Impressions: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Impressions - Teddy Roosevelt National Park
We spent the Saturday after the National Parks Centennial in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Although there was free admission to the park that day, it wasn’t very busy. At the western edge of North Dakota, TRNP is out of the way and overshadowed by Badlands National Park. Intent on maximizing our park experiences, we might have passed by too, but our road west took us straight to the park entrance. After weeks and years of green rolling hills (aka. the American East), and hours and hours of highway and farmland, we were plenty awed when the fields dropped away in a rutted jumble of striated canyons.
We paused at the park entrance to do some trail research before heading to Peaceful Valley Ranch trailhead. We were greeted by a super friendly couple of full-timers hanging out of an old Chevy van, and paused to ask about their adventures before shaking out our legs on some sweet single track. We crossed the Little Cottonwood River together but split up after a mile and change. I ran the Lone tree loop trail (9mi) and James did the Big Plateau Loop, both highly recommended. Some trail impressions below.
It's mildly scary to split off on a trail run alone. Alone, beginning to be more aware of the distance between trail markers, how easy it would be to twist an ankle, the possibility of dangerous wildlife. Nature is raw and unforgiving. We are guests, allowed to pass through and take in the beauty.
Smelling the trail. Awareness of your senses while experiencing a location. Running through patches of some sort of pine (juniper?) followed by sagebrush, followed by dusty trail, followed again by pine. Experiencing the land with more than just your eyes.
The final climb to the Big Plateau Trail wasn’t notable, I simply looked up from the dust to find myself in a sea of brittle ocher. Stunted cottonwoods, briars and sagebrush were suddenly obscured by a dent in the landscape, sandstone cliffs reduced to smoky smudges on the horizon. It felt like the opening of a video game, lustrous and improbable. The sun shone harsh and insubstantial from a sky larger than it should be, and the land was curiously stark and alluring with all directions possible.
Trail posts slanted up from featureless grass, clearly marking a trail. But was it the right way? Uncertain, I doubled back to search for missed forks, checked my watch and water, then pressed on with the wind in my face.
*Ps. We also drove the park loop road to see bison and more prairie dogs, and cooked/ate dinner at the Buck Hill overlook. You can find our dinner recipe here.