Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Part 1

So I'm back from France! It's a bittersweet feeling because I love being on vacation, but now I get to plan the next trip, which is fun. I've still got to sort through hundreds of photos and a handful of videos. I think it's going to take me a little while.

In the meantime, I'm sharing some snaps from my solo trip to the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. It was about an hour and a half drive from where I was working in North Dakota and I'd read that you can see a ton of wildlife. Since I'm all about the animals, I hopped in my rental car and headed west towards the Missouri Grasslands. It was an overcast day with a tiny bit of rain, but the thing about overcast days is that it creates amazing lighting for photography, so that was a good thing. Speaking of photography, I took over 300 photos while I was here, so, because of that, I'm splitting this post into two because I have a lot of photos that I want to share but I don't want to overload you all at once.
On my way, I kept seeing signs for the "Enchanted Highway" which apparently is the largest metal sculpture in the country or something. I don't know if that's true, but it looked pretty cool. There were these little geese on posts and a giant thing that looked like a ferris wheel with geese silhouettes on it.

So I headed to the South Unit of the TRNP. The driving route in the South Unit is a loop so you can leave the way you came. The North Unit has a driving route that goes straight through the park (east - west). The entrance to the South Unit is in Medora, ND. It's a cute little touristy town with kitschy store fronts. It's pretty cute.
The town's pretty small so in just a minute I'd reached the entrance of the park. There's a little security booth but it isn't manned. You've got to stop by the visitor's center to pay the $10 entrance fee, which will allow you to return to the park for 7 days. The park is open 24/7 and year round but the visitor's center is open from 8 to 5. I showed up just at 8, lucky me. I passed through a time zone border on my way here and it worked out perfectly. I recommend getting here early because you'll basically have the whole park to yourself. I saw fewer than 10 cars while I was in the park.
Behind the visitor's center is Teddy's actual cabin, which is pretty awesome. There's a bit of vandalism on the door outside - you know, things like "alex + sam 4eva" - which I was super offended by. I mean, come on people, this is a historic place. But, it is what it is.
You can pop inside the cabin too. It's really small and there's just a small corridor of space - the rooms are sealed off with plexi-glass. Here's a shot of my favorite area of any home, the dining room.
The cabin is really tiny so it only took a minute to look at. So, afterwards, I hopped back in my car and headed around the loop. There are several signs that tell you not to approach the wildlife. I would take this note seriously because even though all of the animals may seem gentle, you could get bitten, trampled, kicked, who knows? They're wild and you don't know what they might do. Stay close to your car, don't feed any of the critters, and be respectful.
The first cool thing I saw was a prairie dog town! Prairie dogs are basically squirrels without the bushy tail; they've got little stumpy tails. I think they're cute but they creep me out just a tiny bit because they're rodents. They're v. social creatures and that's why they live in "towns."

When I tried to approach them to just get a better closeup photo, one of them shot up and arched its back and squealed really loudly. Then, it started squeaking repeatedly. I assumed it was trying to warn its fellow community members that some freak in a flannel shirt was trying to murder them or something. I googled the alarmed squeaking and apparently, there's also a theory that the motivation behind the squeaking is also to confuse fellow prairie dogs and make them more vulnerable to predators. Selfish bastards.

This one was hanging out next to a great big pile of nasty buffalo poops. He's weird.
TRNP isn't just about the animals though, so I'm sharing a few of these awesome landscape shots too. I thought South Dakota's Badlands was impressive but the North Dakota Badlands are breathtaking too. They're much more colorful, there's a lot more greenery, and the variation in the terrain is pretty awesome. There are plenty of hiking trails in varying lengths and difficulty for every kind of traveler. I didn't do any hikes because it was frickin' freezing, y'all, but had it been warmer, I would've done all of the short hikes, for sure.

Also, there are several viewpoints and overlooks but not as many as I had hoped. The good thing though, is that I don't think that this park gets overly busy so even though the road is only one lane going in each direction, you can pull over and stop wherever you want without worrying about backing up traffic. Most of the time, if you encounter another car that's stopped, you'll want to stop to find out what's so interesting that they felt compelled to pull over (and vice versa).
Okay, so on my drive towards the park, I could actually see the boundary from the highway and I happened to see a herd of bison and I freaked out! I didn't think I'd be so excited about the bison but for some reason, I was. So, once I got inside the park, bison are what I was eager to see. I kept seeing these piles of poop on the road, and I assumed they were left behind by the bison so as gross as it sounds, I got kind of excited every time I came across these poops.
And what do you know, after I encountered the poop in the photo above, I came across this guy. From afar, I saw a lump of brown in the grass. I thought it was a rock but as my car got closer, it turned out to be a bison! So cute!!!

By the way, these are bison, not buffalo. Back in high school, we learned in AP History that early American settlers saw these big brown fluffy dudes and assumed they were buffalo. But, buffalo and bison are not the same. Bison live in North America and buffalo live in Africa and Asia. Buffalo have those humongous horns that make a bit 'W' shape (or like a curly mustache shape) on the top of their heads and they have noses like cows. Bison have hairy faces and have two little devil horns.
As I got closer, this little big guy got up and crossed the street, which made for a fun photo op.
He crossed to join a friend on the other side and started eating.
Scoria Point might've been my favorite overlook because of the bright red badlands.
I'll be sharing the rest of the photos on Friday so come back!

xoxo.

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