North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt NP & Knife River Indian Villages NHS

July 31, 2017 (by Angela)

Yep, I’m behind again! We were in North Dakota for an entire week, and I didn’t get to write much. Tuesday through Friday was very busy due to some family issues that popped up in Tennessee. Though I was not there, I had to deal with quite a bit of things via phone, text, and email. The issues are not totally resolved, so I expect a trip home will be in my future. In the meantime, I’m playing catch up in all other areas of my life, including the blog.

Why am I writing so much instead of Jim? Well, Jim has been working while we’ve been steadily roaming, and he has been contemplating writing a post to explain all of that. Let’s just say for now that it is because Jim has been working remotely all summer long that we’ve been able to move on weekends. Also, due to his work schedule, we’ve had do most of our fun-seeking activities on weekends, too. He’s not had much time to blog, though he has taken time to be consistent in his CampSight reviews that are so popular.

Friday, July 21st, Jim and I headed to western North Dakota. As we drove I-90 toward Spearfish, smoke hung heavy in the air. I’m not sure if it was because of the Brady fire south of Spearfish or due to another wild fire, but this was the first and only instance in which we had seen the resulting smoke from Western wildfires. Finally, as we entered ND, the smoke disappeared. Lunch was at a Mom & Pop gas station/general store/restaurant along the lonely highway followed from Spearfish, SD to Belfield, ND. We stopped for the night at North Park Campground in Dickinson, ND.



Saturday, we filled the vehicles with fuel at a truck stop and left the truck and camper parked there while the three of us back-tracked about 40 miles, so we could spend a good portion of the day visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). Even if we did just scratch the surface of things to see and do there, I’m so glad that we did! While the park is unique in and of itself, the Southern Unit, which is all that we had time to see, was reminiscent of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The formations through which we drove, even before entering the park, were very similar to those in Badlands NP, but where there are almost no trees in the SD Badlands, trees and vegetation seem to thrive in this National Park (NP). Similar to our time in the SD Badlands, we saw a good deal of wildlife at Theodore Roosevelt NP; some were the same types of animals, and some were different. Seeing one park is not the same as seeing the other, so don’t get that idea as both are distinctive.

First, we stopped at Painted Canyon Visitor Center and overlook, which is accessible immediately off the Interstate before actually entering the park. Entering through the South Entrance, we drove through the town of Medora to reach the gate. (I strongly recommend staying in the park or in one of the locations in Medora if you have that option.) After a brief stop at the visitor center (we couldn’t watch a video since it was hot and we had Chewie), Jim and I decided our hours were best spent driving the 36-mile scenic loop. We had barely begun our drive before we were greeted by wild mustangs up on a hill, and then around the next curve, we met what we think was an older bison crossing the road. During our drive, in which we made only a few stops along the way, we were blessed with amazing sights, vista views, and majestic wildlife. It was worth every minute to get there. Then, as we wrapped up our driving tour, a big male bison passed us as if to say goodbye. Three feral horses, located at the exact same spot as the first bison we saw, were waiting to tell us safe travels.

I know for a fact that we missed out on about two-thirds of what TRNP has to offer, so we must visit again.  Look at our pictures below, and you may get an idea of what I mean once you compare it to the photos made at Badlands NP here.



After our time in TRNP, we returned to Dickinson, retrieved the truck and camper, and headed to Menoken, just east of Bismarck, to stay for the rest of the week. Sunday, we headed to Knife River Indian Villages Historic Site. It was informative, educational, and fun. As always, we watch the video first when we can. The history and culture of the Indian Nations who made this home is interesting in its own right, but the story of Lewis and Clark intertwine with a brief portion of the story of the Mandan and Hidasta Villages on the Knife River. It was here that Lewis and Clark wintered in 1804-05 during their expedition. As a result, they hired a French fur trapper and his wife who’d been living with the Hidasta. The trapper, his wife, along with a baby born to them during that winter, joined the Lewis and Clark expedition as guides and interpreters. The trapper’s Shoshoni wife’s name was Sacagawea (Sakakawea).

One thing of interest is that these tribes were matriarchal, so the women owned and managed the homes. In fact, women were in charge of the construction of their homes. Below are pictures of the earthen lodge on site. When built, the lodges were expected to last about 10 years. It was these type homes in which the Mandan and Hidasta lived in winter. There was even a place for the most prized horses and the family dogs to stay inside during the harsh winters. Lighter dwellings intended for only a season were set up along the river itself during summers.



Jim and I really intended to visit the Lewis and Clark interpretative Center, but I mistakenly thought it was in Bismarck. It is actually in Washburn, so we should have gone there the same day we visited Knife River. We didn’t have time to go all the way back out that direction before time move on due to Jim’s work schedule. 😦 I messed up.

Despite missing out on the Interpretive Center, the other two day’s adventures were worth every minute, and I wish we’d had more time. They were also affordable. With our National Park Access Pass, it cost us nothing but gas to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park; we took in our own water and got free refills at the visitor center.  Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site was free (except for gas to get there); we took our water and got free refills there (and we were glad of the water after our hike to the river). Frugal, fun, and educational – a win in all ways.



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