I pulled into the Visitor Center and jumped out of my car, running as fast as I could to the overlook of the Badlands. My heart exploded with joy as they spread out into the distance and I immediately wanted to follow it over the cliff, into the wilderness. I was at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ready to start the adventure I wasn’t able to enjoy this past winter when I drove by and Jack Frost had tightened his grip on the area. The sun was about to set, a lightning storm was brewing on the horizon and I needed to go find a place to set up for the night.
I peeled off from the crowd, determined to get as deep as I could with the small amount of daylight left. I really wanted to see this storm coming in. I think there is something quite beautiful about an intense weather system. The sheer power of nature overtaking everything around it seems poetic to me. Unfortunately (ok, maybe not), my voyage had kept me mostly away from bad weather. I never planned it, but it seemed as if I had only seen two or three real storms in the past 130k miles so I relished the opportunity to observe this one as it came in.
Suddenly, as I overtook a curve, I saw the moon starting to rise over the hills. A blood curdling scream escaped my lips as soon as I saw it.
It was so perfect.
I hit the accelerator, trying to get to a place where I could get the moon and my car in a show before the opportunity passed. I tore into the nearest parking lot grabbing my gear as fast as I could. As usual when a picture like this presents itself, I wasn’t ready. Camera in a bag. Lens in another. Everything in the frunk. I set up as quickly as I could, hoping that the pictures would do the scene justice. It all happened so quickly. Not 10 minutes later the moon had rose up into the sky and the colors were gone. I smiled to myself, knowing that I had least gotten something. Maybe not the best, but thats how the story usually goes.
I drove a little ways further down the road looking for the perfect place to watch the storm come in and found an overlook (surprisingly) only with one other couple. The dense clouds sat so heavy in the air. The light from the sun still peaked behind me over the horizon. The moon danced between said clouds. I was in heaven as cloud after cloud lit up in silence. As abundant as the lightning seemed to be though, the bolts must have been primarily between the clouds, as rarely did I see one break through. Soon enough though, the wind became too heavy for my tripod and I put the camera away and sat in the car, eager to watch the show.
I woke up early the next morning eager to start hiking. TRNP has an interesting combination of grass plains and badlands. I was eager to explore. My first hike was short and sweet, far enough (2 mi) away from the road to be away from people and leading me to an overlook where I could sit and meditate. I sat and thought about Teddy and how this park became his namesake. Most people know that he was the president that established the National Park System, but most don’t know that he escaped to this area after his wife and mother died hours apart from each other in the same house. Wanting to find solace in nature, this is where he escaped to, buying a cattle ranch and putting his mind away into the hard labor it entailed.
Eventually, Teddy lost all of his cattle in a blizzard and he moved back to New York to continue the legacy that we know and love him for today, but that few years in these badlands changed him for the better, giving him an understanding of the hardships of Americans like nothing else could. I thought about this constantly as I walked back to my car. Suddenly, my car appeared in the distance, seemingly as small as a penny. I always love that moment when I can finally see my car again after a hike. It’s like the end of a movie where two lovers see each other after years apart, complete with a beam of light glowing over the one further in the distance. Suddenly, I heard the song of a bird right next to me and looked over to see a friend singing to its hearts content. I think it agreed with my assessment.
My next hike was going to be through more of the plains area of the park. I had heard rumors of wild horses running through them and was anxious to see if I could get a glimpse of these beauties. Clouds were starting to build up in the distance so I was a little bit apprehensive about starting this trek, getting caught in rain is never fun, but I put my hat on and took off. It was only 4 miles round trip and adventure was calling.
The plains quickly opened up in front of me as the badlands disappeared. The beauty of the desolateness was astounding. Hues of green and yellow melded together as the grasses covered the horizon. Hawks flew above my head, searching for prey. I wondered what type of victims they would find below when I noticed a field of mounds ahead of me. Then came the signature bark in my ears. Prairie Dogs. Of course the would be abundant here. I hadn’t even thought of it but this terrain was right up their ally. I started to try to find them and I saw the first one pop it’s head out of its hole. Suddenly another one ran across the field, trying not to be out above ground too long. The closer I looked, the more I saw. They were everywhere. Hundreds of them. I still had a few miles to go though and I carried on.
I finally made it to my turn around point and I almost yelled with joy. When I started this hike, I never would have expected the sheer amount of horse flies in the area. They were everywhere. I couldn’t move five feet without getting at least two more bites. They didn’t care if I was moving, they would still come and land. They didn’t care if I was trying to swipe them off, they would move to avoid my hand and be back in a second. I instantly felt a wave of pity come over me as I thought about the horses having to deal with these things constantly every day. I let my thoughts consume me and headed back where my car waited.
It was about 5pm and there was one more hike I wanted to make for the day. It was a short loop around some hills that I had heard horses liked to hang around. I was still searching for them. I hiked for about half a mile when I came to a dead end.
Sometimes unmarked trails lead me to a total sense of confusion. Where am I? Which way did I come from? It all looks so similar, getting lost can be quite simple. I turned down a path I thought was going back to the loop as someone yelled “Is there anything over there?”
I turned around to find a fellow hiker in the same conundrum as me. Where exactly, were we supposed to go? We started chatting and after about twenty minutes, decided to continue exploring together, attempting to make it back to the parking lot. I had made a new friend (Monica) and that is always a reason to celebrate.
As we made the next curve, I finally saw them. A family of wild horses not twenty feet ahead. My heart leapt when I noticed that there were two foals in the family. They couldn’t have been more than a month or two old. The family was beautiful. Absolutely stunning. Their coats were a mixture of red and brown. Their manes were blond. They rolled around on the ground, frolicking and playing with each other without a care in the world. Each one I took a picture of would look deep into my eyes. Before I knew it, an hour had passed and I decided it was time to settle down for the day.
Closest Supercharger Dickinson ND 35 mi
1681 3rd Ave W, Dickinson, ND 58601
Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit
Exit 32, Belfield, ND 58622