When we lengthened our stay in Yellowstone, we considered skipping our planned visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. They had an event called Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival planned for this weekend, so we decided on a short stay instead of skipping it.
Unfortunately, when we got there it was rainy with temperatures in the 40s, so some of the astronomy events were cancelled. Also, the entire town of Medora, ND is already closed for the season!
The first day and a half of our visit, we mostly hid from the rain. We were planning to boondock, but stayed at a campground since our solar panel doesn’t work too well in total cloud cover. The last day it was 65 and sunny, so we spent all day exploring the park.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park protects the North Dakota Badlands, where Theodore Roosevelt spent time in the 1880s. He originally came to hunt bison, and then to get involved in cattle ranching. His time in this area helped to develop his conservation ethic, which led to the protection of 230 million acres of land when he was President. We have him to thank for the Antiquities Act, 5 National Parks, 18 National Monuments, the National Forest Service, and 150 National Forests. The park has the Maltese Cross Cabin open for tours, where Roosevelt lived one of the first summers he stayed in the area.
Before visiting, I knew the park contained badlands, bison, and prairie dogs, so I expected it to be similar to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. There are similarities, but it’s more different than I expected. The Little Missouri River runs through all three units of the park, the South Unit, Elkhorn Ranch, and the North Unit. There are trees, and they are starting to turn yellow, so it is much more colorful here than in Badlands National Park.
We visited the North Unit and the South Unit, even though the North Unit is about 80 miles to the north. There is a scenic drive in each unit. We saw bison, coyote, feral horses, mule deer, and prairie dogs.
The prairie dogs look like they are fattening up for winter, which makes them even cuter! It’s a good idea, too, because I hear North Dakota winters are no joke! A ranger told us there was a three week period last year where the temperature didn’t get above zero.
The last night of the astronomy festival they were able to have the telescopes out and star gazing. There was about a dozen astronomers (most were serious amateurs) with telescopes pointing at various things. We saw Saturn, star clusters, binary stars, nebualae, and galaxies, and occasionally clouds (boo). It was fun! The astronomers kept changing what they were pointing at too, so we were able to see a lot.
In spite of the rainy weather, the last day here made the stop worthwhile.
Day 354 | Mile 38,085