While this isn’t the first national park, it’s a very important one. Our 26th president, Teddy Roosevelt, spent many happy seasons here in North Dakota hunting bison, exploring badlands, and developing a lifelong love for naturally wild areas.
Fortunately, for us, Roosevelt became an environmentalist before that was cool. He created the US Forest Service, protected 230 million acres of land, and added five national parks during his presidency. Without his avid support of preservation and conservation, we might not have fascinating lands like this–devoid of development–to visit. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is just one of numerous National Park Service and other sites honoring this forward-thinking conservationist.
The south part of the park has a lovely loop road, almost 40 miles long, with numerous overlooks and trails. We followed one called Ridgeline Trail with views over the Little Missouri River, which at the time had very little water. Although the area looks dry, there is a lot of native vegetation.
After seeing a couple big animal monuments on our way here we were looking forward to seeing real big animals in the wild. Despite the rugged conditions, many animals do quite well in the badlands.
Our first animals in the park were actually quite small. The park has a dozen sites labeled “prairie dog town,” as if specific areas are marked off for these little guys to inhabit. The ground is pockmarked with mounds around small holes, just big enough for the prairie dogs to pop their heads out or scurry down when danger arrives.
We did notice that the prairie dog towns seemed to be segregated. One location had animals with blondish fur. Another had brownish, and a third had reddish. These are not different species and it’s not a racial selection process. Prairie dogs tend to mate within colonies so coloration is proliferated based on genetic processes (like Mendel and his peas).
Apparently, we didn’t signal any danger. We drove up and stopped within a few feet of hundreds of these critters and they weren’t fazed. Then at 7 p.m. they all disappeared into their holes. Curfew? Or maybe it was time for the prairie dog’s equivalent of Game of Thrones.
The next animals were quite familiar. Wild turkeys, just like on Grandpa Bach’s farm.
We hiked a bit in the hills and looked down on the wilderness. We knew the park had horseback riding, but we didn’t expect to see wild horses. This is what Teddy Roosevelt said about them: In a great many – indeed, in most – localities there are wild horses to be found, which, although invariably of domestic descent, being either themselves runaways from some ranch or Indian outfit, or else claiming such for their sires and dams, yet are quite as wild as the antelope on whose domain they have intruded.
The mule deer too were quite unafraid, standing right at the edge of the road, seemingly posing for photographs.
As we were leaving, our new friends came to say goodbye.
The very last animal was the biggest of all.
Next we head to Yellowstone, the nation’s first park, which is filled with herds of bison, deer, and elk. Same old, same old…