I woke up the next morning about 15 miles away from the North Unit of the park. I was especially excited to explore this area as it was where I had hung out in the grip of winter. Being able to see it filled with life seemed especially appealing. Not a mile in the road was blocked by a herd of bison. About twenty of these mammoth bovines stood in the middle of the road, walking around seemingly unconcerned about blocking traffic. To add icing to the cake, a few “red dogs” seemed to be along for the ride. That’s what they call baby bison because of their red coat. There was one that was particularly tiny; it couldn’t have been more than a month old and you could see it was still getting used to walking around. Eventually they cleared the road, heading off into the plains, allowing me to head to my next hike.
I pulled into a parking lot in front of a bunch of rocks that were in the shapes of spheres. I’m always amazed at how rock can be eroded in shapes that you wouldn’t expect them to be. How did water get these to wear down to look like this? Geology blows my mind. Getting out of the car, I was greeted by an elderly park ranger who introduced himself as John. He was concerned about a bison down the path wanting to walk by. He thought it had stopped because we were outside of our cars. So we got back in and surprisingly, a bison comes out from behind a hill as passes through. John was apparently the bison whisperer.
Getting back out of the car, John came back and started chatting with me about my plans for the day. This guy was something else. So enthusiastic and uproarious that it was a bit hard to take him seriously. John was the head park ranger of the North Unit, having worked there for over 20 years. Before that he had been a North Dakota Sheriff as well. He grew up on a nearby cattle ranch, later inheriting it when his father passed making him as real of a cowboy as one can be. Being that cowboy, he was also a biologist and veterinarian so he could properly care for his cows. Over his time at the park, he had designed and built most of the trails which led him to proudly recommend the best hikes to anyone that would listen as he knew the details of every single one. He was Mr.TRNP. one couldn’t ask for a better guide.
A second later, he noticed my Tesla and started asking me about it.
“I’m a bit of an environmentalist too ya know” he said proudly.
Of course you are John. I offered him a test drive, but he declined stating he had to help all these good people out and didn’t have time for lolly gagging like that. He kindly thanked me though. If he wasn’t working, he’d love to.
While talking to John, Monica (my new friend from yesterday) showed up to my delight. We had texted a bit to try and coordinate a hike, but there was no service in the park so I didn’t know if we would find each other. John suggested two hikes for us to go on saying they were the most scenic in the park. Yes, he designed both of them. We said our goodbyes and attempted to find the first trailhead. It was going to not be a paved trail, resembling a wildlife trail at the entrance and it proved to be quite difficult. At first, we thought we had found it, but then came to a drop off that obviously was not meant for humans. We turned around for attempt two and this time found our way among the tall grasses.
Deeper and deeper we pushed into the wilderness. Determined to be stopped by nothing. The cliffs in the distance called to us and we would answer trying to get as deep into them as we could. 4 miles was the goal before we returned and the further we got, the more picturesque the world became. Distant cliffs covered in green were edged in by dots of forests along the land. Plains of grass filled in the land in between. A river cut through the middle of it while clouds began to sag overhead. If one looked closely enough, they would see vast areas being covered in downpours reminiscent of the sky crying. I sat down at an edge to take a second to absorb it all. Not for long though as we still had a lot to get in and the clock was ticking on.
When arriving back to our car, we were happy to take a quick break but we still had so much to do. We headed towards the end of the scenic route where John had told us another trail to some amazing buttes and switchbacks was. Yes, he designed this one too. The day was getting later and the clouds seemed to be getting closer so the speed of our actions was imperative. Three or four miles down the road though, we saw a ranger truck partly blocking the road and motioning to us to stop. I stopped and chuckled to myself realizing it was John. He was everywhere.
“You want to see some big horns?” he asked excitedly.
Of course I did.
We got out and he handed me a makeshift map as he pointed off in the distance. probably about a mile away, on the side of a cliff, was a herd of big horns resting underneath the shade of the spruce trees. They were so far away, but seemed so close. I looked back and saw that John was flagging down every car that he could, wanting to make sure that everyone he encountered could share in this moment. This was what he did every day. At this moment, he seemed bigger than life.
There was still one more hike to get done though before the day ended and Monica and I set off, eventually getting to the trailhead to embark on this final voyage. We were headed to a butte two miles down before it drops into seeming-less never ending back country. We trudged through the yellow grasses, stopping to hang out with Peter Cottontail on the way eventually ending at a magnificent view. The horizon stretched on for miles. John was right. This really was amazing. As I thought about our new friend I looked down to see a dollar bill blowing in the wind. I laughed to myself seeing evidence of humans this far away. I guess you just can’t escape us.
As I was exiting the park, I ended up behind a small pickup for most of the drive. Enjoying the scenery, I turned on autopilot and let it take control.
As I passed the visitor center, the truck pulled off and guess who it was in the drivers seat? That’s right, it was John. He honked and waved as he saw the Tesla pass.
He really was everywhere.
I pulled into the campground eager to get my camera out. The moon was full, the sun was setting and I was sure I would get some great pics. As I set up, I couldn’t believe how bright the sky was with all the competing light. The sun had been down for at lest twenty minutes but the moon was so bright it still seemed as if it was the middle of the day. As I got off my first couple of exposures, I realized that I could see Jupiters moons. I was so stunned that I had to step back for a second to really take it all in. Take the past couple of days in. Everything had been so amazing and I felt so tranquil sitting out here under the wide open sky. Teddy really knew what he was talking about when he moved up here and learned “how to live”. I was grateful he had as without him, this park probably wouldn’t be around. I clicked off a few more exposures but decided that I was a little worn from the long day. It was time to lay down. I would be asleep before I knew it.
Closest Supercharger Dickinson ND 35 mi
1681 3rd Ave W, Dickinson, ND 58601
Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit
Exit 32, Belfield, ND 58622
Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit
208 Scenic Dr, Watford City, ND 58854