Beige, Bison, Brrrr….

Green Minnesota seems like a dream in my dim and distant past after a week in beige North Dakota. As we traveled west on US2, things could not have been more different from day to day.

If you haven’t been there, eastern North Dakota (at least the northern part) is f-l-a-t! Flat like yesterday’s beer. Flat like a squashed tick (oh yeah, we had these too this week). wp-1475768272650.jpg

wp-1475768837847.jpgWhile we had bright sunny skies, it was pleasant. We rolled past the geographical center of North America. Note John proudly standing LEFT of center. It was cold, but we weren’t complaining (yet).wp-1475768169383.jpgAs we approached Graham’s Island State Park near Devils Lake in north-central North Dakota, the skies darkened and the wind picked up considerably. Surprisingly, Devils Lake ultimately drains north into the Hudson Bay, and we were feeling the brisk caress of Canadian winds. We checked into a nearly deserted campground, and were pleased to find the bathrooms and showers open, and heated.wp-1475768587568.jpgWe cooked on the tailgate of the truck, and huddled inside for the evening.

Teddy Roosevelt National Park was to be our destination for the next two nights. There are two distinct sections to this Park, and we rolled into the north unit (Juniper Campground) first. Now, I don’t want to be mean, but this Park is like the unwanted stepchild of National Parks – unloved, and somewhat unkempt. The small campground had about 20 spaces, and half of them seemed like they hadn’t been camped in for years – overgrown and just kind of tacky. We were surprised to find that all the water in the campground had been shut off – the bathrooms were locked up tight as well. The vault toilet was open, but unavailable from time to time as it was guarded by two enormous bison.wp-1476120894666.jpgIn spite of the wind and very chilly temps, we bundled up and headed off to explore. Here’s a bit of what we found. We especially liked the Cannonball Canyon.wp-1476120859040.jpgwp-1476120825211.jpgwp-1476120812522.jpgwp-1476120880801.jpgLots of bison, few other tourists, plenty of prairie dogs, but a rather dreary landscape. The one high view in the second and third photos above was spectacular, but overall, we were nonplussed. Without the Teddy Roosevelt connection, would this be a National Park? We wonder….

So, on to the south unit of the Park, about 100 miles away, tucked into the far southwest corner of North Dakota. We left the north unit with snow on the truck, a soaked awning, and frozen spirits. But…. the sun appeared, and temps soared into the 60s and 70s. All of the sudden, we LOVE North Dakota! Our most excellent campsite in the Cottonwood Campground reinforced this feeling. And (with our Geezer Pass) all of our camping in TRNP was only $3.50/night. wp-1476120681859.jpgThe south unit features wild horses, bison, petrified forest, and not many tourists. Blessed with fantastic weather, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring. By far, our favorite spot was the remote petrified forest section.wp-1476120762272.jpgwp-1476121633102.jpgThis eerie landscape, punctuated with huge stony fallen trees is so barren and crazy to scramble around. It was well worth the effort to get there. The entire area surrounding TRNP is a vast oil field (as is all of western North Dakota). Wells and related construction abound. You drive out of the Park, through a bunch of oil wells, then back into the Park to get there. It’s a very odd scenario.

Amid a pretty taupe background, however, there is some beauty. Here are a few of the sites we particularly enjoyed. Horses were crossing the river just as we happened to watch.wp-1476120706266.jpgwp-1476120749701.jpgwp-1476120638689.jpgAfter four nights total, we felt that we really saw what there is to be seen in TRNP.

We can’t decide what/where to go next. We know we need to be home by the end of the month, and we’re trying to balance our time + distance. As I write this late at night, we did make one fantastic decision, and that was to detour into Wyoming to Devil’s Tower National Monument. Wow. More to come.

11 thoughts on “Beige, Bison, Brrrr….

  1. We camped in the south unit or TRNP this summer on our way to Montana. We truly enjoyed it, great scenery and lots of wildlife. We had heard that the north unit was a bit barren, and a bit out of our way.


    • I’m sure TRNP looks different when everything is green – the video in the Visitor Center was gorgeous. We are willing to admit that (it’s possible) we might be spoiled by the grandeur of some of the big National Parks out west. This is probably the first of the National Parks we have visited that we aren’t already planning a return trip.


      • I fully agree it is not Yosemite or Glacier, but one thing to keep in mind is that it sits in an area known as the badlands kind of in the heart of the great plains, as you said eastern ND is pretty flat and barren, and had you gone 50 to 75 miles west of TRNP you would have seen why they call Montana big sky country, because you can’t really tell where the ground ends and the sky starts. TRNP in contrast to the spaces around it I thought was pretty impressive.


      • The National Parks are all set aside for the public for one reason or another. Each is significant in its own right, and I feel privileged to be able to visit and camp in such sweet locations. Hope I live long enough to see them all.


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