Theodore Roosevelt National Park — the north unit
I believe I even had oil workers for neighbors in the campground last night. At least they had camping gear. One of them even had a trailer. They were as nice and polite as could be, though, and since we all cleared out at about the same time the next morning, they didn’t even wake me up trying to get to work on time.
Fort Buford and its campground were about an hour north of the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, just west of the town of Watford City, where I had tried to get a motel when I was going through my bout of reservation-making a couple of days before. When I actually drove through it, I was glad I hadn’t been able to.
Do you ever create mental pictures so strong of places that you haven’t been to that when you actually arrive you think you can’t actually be in that place, it has to be wrong? I did that with Watford City. Maybe because it’s a town on the edge of a national park, and in my experience towns on the edges of national parks are a bit more attractive than, say, a construction site. Watford City was one big noisy dusty construction site. I suppose it was understandable enough given the circumstances, but still.
But then I drove a few more miles south and the whole world changed. The edge of the land dropped off from undulating prairie to the bluffs and buttes of the North Dakota badlands, and when I turned off from the highway onto the main (and only) road into the park, I got that lovely feeling I always get in national parks, of being in a place where nature matters.
I stopped at the visitor center, where mine was the only non-NPS vehicle in the parking lot. TRNP’s north unit is one of the least-visited units of the national park system, and I can testify that it was pretty darned empty the day I was there — I think I saw two other cars the entire time I was in the park. I looked at their exhibits, then I headed further into the park on a leisurely tour.
I like badlands. I like the texture of them and the shape of them. I like the exposed layers and the unexpected look of the formations. There’s just something about them that jump-starts the imagination. Rocks shaped like cannonballs, ledges so flat and chiseled you could balance an egg on them, pyramidal rocks with more layers than an ice cream cake. Just wonderful stuff. The weather was nice, too, if a bit warm. The only disappointment was that the road was only open about halfway into the park. Apparently the land had slumped under the road, taking the pavement with it, and they hadn’t repaired it yet. Since slumping is a major method nature uses to create badlands, I couldn’t complain, and I didn’t. I got out and walked a small piece past the barricade, then decided that it was just a bit too lonely to walk far. What if I had a close encounter with a bison? They do live in the park, along with wild longhorn cattle and feral horses. As it turned out, though, the only critters I saw in the north unit that day were birds.
I walked a nature trail at the campground, down to the Little Missouri River, and I ate my lunch in the picnic area, well-shaded by more enormous cottonwoods. Wrote a while. Then I headed on south to I-94.
I have this book, called the Quilter’s Travel Companion, that lives in my car all year. It’s basically a national phone book for quilt shops in the U.S. (and Canada, too, come to think of it). Anyway, it had a listing for a quilt shop in the city of Dickinson, located on I-94 a few miles east of where I met up with it. It was still the middle of the afternoon, so I decided to go see if I could find some good North Dakota-themed fabric as a souvenir (fabric is a very useful souvenir, especially after it makes its way into a quilt where it reminds the quilter of the good time she had acquiring it). The shop was adorable. And I found some wonderful fabric, of course.
Then I headed back west, Dickinson having been the easternmost point on the entire trip, and found the motel room I had managed to snag in the small town of Belfield, which is apparently just out of commuting distance for the oil workers, and on my way to the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. But that was for the next day.
Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures