Saturday, July 27, 2013

Day 10: Theordore Roosevelt National Park

Miles City to Medora, N.D.: 138 miles
Theodore Roosevelt National Park

You say there is nothing to see in North Dakota? Check your map. On the Western edge is a lovely wilderness called the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It is right on the route from Montana across North Dakota to Minneapolis, and it offers a few tidbits of history along with a satisfying banquet of scenic treasures. We got the history at the Visitors Center, which has the log cabin where Theodore Roosevelt spent a few summers in his mid-twenties. The ranger explained that Roosevelt came out here as a callow young man wanting to hunt buffalo, and while roughing it in this country he became a conservationist.

Theodore Roosevelt's cabin, the Maltese Falcon

As a young man of means, Roosevelt had bought himself a hobby ranch the first summer he came. The following winter his both his wife and his mother died on the same day, and the next summer he returned to mourn their loss.

Roughing it in a custom-built cabin with an attic
The young woman gave a very lively and interesting tour, pointing out that the cabin was bigger than average and had a pointed roof, which created an attic where the ranch hands could sleep.

The ranger gave a lively talk
After the tour we made the loop drive through the park. The land is formed of a pale, sandy rock like that at Yellowstone. It swoops and curves up into great canyons with occasional strata of red or black rock. Lines of cottonwoods, some of them huge and spreading, brought a cool green color into the scene, with patches of green bushes and tall yellow grasses. We stopped at the turnoffs that were in good light. The temperature was mild and the breeze was pleasant. The overall mood was comforting and serene.

View point on loop road in Roosevelt Park

We were rejoicing in our good luck when we started spotting buffalo. Just one in the distance at first, but then we came to a rest area near one of the herd's regular routes and quite a few of them passed fairly close, plenty close enough. They had been drinking at the river and then they headed across the road and up a hill where some of them rolled around and gave themselves a dust bath. Buffalo—actually, American bison; buffalo is an African animal with no hump, but everyone calls bison 'buffalo'—are very impressive and fascinating animals, and I began to understand why Western artists were fascinated by the problem of depicting them.

Our motel, the Americinn, was right near the entrance. After we got the car unloaded and freshened up, we went into Medora to find a place for dinner. Medora is basically a tourist trap—or a family recreation and entertainment center, depending or your point of view. It was founded by Marquis de Mores, a French immigrant, who ran a big meat-packing plant there in the early 20th century. After a long period of decline, the town was rebuilt as a tourist center by some enterprising developer. The government helped out by declaring the home of the marquis, and that of his wife's parents, historical landmarks and offering tours, and also developing a museum of local history. Various businesses offer shooting galleries, souvenirs, and the usual tourist crap. For the past several years the leading attraction has been a free enterprise musical production. It was described as having deer-feeding on the hillside worked in between the musical numbers. Dan and I had had enough fun and excitement for one day. We just wanted a nice meal.

At the town's moderately priced family style restaurant, the line to the reservation desk was about 10 deep, so we marched down the street to Theodore's restaurant at the Rough Rider Hotel. We got right in, no problem, and the reason for that is that steak was $40. Several entrees were around $40, some were around $30, two were about $20. Dan opted for pasta with bison meatballs, one of the cheap ones. I had a fabulous beet salad. So we ate in a nice place, and had a university-educated waiter from Argentina, but we didn't break the bank.

Theodore's Restaurant at the Rough Rider Hotel