Our scheduled stay in North Dakota was 12 nights. We drove further than our usual 200 mile daily limit between stops as the entire drive was over interstates. The drive through the cities of Fargo and Bismarck was a none event. I don’t recall the speed on the interstate even changed while passing through. First stop was Jamestown ND which just happened to have an RV park a reasonable distance from our last stop along the drive to our destination at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We skipped stopping in Wisconsin as we intend to explore that state later. We spent four nights in Jamestown and visited the National Buffalo Museum with nearby western street. Author Louis Lamour was born here, but buried in California. I’m sure the town influenced the nature of his writings. I swapped out a book for one of his at a campground book exchange as I’ve never read one of his.
We lucked out and was assigned the best spot at the Jamestown Campgrounds. The frontage road off Interstate 94 that leads to the park is roughly graded gravel but fine if you take it slow. We had lots of space on the awning side of the camper and an easy walk to very large fields where the dog was able to run off-leash over wide mowed paths through the grass. Wonderful place to stay just to take a break from travels.
For sure the National Buffalo Museum was worth a visit only because we were in town. There is a small street of old western buildings the city has setup in the same area with shops. You will learn everything you want to know about buffalo in this smaller unique museum. The site is not a National Historic location or anything similar in size. But they do have the worlds largest buffalo statue.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
I’ve heard more than once that Roosevelt National Park is under-rated. Before we planned the trip I wondered if it was any different than the South Dakota Badlands off Interstate 90 which we have yet to see. Looking at photos I say the two are different in at least colors. If you have traveled east or west on I-90 in South Dakota, why not make the next trip just to the north over I-94 in North Dakota.
Roosevelt National Park actually covers three sections of area which are not attached to one another. One section is Roosevelt’s old ranch, then you have a south and north section of badlands with paved roads to tour the park. We skipped his old ranch section where nothing remains other than a few stones from a foundation. Roosevelt sold the property which would have been altered.
I’ll skip most of the history lesson, knowing those interested will look it up if they ever come here. In short, Roosevelt was a sickly child. As he grew up he compensated for his weaknesses, and to build his body up, by participating in sports. I came away with the opinion he was a kid that might easily have been picked on by bullies and he did his utmost to prove he would not become someone to be messed with. He was born into a rich New York family and liked to hunt. He came out west to shoot a buffalo before they were extinct. He arrived in the Medora North Dakota area and shot one. He also fell in love with the area and after further reflection he figured the buffalo needed to be saved. He also said North Dakota took the New York snob out of him. He recognized you have to get out of the city to learn about the America people. Well he bought some land and decided to try his hand at cattle ranching, traveling back and fourth to New York where he was a politician. His wife and mom died, in the same house on the same day in July. Heartbroken he came back to his ranch in North Dakota to heal. This was before his time in history involving the Rough Riders that he organized to fight in Cuba (lots of cowboys in that group) or as Governor of New York or the President.
I got to wondering why his image is among George Washington’s, Abraham Lincoln’s and Thomas Jefferson’s at Mount Rushmore. Well the folks out here in the Dakota Territory are proud of Roosevelt and his personality. As President of the Unites States he would become known as the “conservation president.” Those that hunt and fish are often the most vocal when it comes to preserving those lands and water. Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the United States Forest Service and establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. The stated reason why his image is on Mount Rushmore has to do with his leadership during a time of rapid growth in the United States.
Okay, what about the three units of the park. They are separated by miles. The north unit is 68 miles from the south over a state highway outside the south unit. Roosevelt’s old ranch was added as the park formed. I can’t possibly describe the geology and beauty of the area because I lack the required writing skills. We drove the distance and visited the north unit. It’s worth it as the valleys are deeper and the colors are different than the south unit. The north unit also has only one tenth the visitors as the south unit. Staying in the area a week allowed us to spend a couple days inside the south unit and even on a Friday it was not terribly busy.
There was a time in the not so distant past I had very little experience touring nationals parks. I’ll assume readers might also lack experience. Therefore I’ll take a moment to describe what “busy” means in a national park. Knowing 2021 would be a year of record attendance at national parks, we are skipping the Yellowstone area, even if we are close to the most famous parks in western Montana and Wyoming. From my experience so far, National Parks and Monuments include long paved roads folks drive around and stop at various interesting viewpoints. Parking lots and pullouts along the roads are limited in capacity. There are boardwalks and trails galore and during the busy season you might be hiking with a lot of others which takes away from the overall would-be peaceful solitude. The visitor centers will have some RV parking which is shared with all the other dozens, if not hundreds, of cars. You might have to stand in line to see an interesting display. I suppose a lot of this crowding can be overcome if you tour at the right time of year which I’m starting to think is the month the park opens and the month it closes. September has become one of our favorite months to travel.
We stayed down the street from the south entrance at Red Trail Campground which has been a family owned campground for over 40 years. Mary took my reservation months ago over the phone when at the time she recognized our home address in Livingston Texas, saying we must be fulltimers. A couple other campers said the ladies in the office were not that friendly. Others said they are efficient and easy going. I asked Mary about her family and how the RV park was built. She was offered two million dollars recently to sell out but says no, she has a daughter in college that wants to run it. She is proud that her father took no personal income from the park for the first 12 years he owned it. Frankly, the park is somewhat crowded by spaces close to the neighbor, dusty at times with very few amenities. In other words, fairly typical to what we have found now in three states out west. We came here to tour the National Park and our camper was backed up to an area that could have easily been part of the National Park. The views were fascinating. This history of Medora North Dakota offers nearly as many interesting spots as does the National Park. The town is small and was busy one weekend (we stayed a full week and recommend it) as there were two weddings and a bike race. Otherwise the crowds thinned out during weekdays to include to refuel at the single gas station which has one unleaded and one diesel pump. The beer prices were way over priced – so bring you own. The fuel prices were reasonable as I suppose the locals would have not tolerated unfair gas prices and traveled 20 miles down the road to buy at a better price.
I’ll be included more photos of the north section of the park compared to the south as it really was that much more interesting, to Karen and me anyway. Before the photos, I want to comment about a couple other interesting experiences. You can walk from the RV park to downtown. I stopped to buy nuts at a specialty shop. The elderly lady working alone and said she was 95 years of age, the oldest person in town. Raised here and later moved on to be educated in New York and elsewhere. I asked what was the most interesting thing in town I should not miss. She says, as the towns historian, she recommends two places, one of which without knowing I most likely have already experienced. Other than the obvious, Roosevelt National Park, don’t miss the history of Chateu De Mores State Historic Site (we skipped it) and the second, and most important experience I should not miss, is the people of North Dakota. Where old fashion family values are more than a buzz word. She had a way of using words and I certainly got the meaning and respected her opinion as an elder and a native of North Dakota. Not fifteen minutes later, I walked towards the only convenience store in town. A man is entering at the same time and holds the door wide open for me, saying his grandmother would rise from her grave if he ever failed to hold the door open for a stranger. I held my hand out, introducing myself as Mark from Texas. He says wow, an out-of-towner willing to shake a mans hand regardless of the virus thing. He says come by the restaurant next door, he wants to buy me dinner. He works there as a dish washer. I told him, how about if I can make it I buy him dinner and he can buy mine. I regret not making time for that meal or seeking out a more personal town event where I could have met more locals. Mary, back at the RV park, might seem direct and efficiently unpleasant to some. Ask her about her family and why she keeps running the park, just make sure you have 30 minutes to talk.
Medora is located about 30 minutes west of the larger town of Dickinson which is the place where the very last trainload of buffalo skins were transported from the Dakota grasslands.
And now the photos – I’ll include a simple but important RV tip afterwards…
Images from South Unit of Roosevelt National Park – Medora ND
Images of North Unit – Roosevelt National Park – 68 Miles from South Unit
I’d describe the North Unit as more of a mountain chain compared to the South Unit which are a series of hills, for lack of better words. In the north large rivers that form here and run south, like I know from the Midwest such as the Missouri River, are just a trickle of water compared with their arrival in St. Louis. River’s like the Yellowstone and Big Horn will be the big ones we encounter more than once. Heck, if you move a little more to the north, water starts to run northward rather than southward like we are used to.
Down and Dirty RV Tip
A few months ago I received a tip from a fellow Rver. I had been thinking I might need to replace a toilet bowl gasket after two years of usage…. It’s the gasket that keeps water in the bowl rather than dripping into the black tank.
It’s a nasty job but worth it. Put on a glove and use a finger to clean all the grunge off the gasket, to include the thin groove where the ball sets within. I sometimes also add a little Lube Tube Lubricant and Sealant. No more leaks.
We are currently located near the base of the Big Horn Mountains in Buffalo Wyoming.