Thursday, October 9, 2008

On a Plain

After Fargo we drove across the Great Plains toward Theodore Roosevelt National Park. These plains are called Great not because they are better than good, which is debatable, but because they are really, really big. They just go and go. There are a few things to see a long the way but mostly it's just plains.

Valley City, ND

Golden Valley, ND

And, finally, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, on the western edge of the state. This guy was milling around the parking lot waiting to greet us when we got there.

This is Roosevelt's cabin in Medora, ND, where he lived for some time many years before he was President. The small museum they have set up about Roosevelt's time in North Dakota is really informative and well designed – being there made me want to learn more about him. He was once shot while giving a campaign speech, and insisted on finishing the speech before allowing a doctor to treat him.

His namesake park is breathtakingly beautiful. It's not so much grassland, as I'd thought, but a long corridor of northern badlands along the Little Missouri River. It's hard to describe the feeling of exhilaration I sometimes feel in the West – the landscape is so big and spectacular, and you can feel the history around you. We camped right on the river flat, once again with the whole place to ourselves.

On the entire trip, it was only our second night of clear skies. The moon was so bright we almost didn't need our lantern, and the stars were still spectacular. It was well below freezing and we huddled around a little fire.

The next morning I woke up to find that the tent was covered in a layer of icey dew.

I made a big pot of coffee and sat at the picnic table reading as the sun came up and lit the hills on the other side of the river.

Big yellow leaves were falling off the cottonwood trees, and other than the noise they were making and a train way off in the distance, it was totally quiet.

Well, these guys were making some noise too.

There weren't many prairie dogs by the river, but when we went up and over the hill toward Medora, there was a huge village. I had seen them in Yellowstone and the Bighorn Mountains last year but they were tiny – more like chipmunks. These plains dwellers were much bigger and reminded us of Littlejeans.

We would have liked to stay another day, but with snow in the forecast we decided we'd better take off for South Dakota. After sandwiches and coffee at the Iron Horse Saloon, we drove out through the Little Missouri National Grasslands, headed for the Black Hills.

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