Nowhere, not even at sea, does a man feel more lonely than when riding over the far-reaching, seemingly never-ending plains; and after a man has lived a little while on or near them, their very vastness and loneliness and their melancholy monotony have a strong fascination for him. The landscape seems always the same, and after the traveler has plodded on for miles and miles he gets to feel as if the distance was indeed boundless. As far as the eye can see there is no break; either the prairie stretches out into perfectly level flats, or else there are gentle, rolling slopes, whose crests mark the divide between the drainage systems of the different creeks; and when one of these is ascended, immediately another precisely like it takes its place in the distance, and so roll succeeds roll in a succession as interminable as that of the waves of the ocean.
– Theodore Roosevelt, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman
At more than 46,000 acres, the South Unit is the largest of the three units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It lies immediately north of the town of Medora and I-94 and is therefore by far the most visited of the three. A 36-mile scenic loop road allows motorists from the interstate to easily take in the sites, grab a bite or some gas in Medora, and be on their way across the continent. The loop road was the first thing on our agenda after breakfast on Thursday, September 11.
On September 8, 1883, twenty-four-year-old Theodore Roosevelt traveled from his New York home to the Little Missouri badlands of western Dakota Territory so that he could hunt a buffalo before they were extinguished from the Great Plains. He arrived in the middle of the night at the depot in Little Missouri near the Montana border. Exhausted, he found lodging on a cot in a bunkhouse hotel near the tracks. Next morning, the young Harvard grad, up-and-coming in the New York legislature, whose wife back east was expecting their first child, would hire a local guide and set out on what he would later term “the romance of my life.”
On September 10, 2014, after Sean and I completed our hike at Devils Tower National Monument, we were ready to head to North Dakota for the second half of our Dakotas adventure. We did, however, need to make a brief pit stop back in Rapid City. Sean had inadvertently purchased two tops and no bottoms for his new long underwear (necessary since the temperatures in western North Dakota were expected to dip into the 30s and the region was under a frost advisory). So back we went to Rapid City.
Prairie Sunflowers, Cedar Pass area, Badlands National Park
With the exception of a lovely long weekend in Florida in March with my parents, by Labor Day 2014 Sean and I had not taken a real vacation in 2014. This was due both to the whims and vagaries of his firm and that the summer months are busy at Openlands. (For comparison, by Labor Day 2013, we’d already visited the Virgin Islands, California, and Florida and had driven around the whole of Lake Michigan.) It was past time for a vacation. It was time to sleep in a tent.
We decided upon a trip to the Dakotas (and Wyoming). We’d hit three parks: Badlands, Wind Cave, and Theodore Roosevelt, plus three monuments.