Sunday, October 15, 2017


Grinning Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt, while a young New York state legislator, first visited Medora, on the far western edge of North Dakota, in 1883 to hunt buffalo.  His interest in the West was piqued and he eventually bought 2 cattle ranches near Medora.  Then, in 1884 his young wife died from complications of childbirth and, on the same day, his mother died of typhoid fever. Roosevelt was absolutely devastated.  He handed his newborn daughter over to his sister to care for and retreated back to North Dakota to live a semi-hermit's life on his ranch.  Hard work with the cattle and communal living among the cowboys eventually revived his spirits and helped to solidify his conservation ethic.  He eventually went back to his political career and became president after the assassination of William McKinley.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was originally started as a memorial park for our 26th president shortly after his death in 1919.  Serious work didn't really begin until the 1930’s thanks to his nephew Franklin’s Civilian Conservation Corps but was stopped during World War II.  President Truman officially created the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park by presidential fiat in 1947, but congress did not get around to voting it in as a National Park until 1978.  That’s why our parents never took us there as kids.
North Dakota Badlands near Medora

Roosevelt's ranch house

The national park is divided into three sections and consists of much of the Badlands area of North Dakota around the Little Missouri River plus most of the land that was part of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch.  One needs a horse or a 4-wheel-drive vehicle to see much of the ranchland but his original ranch home, the Maltese Cabin, was moved to the park visitor center in Medora.

Critters at the park

Similar to Custer State Park in South Dakota, T. Roosevelt National Park has a herd of bison, some prairie dog towns, elk, deer and some feral horses.  (Custer SP has feral donkeys.)  So of course, we have to share pictures of these animals.  Like everywhere else we go there were also allegedly black bears but, as usual, we never saw any.  We city folk are so impressed with wild animals.
Lazy bison

Wild horses - look just like the tame ones

BBQ dinner before the show - pretty good.

When I made reservations to stay at the campground in Medora I was asked if I wanted to make reservations for the Medora Musical.  A couple of people at Jojoba Hills had told me to make certain that we saw the musical.  So I said, “Sure.”  I’m not certain what it is about our So Cal upbringing but both of us somehow had come to think of North Dakota as backward and 2nd rate.  This year’s visit to western North Dakota taught us a thing or two.  The musical was very professionally done.  It sort of reminds one of the kinds of shows you used to see produced at Disneyland except instead of Belle or Snow White, the true star of the show was North Dakota.  That was a little tough because not that much stuff rhymes with Dakota.  Especially if you aren’t allowed to use South Dakota or, heaven forbid, Minnesota.  But they managed it.  (Frankly, I’m not sure I could have tolerated one more paean to the state by the end of the evening.)

The band warms up for the show
The bear was introduced as the sheriff, then never mentioned again. 

Scenes from the Medora Musical.  Very professional but a little too Dakotaphillic
Just a little nuts.

One day during our week in Medora we also went to a little theater where a political consultant from Tennessee dressed up as Teddy Roosevelt and gave a monologue about his life, similar to Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain.  Actually, as near as we could tell, he dressed up as Roosevelt all the time and wandered around Medora saying “Bully” and “Carry a big stick” when he wasn’t on stage.  His name was Joe Weigand and he may be just a little nuts.  Apparently he does this all over the country and makes a good living at it.  But he goes to the Medora Musical every night in the summer, so the “just a little nuts” comment still holds.  Be that as it may, the Teddy show was very interesting and informative.  He performs over 200 shows a year but I suspect that in July and August you can pretty much always find him in Medora, promoting Teddy’s memorial park.

Invading the camping area

On the day we drove up to the North Unit of the National Park we packed a picnic lunch.  Since we don’t usually get on the road until around lunch time, the 1st thing we did was head to the picnic area.  When we arrived a small herd of bison had invaded the campground and day use area.  A park ranger came by to remind us that bison are dangerous wild animals and to keep our distance.  Unfortunately, he went off to harangue other tourists and forgot to talk to the bison.  When we started eating lunch they were about 150 yds away.  Halfway through our sandwiches they had narrowed that distance to about 50 yds.  Toward the end of our meal they were down to about 20 yards and we were just about to move back into the car when the lead bison and her calf decided there were other people to annoy off in another direction and they slowly sauntered off toward some tent campers.  Our Winnebago isn’t tough, but I decided I prefer it to a tent. 

The lead cow and her calf heading toward us, then veering off to go harass the tenters

Roger and Vicki at the north part of the park.
Vicki meets a friendly ranger

Ready to serve sausages and sides

One other thing we did during our week in Medora was to drive about 30 miles to Dickinson to do grocery shopping.  Medora has a population of only 132 year round residents.  It is primarily a tourist town supporting the national park and the musical.  There are a number of restaurants, tourist shops, motels, etc., but no grocery stores.  When we have to drive a fair distance to grocery shop we usually look for a place to eat first so we don’t have food sitting in the sun in the back of the car while we eat.  Roger went online and found The Wurst Shop.  It is kind of a combination restaurant and meat market.  In addition to traditional bratwurst, they also had mangowurst, currywurst, jalapenowurst, pineapplewurst and half a dozen more.  You could have your sausage on a roll or a bed of kraut.  The sausages we had in the shop were excellent, but the currywurst we bought to take home was kind of chewy.   C’est la wurst.

The meat shop side
Triceratops at the museum entrance

Dinosaur models and skeletons

The other item of interest here was the Dickenson Dinosaur Museum.  This museum houses hundreds of rock, mineral, and fossil specimens including a complete Triceratops skull.  It was well presented and only took about an hour to go through.  There were real fossils, copied fossils and dinosaur models as well as various mineral specimens.  It was nothing new for us and not nearly as much fun without 6 year old Christopher along to narrate but still a pleasant diversion.  Somewhere on the property there was also a local history museum and a number of historic old buildings but while we were in looking at the dinos it started pouring rain so a pleasant stroll around the grounds kind of lost its cachet.  Maybe next time (not bloody likely).

Mineral egg display - I have no idea why

Fluorescent mineral display

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Pompey's Pillar

Pompey's Pillar

Clark's signature

Traveling along I94 we stopped in Billings to see Pompey's Pillar.  It is a National Historic Landmark where the Powder River meets the Yellowstone River but there are no camping spots nearby.

Replica of Clark's canoe with Pillar in the background

Meriwether Lewis & William Clark split up on the return trip to Saint Louis in July & August of 1806.  Meriwether went north to explore the Marais River while Clark traveled the Yellowstone River by canoe with Sacagawea as a guide.  They wanted to be sure these tributaries of the Missouri did not hide some better way to the Pacific.  Some of the men accompanied Clark along the way on horseback but most of the horses gradually disappeared, presumably stolen by Indians.  Since they were now traveling downstream it was mostly a lovely float trip.  Comments were made in Clark's journal about the abundant wildlife.

The Missouri River ambling along behind the Pillar

At the beginning of their trip when they were wintering over at the Mandan villages before assaulting the Rocky Mountains, Sacagawea gave birth to a son and her son traveled with her the whole expedition.  The boy’s name was Jean Baptiste but Clark became fairly attached to him and nicknamed him "Pomp" or “Pompey”.  When they came across a large sandstone outcropping at the Powder River on July 25, 1806, Clark got out of the canoe and climbed the rock to survey the area.  He also carved his name and date on in the soft sandstone, which today can be viewed under a protective plexiglas cover.  The area is fenced off so no one else can add their name to the rock.  Clark named the sandstone landmark Pompey's Pillar.

The Range Rider's Museum - another local collection of junk

We then proceeded further up I94 along Clark's route to Miles City, our last stop in Montana for this year.  Miles City was a center for the end of the cattle drives during the last half of the 1800s.  The cattle roamed freely here, grazing on the lush vegetation near the Yellowstone River.  The cowboys here were known as the Range Riders.

Great western tradition - kill things and stick them on your wall

Miles City has a museum known as the Range Riders Museum.  We thought we would tour the museum to learn a little more about this era.  It turned out to be just a small town museum with items that seemed to date mostly from after the range lands were fenced.  However, they did have some nice exhibits which we will share in photos.

Range Rider archeology, somewhat less meticulous than the university

Arrowhead collection
Aged guitars

Western bar with bottles

Replica western town with saddle collection

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Back to Big Timber and Red Lodge by Vicki Rains

The Boulder River at Spring Creek Campground.
After all that traveling we looked forward to a few days rest at our favorite campground, Spring Creek Campground & Trout Farm in Big Timber, MT.  In the 5 summers we have been on the road we have stopped there 4 of them.  You can find out more about it here.  We'll just share a few pictures.   We did eat at the hotel in downtown Big Timber this trip and the food was excellent.  Be sure to try it if you find yourself in the area.

Schnoodles on the dash board with the river through the windshield

Prairie Dogs
While in Big Timber we did drive a short distance to Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State Park to see the prairie dogs.  We like prairie dogs almost as much as we like bison (meaning we are, by now, getting tired of them.)  Compared to Custer State Park or Badlands SD, the dog town was pretty small and the rodents  were more skittish in MT than they were in SD or at Devil's Tower in WY, but we got a few photos anyway.

This was parked out front - I don't know why
We also took a drive to Livingston to see another train museum.  The Great Northern Railroad once crossed the northern plains and the museum is inside the old train depot.  Trains rumbled by about every 40 minutes taking coal east and empty cars back west again, but I don't think any of them ever stop in Livingston any more.  Across the street from the museum was a tackle shop with an interesting facade.  We also stopped and had Dairy Queen treats while we were in town. 
Original Station Wagon

Train art

Ticket office in the museum

Model engine - about 2 feet tall

Fishing shop across the street
From Livingston we drove Hwy 89 along the Yellowstone river about half the way to the Gardner entrance to the park just to enjoy the scenery.  Then we doubled back to our campground.

Along Hwy 89
Next we moved on to Red Lodge.  During our first summer as full time RV'ers we traveled the Bear Tooth Hwy after taking the Chief Joseph Hwy from Cody WY, ending up at Red Lodge, MT.  You
Starting out along the Bear Tooth Highway
can find that story here.  It was so beautiful that we decided to take it in the opposite direction from Red Lodge this trip.  We drove it to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone, then returned back the same route to Red Lodge.

Our first visit we never figured out where the Bear's Tooth was exactly.  Well, this is it.
Visitors play with the ground squirrels
A couple of mountain goats at the top of the pass

The Bear Tooth Hwy is an All American Road.  Earlier this year we drove another one, along UT Hwy 12.  You can find that story here.  The scenery is so different it is hard to compare them.  There is something about the Bear Tooth.  One just doesn't remember how beautiful it is until one is driving it again.
Scenes along the highway
Picnic at a road side rest area
Lake Creek Falls and Bridge