I have always been interested in Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. In his youth he suffered from a range on illnesses that left him almost incapacitated. He was also very nearsighted which caused him to wear glasses most of his life. Yet he overcame these obstacles. He developed physically as well as mentally and later would credit much of his success to “strenuous living.” In his early twenties he took a trip to the West and loved the experience. This left a fondness in his heart for the wildness of the frontier and the strenuous living that went with it. He made many more trips to the West to hunt and fish.
Things were going well for Roosevelt, he was succeeding in business and politics and was married, with their first child on the way. Then disaster struck. His wife died in childbirth and his mother also died on the same day, February 14, 1884. Theodore was in shock. He had just lost the two women that mattered most in his life. He sank into a depression and his family and friends encouraged him to go somewhere to grieve. That somewhere was the area of the Little Missouri River near the town of Medora in western North Dakota (then the Dakota Territory). Roosevelt had built a small cabin and had invested in a small cattle ranch, the Maltese Cross. He stayed here from 1884 to 1886. During this time he spent hours herding cattle, hunting for food, letting nature help him to cope with his loss. This area is now the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
We set up camp in the Cottonwood Campground. It is a nice campground with mostly pull off sites so you don’t have to back your trailer into the site. It is also dry camping. We filled our fresh water tank at a water point near the entrance and there are several water faucets throughout the campground. There are no electrical hookups so we used our two Honda generators to power our trailer.
It rained during much of the second we were there, but we hiked a portion of the Lower Paddock Creek Trail. Unfortunately the rain had turned the trail into a greasy mud that hung on our boots like magnets to iron. Consequently we decided to turn back and try hiking later in the week. One of the advantages of being fulltime RVers is that we can stay in an area long enough to sit out a few days of bad weather.
After getting cleaned up we toured the Visitor Center and were able to tour Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin that he and his crew built in 1883. It was here that he returned to in 1884. The Maltese Cross Cabin wasn’t remote enough and it was during this time that he built his Elkhorn Ranch. At the Elkhorn Ranch his closest neighbor was ten miles away. While the Maltese Cross Cabin has been maintained, the Elkhorn Ranch has all but disappeared and only the foundations remain.
Near the Cottonwood Campground is the Peaceful Valley Ranch. The history of this ranch is older than the history of the park. It was cattle ranch in the 1800s, a dude ranch in the 1920s, the headquarters of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Work Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s, park headquarters in the 1950s and 60s, and a facility for guided horseback rides until 2014. The buildings looked like they were built in the 1800s, but are in good shape. The ranch gave you a real picture of life on the range during Roosevelt’s time here.
On our last full day in the park the weather cleared up and we drove along the 36 mile Scenic Loop Drive. This drive gave us a great view of the terrain and we stopped at several points to take pictures of wild horses and bison grazing on the open range. At one point we had to stop to let a herd of bison cross the road so we could continue. We have been in many parks that had prairie dog towns, but we rarely saw any prairie dogs, yet here we saw prairie dogs climbing in and out of their holes and running from hole to hole all over the place.
There are several short hikes along the road and we took a couple of them to get some great views. At Buck Hill we were able to have a panoramic view that took in almost all of the South Unit of the park.
After the drive we planned to hike a trail that started at the Peaceful Valley Ranch and crossed the Little Missouri River, but we soon discovered there was no bridge so we just hiked around the nearby area.
If you are interested in reading more about Theodore Roosevelt, I recommend a trilogy by Edmund Morris.
This is one of my favorite Roosevelt quotes –
The next morning we were glad we were heading on to our next stop as it was just pouring rain with thunder and lightning. It was like nature was telling us we had overstayed our welcome. Next stop – Box Elder, SD.