The North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an hour drive, yes north, of the South Unit, which we found unusual. The two dramatic swaths of Badlands are separated by flat grassland where cattle graze. The North Unit struck us as more remote and dramatic than the south, with fewer bison, deer and prairie dogs but higher more colorful canyons with buttes and mesas in more varied colors – grey volcanic ash that looked blue at times and deeply grooved tawny formations.
We walked the fantastic 4.2 mile Capstone Coulee trail (or we walked 5.6 miles and climbed 31 floors according dirck’s phone) around the base of some formations and, most spectacular, atop some formations on a high ridge with glorious panoramic views of the Little Missouri River way below. We also scampered across the midsection of the formations, atop softer than expected rock. We had the trail almost to ourselves and the sky was bluer and less hazy today. The north unit also had more patches of forest (some that we walked through) with orange and green-leafed trees, juniper bushes, yellow wildflowers and delicate purple asters.
We drove 10 miles north through boom (and now a little less booming) oil country to watfordcity, past oil patches, bright orange flames shooting up from the ground here and there, lots of temporary housing, new bars and amenities.
Great day in the North Dakota Badlands. We are staying right in them — in a secluded contemporary log cabin/glass house perched at the top of a canyon with stunning views of pointy buttes and flat-topped mesas as far as the eye can see, all crumbly tans, grays and rust with yellow and green-leafed trees, rust-colored bushes tucked into valleys and beautiful blue birds, also rattlesnakes we’ve been told by our host here at the Spirit of the Badlands, a private home with 3 options for guests. (We are in the cozy “den.”) The place has a wrap-around porch lined with plants and the 2-story side facing the canyon is floor to ceiling windows. Spectacular place for morning coffee and evening stargazing although our sunny sky is hazy, not blue, due to the devastating fires on the West Coast.
We spent the morning driving through the south unit of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park, stopping for several short easy walks through the Badlands on trails named Wind Canyon and Coal Vein. Not a lot of tourists. But lots of bison, flat-eared mule deer, wild horses and prairie dogs, up close and personal. We followed the 36-mile loop but the end of the loop was closed so we re-looped. No problem and stopped to picnic at Cottonwood area. Glorious views and vegetation that reminded us a bit of Tucson hikes but not cactus or desert, more the colors (tawny and brown).
In Medora, a small western town which is pleasantly untouristy (at least now), we ate burgers on the upstairs balcony of the Little Missouri saloon and met two other tourist couples. We could tell by the masks. Locals, including wait staff, don’t seem to wear them despite the “Mask-up ND” electronic signs along the interstate. One couple, from North Carolina, is driving around the west in lieu of a trip to Europe (same as us); another from Austin appeared to be driving around indefinitely, working remotely 9-5 on weekdays from wherever they pull up in their R-pod trailer. Why not? It’s a new day for working remotely, thanks to the pandemic.
In Medora, we toured the Chateau de Mores, a 26-room summer home /ranch built in 1883, perched in a valley with panoramic badlands views and learned the interesting story of the French Marquis de Mores, a young adventurer who grew up in mansions in Sardinia and Cannes and who came here at about age 27 to create a meat-packing plant he hoped would rival Chicago’s. It didn’t. He left after 3 years and was murdered in the Sahara at age 37. Medora is named after his wife, who came from a prominent New York banking family and was a damn good hunter.
In downtown Medora, as we sat on a glider on the porch of the Rough Rider Hotel, the local Teddy Roosevelt impersonator stopped by to chat. Nice fella (and a former DeKalb Illinois GOP political operative…he’s more popular here).