When you think of America’s National Parks, you naturally think of the “glory parks”: Grand Canyon, Great Smokey Mountains, Yosemite, and Yellowstone. Most Americans would struggle to name another five, let alone some of the lesser known and visited parks like the Teddy. I’ll admit that I was surprised myself to learn of a national park existing in the northern plains. I randomly ended up spending a summer in North Dakota and learned my mistake.
I figured the park must be something spectacular and different compared to the rolling plains and oil rigs to be found north. Spectacular it is. Not just from its beauty influenced by the Little Missouri River but from learning that these northern badlands inspired the entire philosophy of conservation in America.
On February 14, 1884, Teddy Roosevelt lost both his mother and wife within twelve hours of each other in the house they shared. His first child, a girl, was born just two days before. His mother lost her life to typhoid and his wife succumbed to a kidney disorder that was masked during pregnancy.
This being too much for him to handle, he entrusted his daughter to his sister. Teddy then found solace and healing in his Maltese Cross cabin near Medora, North Dakota. He worked the land and developed the Elkhorn Ranch in the area before returning back to New York, where he took over custody of his daughter. He then began pursuing his political career.
About his time in the west, he stated,”I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”
The park itself is divided into three units: the North, the South, and the remote Elkhorn Ranch Unit. The Little Missouri River runs through all three. Between the three units is a wilderness area, and for the trail hounds, one can hike the Maah Daah Hey Trail. The trail extends from the Southern Unit through the wilderness to the Northern Unit. For more information check out the website Maah Daah Hey Trail Association.
The beauty of these northern badlands and Little Missouri River Valley is reason enough to go out of the way to visit this park. The history that this park holds is another draw. Some of these “little” parks have had a huge influence on the conservation of the nation. Would Roosevelt’s conservation policy have been the same without thoughts like this coming from his experiences in North Dakota?
The extermination of the buffalo has been a veritable tragedy of the animal world.