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

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