As we drove the road, formations of gray and red greeted us. Cottonwood trees with hints of yellow contrasted with the prairie grasses. Continuing up the road, a mass of brown caught my eye. A huge bison lumbered down the yellow center stripe, a vestige of a wild western landscape from a century ago. His size and demeanor sent a quiver up my spine. Taking a quick photo with my iPhone, we slowly edged by him.
But the most spectacular vista of the evening lay at River Bend Overlook. Walking out the trail, we stared down at the river winding through the valley like a snake. The orange glow cast by the setting sun provided the perfect lighting for a photo that captured the wildness of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Having never been to North Dakota, we decided to extend a recent road trip and spend two days and a night camping at this park created to honor our 26th President. The experience of visiting a place “where the buffalo roam” exceeded my expectations of what I had envisioned. And how appropriate it was in honoring the legacy of a man who did more for conservation in our country than any other president.
You might be wondering why a national park was created in the name of a man who actually grew up in New York state. Roosevelt discovered this area well before it became a state while hunting big game. Arriving in 1883 to hunt bison, he became enamored with the “badlands” and the Missouri River valley, investing in a ranch there. From that point on, he was a frequent visitor to the area to rekindle his spirit and his ties to nature.
As President, Roosevelt would create 16 national monuments and set aside more than 230 million acres of public lands to be preserved. While Roosevelt applauded development of energy resources, he also realized there needed to be a balance, saying this:
We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.
During this time, when there is so much debate about the use of our energy’s resources, his words seem even more pertinent.
North Dakota is probably not at the top of most people’s bucket list for travel destinations. But should you choose to make the trip, set aside a few days to visit this national park with its dramatic formations, river valleys and wildlife that so perfectly captures the spirit of the “Conservation President”, Theodore Roosevelt.