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Both visits were in mid-May, before Memorial Day (2011 & 2012) when there are fewer people and foals and buffalo calves still are babies.


President Roosevelt’s quotes are in brown.


Wouldn’t you know? We just get back and Teddy Roosevelt’s Elkhorn ranch and surrounding areas are in danger of being ruined by gravel mining. To save the area and parkland, it must be declared a national monument by President Obama. I’ve been sending postcards and emails to the president, and just signed this petition.






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Both north and south are beautiful and worth visiting.


The badlands are the prevalent feature in either section, described by Teddy Roosevelt as "so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth."


The northern and southern sections of the park are separated by a 70/75-mph paved highway, a 1.25 hour drive. While there are some scenic views on this highway with a few spots to pull over, it is not a meandering in-the-park transfer. There is quite a bit of truck traffic on this road. The two sections are really like separate parks.



.................................................................................................. .. ..........North................................................................................................South

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In either the north or the south, I think the Teddy Roosevelt Badlands of North Dakota are even “badder” than those of South Dakota.




North = The paved northern loop is 14 miles through 24,000 acres. In 2012 only the first few miles or so into the park were open due to previous flooding that had wiped out the roads. Nice hiking was still available and we even saw the steer herd of around 14 Long Horned Steers that run wild “to reflect the living landscape as Roosevelt experienced,” (as stated in the park brochure).



...........................Me sniffing Sagebrush on a hike in north.........................................................................Unsniffed Sagebrush on a hike in north........................................................Longhorns in North


South = The paved southern loop is 36 miles through 46,000 acres.


Herds of about 110 feral horses roam the southern section and we were privileged to be surrounded by horses a couple of times for views of their daily routine. On each southern section drive we encountered at least one horse in different parts of the park.




There are some Big Horn Sheep in the north, but we did not see them, perhaps because the extremely high winds on Trip #1 made it too dangerous for the sheep to stand on the cliffs, and they took refuge in better protected, less visible areas. And on Trip #2 we could not get very far into the northern section of the park.


Otherwise, the wildlife is the same in the north and south, but more slightly abundant and visible in the south.



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Mule Deer Juvenile Broad Wing Hawk (I think) Mountain Bluebird



Wildlife Sightings included:


- Buffalo in herds and single buffalos (every outing)

- Prairie dog towns with hundreds of them, but they sleep in until it warms up

- Mule deer

- Long Horned Steer (north)

- Wild horses (saw some every outing! in the south)

- a single Pronghorn in the south on each trip (more seen from the highways nearby)

- one Smooth Green Snake

- wild turkey

- numerous raptors

- frequent views of the beautiful Mountain Bluebird in 2011 only

- lots of Yellow Headed Blackbirds in 2011 only

- Lazuli Bunting (2012 only)

- Sharp tailed grouse

- pheasant

- red headed wood pecker

- blackbilled magpie


Elk are seen to, but we did not see them.




Birds are Yellow Warbler and Western Meadowlark

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Continuing with the sightings...


“Husband sighting” worth noting:

-My husband imitated the prairie dog danger stretch and alarm call. He really caught the attention of several of these creatures as he raised his hands over his head, arched his back, and chirped, just like they do. I think there should be a yoga position named after this elongated prairie dog stretch.


Non-wildlife sighting worth noting:

-In Medora a very elderly gentleman using a walker inched his way toward his pickup, tossed the walker in the bed of the truck, hobbled into the driver’s seat, and sped off.


Human intruder sighting worth noting:

-A guy walked from the road and sat near a herd of grazing horses, which disturbed them. As the herd ran one direction, the guy got up to depart in the other direction and was met by the herd’s stallion that came galloping across the meadow in confrontation. Fortunately nothing happened.


Post-trip comic sighting worth noting:







.....................................................................................................................Eyes wide open for the tussle

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If you want to stay near the north section, lodging is a long ways away in Williston and Dickinson, North Dakota or Sidney, Montana. But good luck even getting a room in any of those places. The oil boom (along with the potash boom) in the region means few beds are available. We could not find one single room several days in advance in mid-May 2011, which was off-season.



Medora Intersection


In the south section of the park there are more lodging options, but even several of the places listed in AAA had no availability several days in advance, again due to the energy workers. On Trip #1 we stayed found room Badlands Motel in Medora, with badlands outside the door and the park entrance a couple of blocks away. Badlands Motel is very basic and had good heating (also AC but too cold for that) and was extremely clean. Cable TV and WIFI.


Trip Advisor had many negative comments about train noise at Badlands Motel. There are tracks that run past the motel, but we were never bothered by the noise during our 2-night stay. A couple times I walked outside and saw/heard the train, but did not notice it inside. We had a room as far away from the tracks as possible, near the pool and mini-golf, so that might have helped. While pool and mini-golf can generate their own noise, at least there is no midnight mini-golf or swims under the stars to keep you up at night.


On Trip #2 we booked months in advance and stayed 3 nights a few blocks away from Badlands Motel at the lovely and historic Rough Riders Hotel, just like Teddy did when he was there. It has been beautifully renovated since Teddy’s time and has a magnificent library and adjoining restaurant that served outstanding meals, including the best pancakes I ever ate. Cable TV and WIFI.



Rough Rider Hotel's Library Lobby


Badlands and Rough Riders are operated by the same management and each offer a AAA discount.


Also in Medora was an AmericInn Hotel—Rough Riders was the same price but AmericInn had free breakfasts.


I bet any accommodation is fancier than where Teddy Roosevelt stayed on his first visit. According to The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkely: A gruff manager…ushered him to a cot in a large communal room…alongside touchy frontiersmen and saddle-sore wranglers, it all looked very primitive. The wash basin where he tried to shave was clogged with dirty water and stubble, and the hotel towel was soiled with alkali dust. Instead of complaining Roosevelt relished the lack of amenities.”





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Not over until "Quote(s) of the Trip(s)" appear.

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gallery_108_652_14495.jpggallery_108_652_7145.jpg gallery_108_652_19172.jpggallery_108_652_15606.jpg




In 2011 from Grand Forks, North Dakota we went to the northern section of TRNP first. Don’t do what we did and take the most direct route from Grand Forks, which passes through Minot, and then continues west on Hwy 23. It was fine up until we got to Hwy 23, but then it got hairy. The oil boom means many huge rigs and trucks traverse this narrow highway at fast speeds. Gravel and dirt flew out of the truck beds and hit our vehicle with such force that we thought the windshield would crack. Very high winds, rain, and some flooding added to the danger, but even without these extra hazards, the 2 hours on this road was awful. I later found out Hwy 23 is North Dakota’s deadliest highway. The whole trip took 7 hours, going the speed limit with a couple of stops to switch drivers.


After our harrowing drive, what a treat to pull up to the entrance of the northern section of the park and see a couple of buffalo grazing outside the visitor center. At first, I thought they were statues, a common misconception according to the ranger on duty.


Grazing outside the north ranger station


We spent 3 hours doing the 14 mile northern loop twice, then drove 1.25 hours south to Medora. 7 + 3 +1.25 made for a very long day.


In 2012 we took I-94 west straight to the town of Medora (population 100), which is 60-90 seconds from the park entrance. Then we spent one morning and early afternoon driving to the north section, touring by car and on foot there, and driving back to Medora in the south, in time for an afternoon outing in the south.



Some other drive times where we made a few brief stops during the trip: Rapids City to Medora = 7 hours; Minneapolis to Medora = 9.5 hours; Fargo to Medora = 6.25 hours; Minot to Medora = 4 hours


On Trip #2 my husband decided to provide a diversion while driving through the endless plains to the badlands. He brought along hours of his cassette recordings of the 1984 Cubs season. Fortunately we have a 1998 vehicle that has a cassette player. We relived the days of the Ryne Sandberg game, Sutcliffe the Red Barron, the Penguin, the Sarge, etc. all the way to North Dakota.



Dodge Caravan in Medora. My husband

likes vacation photos of the vehicle.


Seven miles from Medora, between the north and south sections of the park, is Painted Canyon, a strategically located scenic lookout with some of the best views in the park.






From lookout point at Painted Canyon, about 7 miles north of Medora


Altogether, we spent 5 nights total in the park on the two trips, combined.

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The winner is my husband’s quote. He resigned himself to the fact that I’d be spending a lot of time in the prairie dog town. As he put it, “We don’t just want a picture of a prairie dog. No, we have to get pictures of them facing north, east, south, and west.”




Right, and after we get them facing the four corners of the earth, we’ll go for north by northwest...









It was at that point I believe that he began his stretching prairie dog imitation.





We asked to see a menu at a local diner. As we were looking it over, the owner/chef appeared, pointed at the menu and inquired, “How’s she looking to you?”


'She' looked good enough for lunch.



Teddy Roosevelt provided the most pithy and literary quote. In reference to the park, and its badlands in particular, he said, “They look like Edgar Allan Poe sounds.”



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Trip #1

It was very cold (mid 40s, maybe it hit 50) and windy. The winds were so strong that we opted out of hiking the numerous marked trails for fear of loose branches or something flying through the air impaling us or at least poking us in the eye.


Very windy


Trip #2

Ranged from 50s to 80s, with a wee bit of rain. Not much wind so we did several hikes.


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Closeup, burrs in fur...................................................................... ......Nursing calf.................................................................................................Buffalo resting in prairie dog town, congenial neighbors




Most of our sightings were not shared. We saw about half a dozen other vehicles during an entire park outing. I noted more traffic on the weekend than weekdays. On the hikes it was just us and the badlands, the fragrant sage, and buffalo in the distance. It was ok to exit your vehicle for better views or photos, but always at a distance from the wildlife and not pursuing it.





Sometimes the wildlife came to us.




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For anyone feeling presidential, Roosevelt confessed, "I would not have been president if it hadn't been for my experience in North Dakota."




Even for those not seeking the Executive Branch, a trip to North Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt National Park offers spectacular natural beauty.



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A nice report with some lovely photos.

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I'd never heard of this park but it certainly looked worth visiting. Loved the prairie dogs and the buffalo eye is great. Seems a great place to photograph wild horses which my daughter would love. That driving sounds horrendous, especially with the game replays!!!!

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Thanks Twaffle and Orca fan. Best place I've found for wild (actually feral) horses. Now the goal is to save the place from gravel mining!

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A lovely report Lynn. Great shots of the prarie dogs and buffalo. I've never seen an American Buffalo but hope to get out west one of thee days!

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  • 4 years later...


Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota in May 2016

Amending this report to show a 3rd trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and adding a couple other destinations, means the original title is no longer correct. Oh well.


Custer State Park, South Dakota - Taken while driving around on our own


Indian Memorial, Little Bighorn Memorial Battlefield, Montana Badlands of South Dakota

Our third Teddy Roosevelt National Park visit was again in the Spring (May 15, 16, 17 of 2016) because it:

- beats the crowds that arrive Memorial Day weekend and remain all summer.

- avoids the hottest temps.

- is when foals from the feral horses and buffalo calves can be seen.



Teddy Roosevelt National Park in Spring with foals and calves

WEATHER in Teddy Roosevelt National Park the 2nd & 3rd weeks of May was


Trip #1 2011

Mid-40s F, maybe it hit 50 F. Strong winds discouraged us from hiking.


Trip #2 2012

50s to 80s F, with a wee bit of rain. Calm winds. Nice hiking weather.


Trip #3 2016

60s to 80s F, calm winds. Nice hiking weather. No rain. Perfect vacation weather.


Wildlife was visible, accessible, and photographable on all 3 fun and memorable springtime visits to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


There were more and younger prairie dog pups on this TRNP trip than the others Buffalo at Painted Canyon, 10 minutes from TRNP


Very young foal in TRNP Buffalo and horses grazed peacefully in near proximity to each other in TRNP

In general, as the season progresses into summer, the animals descend from the higher locations and spend time along the Little Missouri River, meaning they are more accessible and visible to visitors. This third trip was our earliest (and I think had the driest winter of the 3 trips) adhering to that trend. We saw no big buffalo herds, unlike the other two trips. And we saw the horse herds high up in the hills more often on this trip, as they negotiated the rocky terrain.


Herds high in the hills of TRNP


Three May visits within 5 years that necessitate a 900+ mile trip (one way) and a hotel enroute is a good indication of how much we enjoy springtime in the majestic Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


Black sage grouse, Western meadowlark (2), Western bluebird (2), Killdeer, Spotted Towhee – Fewer birds seen this trip than previous trips

Next is the specific 10-day itinerary

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Glad you started with this, had been looking forward to it, Lynn. Love the Prairie Dogs, the Meadowlark and the Bluebird.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Itinerary for May, 2016. Not only TRNP,

but also The Little Bighorn, South Dakota’s Badlands and Custer State Park

Drive times include rest stops for stretching, eating, walking around. We like to take 10 minute breaks every hour or two.


May 14 O/nt in Grand Forks, ND.


May 15 Drive from Grand Forks, ND 2.25 hours to Sullys Hill National Game Preserve. Spend 2.5 hours.


Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve - It was possible to "walk on water" down a center sand strip


Then drive 5 hours to TRNP, with time for an early evening drive through the park. O/nt AmericInn in Medora, May 15. AmericInn is 90 seconds by car from TRNP Southern Loop entrance.


Moon above, buffalo below, TRNP Relaxed horse in evening angled light - walking to join the herd



May 16 Day at TRNP, Southern Loop. O/nt AmericInn.

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Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Southern Loop Watch the insect flying on the right, TRNP


May 17 Day at TRNP, Southern Loop. O/nt AmericInn. $384.06 with all taxes and discounts for 3 nights.


Overview of TRNP Badlands. Me in foreground.


May 18 Skipped a morning drive in TRNP. Depart Medora and drive 5 hours to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Afternoon walking/driving the battlefield and listening to Ranger Talk with Ranger Steve Adelson. O/nt Rodeway in Hardin, Montana, under 30 minutes from the Little Bighorn. $77.03 for one night with all taxes and discounts.


The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument


May 19 Morning visits to Custer Battlefield Museum and Garry Owen Museum. Drive 4.5 hours to Rapid City area in South Dakota. O/nt near Rapid City at Ellsworth Air Force Base.


May 20 Visit Badlands, Wall Drug on day-trip. O/nt near Rapid City at Ellsworth Air Force Base. For ideal wildlife watching and landscape photo ops in the Badlands, it is best to stay near Badlands, rather than near Rapid City.


South Dakota’s Badlands


May 21 Spend time with friends. Lunch at Tally’s Silver Spoon in downtown Rapid City. A charming and tasty choice. O/nt near Rapid City at Ellsworth Air Force Base.


May 22 Full day in Custer State Park. O/nt near Rapid City at Ellsworth Air Force Base. The weekend before Memorial Day is always free for South Dakota residents with extra activities like a free pancake breakfast (donations requested.) We had been unaware of the promotion and feared that we would encounter hordes. Pleasantly not the case, at least not on Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend. For ideal wildlife watching and photo ops in Custer, stay near Custer State Park, not near Rapid City.


Taken from an outing on Buffalo Jeep Safari in Custer State Park Driving around on our own--and waiting a long time at the prairie dog colony--at Custer State Park


May 23 Depart Rapid City and drive 5.5 hours to Luverne, MN. O/nt Grandstay Hotel. $94.72 with all taxes and discounts.


May 24 Depart Luverne, MN and return home.

Quote of the Trip

Near the prairie dog colonies at Sullys Hill in North Dakota, we met a woman that provided us with The Quote of The trip--more accurately the Two Words of the Trip. This congenial woman was visiting and photographing her beloved parks of North Dakota one last time before an out-of-state transfer would send her family to a less scenic part of the country.


Her praise for some of the fascinating places in North Dakota included the Giant Buffalo in Jamestown. She encouraged us not to miss it, but added that the 60-ton statue was becoming a little shabby due to a recent lack of maintenance. In fact when it rains, she explained, water collects along the buffalo’s beard, and even after the downpour has ceased, the bearded buffalo chin keeps dripping. “buffalo drool” as she called it.


“Buffalo drool” made such an impression on us that we invoked that phrase at every possible opportunity during the trip but the report will be spared those references. You had to be there.


Unfortunately we never made it to Jamestown for the Giant Buffalo or its drool, so no pictures of this behemoth.

Next are some highlights and hints for each park.

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Continuing with Teddy Roosevelt National Park...


Too distant for a drool check


Expansive landscapes and the tiny creatures of TRNP

Interesting, and something to keep in mind if planning a mid-May trip…Two places we had stayed previously in Medora--the economy Badlands Motel and the charming, historic, classic Rough Riders, both operated by the same management--were not yet up and running for the season this year. We heard that the seasonal foreign workers responsible for running these operations were having visa delays due to more stringent and lengthy checks. Even a meal at the outstanding Rough Riders hotel restaurant was impossible because there was no chef. Which was actually ok because it helped fulfill my husband’s goal of 10 nights on the road eating out of our Igloo Playmate Ultra Cooler. The sole exception was when we met up with friends and had lunch in Rapid City. We did replenish the inventory and ice of the Igloo Playmate Ultra Cooler numerous times and did not make food from home last 10 days.


Nursing and piggy back


Each morning and each afternoon until about sundown we spent driving in TRNP looking for wildlife. The park is open 24 hours, so keeping early or late hours is fine. In fact, arriving before sunrise and staying after sunset helped prevent driving into the dangerously blinding sun on the horizon.


Chestnut with blaze family – It appeared this stallion had only a single mare in his herd and she had with very similar markings. Isn't that why Mic Jagger married Bianca?

They produced a look-alike foal. The horses, not Mic and Bianca!


Buffalo and horse grazing together. TRNP is one of the few places to see this. Mother and Foal. TRNP


We hiked several of the well marked trails where you park your car at the trailhead. You could hike for many hours if you wished. We turned around and did not complete the trails, for an hour or so of hiking. Even with just an hour of hiking we were able to see buffalo at a distance, which is exciting.



Even these little guys could issue the chirpy alarm call.


I think prairie dogs may have been the star animal of this trip. Not only the were there huge numbers of very young, but with fewer horses and buffalo around, I could devote a whole lot more time to just sitting near the colonies and waiting for prairie dog activity. In TRNP you should remain on the side of the road while observing prairie dogs. Venturing into the midst of the colony would be self defeating anyway because the prairie dogs immediately dive into their dens and stay down until danger disappears—whether people, birds of prey, or coyotes.


One of two coyotes spotted. DH saw the first at the prairie dog colon. I saw the other at a distance the next day. There is a prairie dog on the bottom left, unbothered by the buffalo, and vice versa.


No prairie dogs visible, no drool either. TRNP

This trip we remained in the Southern Loop of TRNP, staying in the town of Medora (population 100) at AmericInn and skipped the Northern Loop, about 75 minutes away (where there are fewer accommodations near the park.) We preferred to avoid the busy highway between the two sections of the park on this trip. We’ll plan to travel between the southern and northern sections someday on a Sunday with less scary truck traffic. The northern loop has longhorn cattle, elk (maybe in Southern Loop too but elk are seen less—we have never seen any elk in either loop because I think they appear later in the season), and more intense color in their northern badlands, IMO.


Yearling calf, born Spring 2015 in TRNP This year’s calf in TRNP

Most roads in TRNP are tarred. A few well-marked paths are gravel and we had driven those in past years but had not seen much, so we skipped all gravel roads this time to help preserve the Ford Fusion. It is ok to exit the vehicle for better views of buffalo, horses, etc. at a safe distance, of course.


Feral "wild" horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

This concludes the part on Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Southern Loop.


Next are Little Bighorn,Custer State Park, SD Badlands

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@@Atravelynn love seeing all the animals - the young prairie dogs are so cute, and the horses are beautiful. I've seen bison at Yellowstone but I've never seen wild horses in person. I liked the Mick and Bianca Jagger horses and their matching foal! The last few photos of the last post are very pretty - love the baby bison nursing and the variety of horse colors with the scenic background are very appealing.

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@@Atravelynn I liked the Mick and Bianca Jagger horses and their matching foal! .


The line that stallion used on the look-alike mare was, "I'll never be your beast of burden."



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