Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Home Where the Buffalos Roam

You have one, you know!  A home where the buffalo roam and it's one that belongs to all Americans.  

For the past four days, we've been in Medora, ND, where the buffalo roam.  No, they don't wander the streets here; they're quite happy to stay within the boundaries of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Still, their presence is felt.  And how could it not be so? The entrance to the park is found right off Pacific Avenue, the main street through the town.   

This national park is the only one named in a person's honor and there's none better for the National Park Service to salute than Theodore Roosevelt, the man who, during the course of his presidency, set aside 230 million acres of land for public use.

Burdened with grief from the deaths of his mother and his wife who passed away on the same terrible day in February 1884, Teddy fled west to the badlands of North Dakota.

There he found solace in the vastness of the landscape.

He never spoke of his wife after that, but with time he did heal.  Emerging from his sorrow with the restlessness that was so characteristic of his nature, he became a cattle rancher, although not a very successful one.  Still, the badlands changed him in ways that shaped the remainder of his life.

"I have always said I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota," said Roosevelt. 

And we Americans are all the richer, thanks to his transformation.

The Maltese Cross cabin, the three-room structure that was Roosevelt's first Dakota home, stands behind the park's South Unit Visitor's Center.  Foundations of the buildings at Elkhart Ranch, also found within the park, are all that remain of his second cattle operation.

Sunday, as we drove west across the state to where the park began at Painted Canyon, I was thunderstruck by the colorful bluffs and hills that rose out of the prairie grassland.  The hills stretched as far as my eyes could see.  This morning we returned to Painted Canyon Visitor Center which, by the way, doubles as a rest stop on Interstate 94, to hike its nature trail loop.  The nature trail was not our first choice, but we decided in its favor after our access to the main trail was blocked by a herd of the woolly beasts I mentioned above.

Painted Canyon Nature Trail

Within the park itself, the 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive takes 90 minutes at a minimum to circumvent--longer if one stops to hike the trails as we did.  

Lower Paddock Creek Trail

Jones Creek Trail

Buffalo guarding our exit from Jones Creek Trail

We tried to keep our distance from the bison and wild horses who call the park home. This fellow, however, was waiting for us at the end of Jones Creek Trail.  We gave him a wide berth, taking his photo from the car after we scrambled safely inside. 

A buffalo can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and sprint at 30 mph.  I think a mama buffalo could probably exceed that, if you are foolish enough to come between her and her calf.  After all, that would be a very impolite way to treat the lady who is hosting you in her home.

Happy buffalo, happy home, happy life!  We preferred to keep it that way!

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