Posted July 12, 2017
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*see our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.
“Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it” – Theodore Roosevelt
We’re moving too fast – still trying to find our pace.
Since April 29th it’s been a succession of quick stays across the continental United States with a few important objectives shaping our trajectory which included our happy family reunion in Big Sky, Montana
… and our upcoming appointment at the Airstream Factory in Ohio on the 18th of July.
And finally, after a few one-day stops in some parking lots here and there …
…we carved out the opportunity for a full week stay somewhere – if we could find a place. From our research, it looked doubtful we’d have success, but we decided to grab the golden ring and gamble on Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit in Medora, North Dakota
We turned into TRNP at 11 AM on Monday with the goal of snagging a coveted first-come-first-serve primitive RV site at Cottonwood Campground. If we couldn’t secure a site, we’d just spend the day driving the loop and move on.
But the moment we passed the ranger station our hearts skipped a beat.
Pardon the hippie vernacular, but this place is far-out …
…vibes so intense we didn’t have to pick-up on them – we could actually see them…
… even touch them.
These hills don’t “call” or “sing.” No. They scream and lay open their veins to the very bone.
The landscape is indescribable – even the film on view at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Visitor Center didn’t capture the complexity. I think, if Salvadore Dali saw The Badlands, he’d paint them as they are – melting mountains …
…or the boneyard of the gods.
The geologic processes that continue to shape this region have a virtual reality schema that cracks a whip over the brain. The constant double-takes – as faces and figures and human-like sounds emerge from the phenomenal hoodoos is exhausting, chilling … compelling.
Are they trying to tell us something …?
We are so hip with Teddy now.
“I grow very fond of this place, and it certainly has a desolate, grim beauty of its own, that has a curious fascination for me.” – Theodore Roosevelt
We would never pit park against park – every U. S. National Park is a treasure to be protected – but, man … It’d be a bummer to miss Teddy’s place! Yes, tourist concessions and creature comforts are minimal to nonexistent, but now that we are properly equipped, it will be a while before we return to the traffic jams, crowded camping and trails we experienced in Yellowstone the previous week. Let’s just call it a trade-off.
Everyday at Teddy’s (South Unit) we viewed more free-roaming wildlife than in all our time in the Tetons and Yellowstone. We quickly learned to stay at or below the 25 mph speed limit. At least once a day we drove the 37-mile loop and every single time we had to slow down or brake for wildlife. Large animals cross these roads – bison, wild horses, big horn sheep, elk – and often, in herds. So, we kept our speed down and our camera ready. We wondered how the cyclists and bikers on the loop were dealing with their encounters!
And when we got home, we couldn’t help but admire our spacious woodland campsite. Sweet digs …
All sites at Cottonwood (the only campground within the South Unit park) are “primitive” meaning no hook-ups at all. That means, no water, no electricity, no sewer, no WiFi, no cell service, no laundry, no camp store. You are on your own here!
Water stations and toilets (no showers) are placed throughout the park. The even-numbered campsites are only available through Reserve America, which means they were mostly empty. The uneven-numbered sites are reserved on a first-come-first-served basis through the camp host with a fourteen day maximum stay at $14 a night and half price, $7 with a senior card.
When we arrived to search for a space, the camp host advised us to take – sight unseen – the only available site that would accommodate our rig. So rather than hope for something better and lose the space to fierce competition, we immediately secured #14 for a full week.
Most of the sites are huge and fortunately ours was not under a canopy of shady cottonwoods. In a primitive situation like this we need all the solar energy we can harvest, and were delighted that even with an overcast day or two, our batteries remained charged throughout our stay.
After a full day and night of camping nirvana, we woke with an itch to explore. Since we’d be out for hours, Jim whomped up big plates of his divine huevos rancheros verdes.
There are several ways to view the park: Drive the 37-mile loop, ride the bridle paths, cycle the loop and hike the trails.
Each day we drove to selected trailheads and hiked from there. Traffic was always light and only rarely did we encounter fellow hikers.
The trails range from five minute nature walks to 7-9 mile treks. All are well signed from the road and marked – and trail guides are provided at many of the pull-outs along the loop. Whatever time we had, there was a trail. This park is so easy to visit. Even a single drive-through experience will blow you away. TRNP is the perfect place to introduce new hikers to a proper trail experience.
We loved them all, but our favorite hike was the Petrified Loop Hiking Trail.
Oh, and another great thing about Theodore Roosevelt National Park! At the end of every trail they have free beer!
Sorry. Must have been the hoodoos talking. You have to drive a few miles to Medora for a cold one but it’s worth it – only puts you back a few bucks.
But as long as it’s Happy Hour, let’s make a wish …
… that Teddy’s reality will endure. Conservation doesn’t have to be a wild-fantasy, flower-child dream.
Land conservation makes good economic sense. Publicly protected lands have already passed the test of logic, so that legacy … has legs. Let’s keep moving forward.
“it is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.” – Theodore Roosevelt
|Our “BAMBI” rating system for Public and Private campgrounds and resorts explained:
– One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.
– Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.
– Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.
– Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (walking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.
– Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!