Today our group is exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the only National Park named for a person, while the other group will hit a number of other major attractions.
We spent the night in Watford City. Stephanie calls this Watford a 21st century old west mining town. The town in its current state – new hotels, new restaurants, new shopping – only exists because of the Bakken oil fields and all the workers that come with it.
Stephanie’s thoughts on Watford City: It is depressing, a town with nothing to do except drink and do drugs. Every man drives a white truck, has a bushy beard, and smokes.
We had dinner last night in a place that was ½ Mexican restaurant and ½ head shop. The diner was not busy at all, in fact the cook was sitting out front taking a smoke when we walked in, but the head shop was doing brisk trade.
Housing all of the new workers in the area has been a major problem. We saw a lot of housing that was obviously put together in a hurry to capitalize on the opportunity.
We drove to the National Park South Unit which was over an hour’s drive from where we were spending the night. We stopped at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, which sits right off Interstate 94. From here we took a 4 mile hike down into the canyon.
Down the ridge a bit is a registration book in a metal cabinet. This is where hikers can sign in that they are on the trail, and add a comment. Somebody had started the hike at 4am this morning and in the comment had written “Ticks Asleep!” The next hiker had logged in at 8am and wrote “Ticks Awake!”. I will attest to that as I found four ticks on me throughout the course of the hike.
The park ranger in the Visitor Center advised that it was much hotter down in the canyon so be prepared with lots of water. But we found that there was a nice breeze in the canyon so it was not as oppressive as we were warned.
After our hike, we were ready to head down the road and visit the South Unit. Only problem was, our car wouldn’t start. I flagged down a Park Ranger who gave us a jump. He had special jumper cables that plugged into an outlet on the front of his truck, since this is a fairly common task they perform. This is the second time on the trip we’ve needed a jump to get started. Hoping to make it home without further issues!
At the South Unit, we watched a 15 minute movie about the park and then had a guided tour of the Roosevelt Maltese Cross log cabin. The tour was led by a South Carolina geology student interning at the park, and he had some very entertaining stories about Roosevelt.
Theodore Roosevelt had this cabin built for him in North Dakota. It had a Maltese Cross pressed into the end of one of the logs by the use of spent shell casings. The casings have been stolen over time, and there is just one remaining in the log. The cabin has been dismantled and taken to the various spots around the country for display, and it is now in its final resting place at the National Park. It was displayed at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, which Roosevelt was in attendance. Because the roof had been changed, he didn’t recognize it and didn’t believe it was his cabin until he found the Maltese Cross present in the log.
The cabin was made out of Ponderosa Pine logs. The Ponderosa Pine is not a common tree to this area, but the railroad used these for their railroad ties. Legend has it that a shipment of Ponderosa Pine went missing from the railroad and then Roosevelt’s cabin was miraculously made out of that same log. Interesting…
The Visitors Center is located in Medora right off the main drag. They have a decent little downtown area with a few motels and restaurants. I’m sure they get some nice business in the summer and very little else during the rest of the year.
We grabbed some lunch on the upstairs patio at the Little Missouri Saloon with a gorgeous view of some badlands. This stop will be memorable because we ordered fried pickles as an appetizer and they came out as fried dill pickle spears with cheese inside. Very different!
We checked into the Badlands Motel, and took a dip in their outdoor pool. This was a fantastic place to stay. Nice rooms, friendly folks, and the outdoor pool had a spectacular view. Major props to the grandparents at the pool vacationing with their 5 grandkids under the age of 8.
We wrapped up the day with a 36 mile loop drive through the South Unit of the park. It was in the hour leading to sunset and we saw a lot of active wildlife. There were feral horses, prairie dogs, and bison.
There were several large group of Bison that we drove past on the trip. Cars were quick to stop on the road and take pictures, as they were all quite close to the road.
We wrapped up the evening around 10pm with Marissa playing some guitar under the stars on a picnic table outside our motel room. It was a very pleasing way to end the day. We even had a teenager from Prescott Arkansas walk over and listen for a minute.
While we enjoyed Roosevelt National Park, let’s check in on the rest of our travel party, shall we?
They began the day in Hulett Wyoming just a short drive from Devils Tower. Devils Tower, America’s first National Monument, was the first stop of the day.
From there, they traveled back to South Dakota and traveled through Deadwood and Sturgis on their way to their motel in Custer. Visits to Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore rounded out their day. KK got to participate in the salute to veterans ceremony at the end of the night. He said it was really moving and he had a lump in his throat during the flag retirement ceremony, and he noticed the veteran next to him was wiping his eyes.