"It was Here That the Romance of my Life Began"
A couple weeks ago I took a trip a to one of our countries great national parks, Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). Theodore Roosevelt is a small national park, in fact a ranger told me they had less than a million people last year, and that was a 30% increase from the year before that! It’s also split into three separate parts: South Unit, North Unit and the Elkhorn Ranch. These areas are about 1:30-2 hours away from each other so I spent all my time in the largest area the South Unit. The park was named after, as I am sure you can guess, former president Theodore Roosevelt who started the national parks system. This is where he went for many years after suffering the loss of both his wife and mother (unrelated deaths) on the same night. It was in those wild lands where he said, “The romance of my life began”. As a person who loves exploring and seeing nature firsthand, I can see why he fell in love with this beautiful but rugged landscape.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the park. It was a new adventure, one that I was making alone, which was a first for me. My beautiful wife Kylee, who usually writes the travel blogs, had to stay home so that left me with a solo trip. The trip was not that bad, one road west out of Minneapolis and then eight hours later your there. The park is connected to the small town of Medora, which I believe has a population of less than 200. When I arrived, I went to the Visitor Station. I showed them my annual visitors pass (highly recommended) and picked up my backcountry camping permit. I planned to camp all three nights I was staying, two nights in the backcountry, one in a designated campsite.
Going into the park, I got the familiar jolt of excitement course through me. I was extremely excited to start photographing! Within the fist mile, I was pleasantly treated to seeing my first Prairie Dogs. There were two thing I learned in that moment; they were smaller than I thought and they can be very noisy They live in what is essentially an underground city of tunnels and they have sentries posted around who communicate any danger approaching. After spending some time with these little guys, I was lucky enough to come across my first (of what would come to be several) moments with the wild horses. One came up above a hill and strolled over to the side of the road. This was part of the reason why I was here! Wild or Feral horses are something I haven’t seen or photographed before and I wanted the challenge to try and photograph these beautiful animals. After I spent some time watching and photographing this beautiful horse, I slowly drove over to my first hiking trail. Along the way, I came across some bison and took my time looking for scenic landscape spots for the future and eventually reaching my designated trail. I packed my tent, cameras and everything else and went out onto Upper Talkington Trail. The hike started out a little rough. It started raining for a bit but eventually cleared up. After about three miles in I decided to set up camp and do a little exploring with the last few hours of sunlight left. After I got back to the tent at sunset, I almost immediately went to bed; it had been a long day.
I woke up the next morning to a cool, foggy day. It made me want to stay curled up in the sleeping bag, but I had things to see and places to go! So I packed everything up and began the hike back. After taking detours around some Bison who did not look happy to see me and looking at some horses from a distance, I eventually made it back to the car. It didn’t take me very long but as I drove around the scenic loop, I noticed a nice big herd of Bison on the left side of the road. Then, on the right side, were a couple bands of horses. Oh man, was I a happy photographer! I spent hours with these animals, watching and photographing them. After I left, the rest of the day was spent driving around the main loop road and really exploring the park. Before I knew it, sunset was fast approaching and while driving around I had picked a spot I thought would be nice to watch it. The problem was that after sunset I didn’t set up camp because the lookout wasn’t near the trail I was suppose to set up camp. Plus I had to cross a river to get there. So I just parked the car in small pull off at the trailhead I was supposed to hike and slept in the car.
I woke up to a much sunnier morning than the day before. Conveniently, I was already at the car so I drove to my next hike, the Coal Vein Trail. It was a nice short morning hike, the only problem being once again, a bison caused a detour. After some exploring I left the park for the first time since I entered. I stopped, got some lunch and drove to another entrance for another hike. The Painted Canyon was beautiful with wonderful colors and a great view. So I couldn’t help but pack up my gear and hike down in there. It was a good hike, the most challenging one of the trip. Afterwards, I drove back through the main entrance and took a quick nap, woke up to some horses beside me and then went up to Wind Canyon and prepped the camera for another sunset. After meeting a nice couple, I went to my reserved campsite and called it a night. Then on my last day, I woke up to another foggy morning and some bison that were a little too close for comfort. I packed everything up and left, without seeing another soul, just like how I entered.
The park was a nice getaway. The badlands held a rough, rugged beauty that is hard to describe. I was able to complete my goal of photographing wild horses and along with them I was able to see Bison, Elk, Mule Deer, Turkeys, Pheasants and of course Prairie Dogs. It was so much more secluded than other national parks I have been to and I found that I thoroughly enjoyed that. It was a great trip, one that I will likely make again in the future.