breathtaking. We spent the entire day taking photos of the colorful sky from dusk to nearly dark.

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On the way back to town we parked to look at stars. As we patiently waited the starts began to appear. The void of electric lights and the distance from town gave us a black background for a picture of stars unlike any we have ever seen. The abundance of stars filled the sky and it was sad to think that we have not had a chance to see these stars before. It was so worth it to stay after dark to check out the stars, seemingly having the park to ourselves.

We returned to the Rough Rider Inn satisfied with a great day in the Badlands.