Ease Down the Road

Heading west into the badlands of North Dakota

We set out from Washburn, bound for Arizona via North Dakota. We wanted to see Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and then we figured we’d head south and maybe catch some of the fall colors in the Rockies on our way.

It’s pretty rare for us to drive more than 200 miles a day. We’re not in any rush and that’s about how far you can go in the bus before it starts to feel like a chore. That said, we decided to blast our way across Minnesota and North Dakota doing back-to-back 300 mile days. We spent the night at a city park in Fargo the first day and then pushed on for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was a lot of driving, but there just weren’t many places to stop in between.

Theodore Roosevelt has a fairly nice campground, but we opted to stay at a more remote boondocking spot in the Little Missouri Grasslands. Although it was well outside the park, and off by itself, it was actually closer to town and made a good base for exploring the area.

The Grasslands themselves were in some ways more interesting than the national park, though if you want to see bison you have to go into the park since a fence keeps them in. The kids loved having some badlands for a backyard. They’d disappear up into the hills in the mornings while Corrinne and I worked, returning only for food.

The kids and I hiked a ways out on a trail that runs through a petrified forest. We were mostly looking for birds since the petrified forest was farther than anyone wanted to walk. The kids had been looking over the bird list we picked up at the visitor center, deciding ahead of time what they wanted to see — the Sharp-tailed Grouse was their top pick. I gave them the usual caution that one doesn’t really pick which birds they’re going to see, to have patience, and so on.

Naturally, the first thing we see, after less than 10 minutes of walking, was a Sharp-tailed Grouse. It reminded me of the time I explained to them that fishing requires patience and then less than two minutes after casting Lilah was reeling in a fish. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe everyone else is always seeing birds and catching fish.

We’re not just bird and fish people these days, we also go in for rocks. Some of us anyway. Whatever the case there’s a river just over the Montana border that is the place to find eponymous agates. We made the hour long drive and came back with more Montana agates than anyone living in a 26-foot bus should really have.

It was nice to spend a day beside the river though. The current was pretty strong, but we managed to get a little swimming in.

And yes, we did drive into Theodore Roosevelt National Park one day. The kids like to get junior ranger badges whenever we’re anywhere national, so they did that while I wandered around the visitor center. Men like Theodore Roosevelt aren’t very popular these days, but it seems to me that might actually be most of our problem. We could use some leadership just now and boy it’s been a while since politicians were leaders. Try to imagine one of our current “leaders” taking a bullet and then refusing to stop his speech just because he’d been shot.

We also wanted to see the bison herd that lives in the park. Our best view though turned out to be this one, which was off by himself, standing right beside the road. Maybe, I thought while I was taking the picture, if you can’t be a leader, at least don’t be a follower. Maybe just stand off by yourself, mind your own business, eat grass, and stare at the tourists.

We also made a stop at the cowboy museum in the nearby town of Medora, where the kids learned a little about rodeo culture.

Mostly though we spent a lot of time just hanging out at the campsite. The landscape here is such a stark contrast to the last few months that we were all happy to just wander around under that vast, seemingly endless western sky.

Part of what made our campsite nice and our time in the grasslands so enjoyable was that we happened to hit a gap between storms. For five days we had virtually no wind. On the sixth day though we got a taste of what this place is like most of the time. With a 20 MPH wind blowing dust around all day, and a storm bearing down on us that promised a 40 MPH headwind for our next drive, we decided to it was time to hit the road again.


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