Update 6: August 30, 2006

Scorecard: (as of this update): 132 days; 13,065 miles (Car: 4982, RV: 8083); 16 states; 19 National Parks; 4102 photos.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park: July 22-25, 2006 (Location 28 on the Map)

We enjoyed our stay in the Black Hills, but after several days we were anxious to get back on the road. Although I'm not sure why I was anxious to go to North Dakota; had it not been for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we would have happily skipped this state.

But what fun we would have missed if we hadn't gone. US85 is the highway we took to travel north from South Dakota. It is about as straight and as empty as any road we'd been on, and I was finding it hard to stay awake. It's not exactly a good idea to drive a seven-ton motor home with a two-year-old and a pregnant woman when you're almost falling asleep, but fortunately I was presented with a diversion: counting dead rabbits. For whatever reason, after passing the state line into North Dakota, we started seeing dead rabbits along the sides of (and occasionally in the middle of) the road. As anyone who's traveled in North Dakota can probably attest, counting dead rabbits is infinitely more fun than staring out on the amber waves of nothingness along the way. The fun lasted until dead rabbit number 51, at which time the novelty had finally died off. It was replaced by a new diversion: the wind. Both Susan and I drove that day, and both of us had times where violent winds would strike the RV and we would find ourselves momentarily fighting for control in an effort to keep from being swept off the side of the road. At the end of the day, we agreed that racing heart rates did more to keep us awake than did a bunch of dead rabbits.

We camped in Medora, just outside the park entrance. Surprisingly, Medora was full of tourists, which we found later was probably due more to the Medora Musical than to the park itself. We were thankful again for electricity at the campground, since temperatures were around 100-degrees and many of the sites-ours included-had no trees to relieve the heat of the unrelenting sun. Now that we had moved out of the West, we were also beginning to experience that special Midwest treat known as humidity.

We spent the first day driving around the park's South Unit, where we discovered that there is more to North Dakota than frigid winters and dead rabbits. This was a beautiful area, and reminded me a little of Badlands National Park with the strange multi-colored formations. But where Badlands is desolate and seemingly devoid of life, Theodore Roosevelt is dotted with the green of Cottonwoods, Junipers and other hardy plant life, and supports bison, elk, prairie dogs and wild horses. By the time our driving tour of this unit was done, it was early afternoon and getting very warm. We went to the Medora community pool, where Justin was able to play with a fellow two-year-old. Afterwards, itching to get in some exercise, I went on a short 4-mile hike past a huge herd of bison and through several prairie dog towns. It was almost unbearable hiking weather, which probably explained why no one else was at the trailhead. However, I was motivated to get on top of one of the bluffs and check out the Needle Eye formation, so I finished my hike quickly, knowing that I'd soon be back in the comfort of air conditioning.

The next day we planned to get an early start and do a short hike in the South Unit before driving an hour away to see the North Unit. We were only a couple of miles into our hike when we realized that it was just too hot to be hiking with me carrying the extra weight of Justin and Susan carrying the extra weight of Justin's new sibling. We turned around, made the long drive to the North Unit, and found that it wasn't much different than where we'd just been. Our most noteworthy event of the day was stopping in at the visitor's center, where Ranger John taught Justin (who was going around to the various scatological displays and saying "Bison poop", "elk poop", etc.) that another word for "poop" is "scat". Justin enjoyed his new word, and returned to the many displays to practice it.

So in the end, North Dakota was a worthwhile stop. As a side note, while driving across I-94 the next day on our way to Fargo, we were rewarded with more driving diversions: Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein cow in New Salem; the world's largest Sandhill Crane in the town of Steele; and the world's largest Buffalo in Jamestown. And I thought North Dakota would be boring!

New bird: Red-headed Woodpecker.

For photos from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Click Here

Click Here to continue this update...