After my detour around the big rainstorm, I arrived at the Shadehill Reservoir close to the state line where I camped for a few days to regroup and relax. The water wasn’t the best swimming (lots of algae) but I went in anyway, and between that and being a hot sweaty mess this was great incentive to bust out my camp shower for the first time to decent success. Got some beautiful sunsets here, and after finally leaving my little spot I explored the area which is where Hugh Glass, the guy Leo played in the Revenant, got mauled by a bear. It also has a petrified wood park, a little museum with some dino bones and fossils (and dual signage giving both the creationist and scientific explanation of it all, yikes), some history of the people in the area, and some crazy cool metal sculptures by a local artist.
My next destination was Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and my route there took me along the Enchanted Highway- an otherwise super boring stretch of farmland highway made exceptional by huge roadside statues every few miles. The artist thought his town needed a boost to get some more traffic and income, so he built these sculptures leading the way to Regent, ND and then made a castle themed motel as the ‘endpoint’ along with a visitor center complete with silly cutouts outside. What a fun welcome to Peace Garden State!
I had never heard of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but multiple people suggested it as a destination if I was going to pick one place to visit in the state. This is another region marked by badlands, canyons, gullies, and formations that look like sandcastles. These badlands are greener than those in South Dakota and are home to giant herds of bison, some roaming mountain goats, packs of wild horses, and a herd of longhorn cattle maintained by the park annually as a historical display. And of course, how could I forget, all the prairie dogs. Bison and prairie dogs have a symbiotic relationship so where you find one you’re likely to find another.
Teddy loved this area and it’s where he was first inspired to protect natural lands. He had a ranch out here that helped him get through some personal hardships – you can visit the original site though there’s not much remaining there and you need a better car than I have to get there, but the park service relocated his cabin to a visitor center.
In the larger south section of the park I drove the loop road and checked out all the pretty overlooks, looking out over the prairie, over hundreds of roaming bison rolling in the dirt and chasing one another, and went on a few little hikes long dry riverbeds. I camped in the national grasslands nearby and went for a morning hike for a few miles to an area full of petrified wood. It was cool to see the bark lines and tree rings that have turned stone-like over the years.
The north region of the part is about an hour away and has a road out and back into more badlands with the beautiful Little Missouri River running through, and a number of cool cannonball concretions- mineral deposits in a ball shape that remain after erosion of the surrounding rock. Combined with the many ledges as layers of the hill erode and some remain longer making little tables and outcroppings, it was weird and beautiful.
After leaving the park I drove along the long and winding Lake Sakakawea, a lake on the Missouri River, and spent a day lazing in the water, reading, catching up on old episodes of Jeopardy, the usual. I had a campfire while watching the giant full, glowing orange moon rise. So special.
There must be a lot of fishing in the area because I passed a giant walleye statue in town. Further south along the Missouri I camped another night along the river after driving past miles of varied farmland, oil rigs, and (the best part) acres of sunflower fields. Such happiness to break up the monotonous driving! I’m not sure what I expected from this state but it was a pleasant surprise. Nice (if very conservative) people, peaceful open areas of nature, lots of beauty, and great summer weather. Makes it hard to go back south again, but off I go.