Our 2021 Road Trip #34: The Rough Rider’s Roofless Rumpus Room

Boicourt Overlook!

When you’re still enjoying the scenery after seven days but verging on Badlands burnout.

The best advance investment we made for the sake of this vacation was an America the Beautiful Parks Pass. For one flat fee that felt exorbitant at first, pass-holders get one-year admission to any and all the national parks, monuments, and other qualifying attractions within your reach before time’s up. Anne did the math and realized our itinerary would indeed pay for itself if everything worked out and none of our destinations shut down.

The pass got us into Yellowstone National Park, our primary objective. It got us into Pompeys Pillar National Monument, which was on our return route. The next day, it gave us the clout to check out a third locale of natural splendor in North Dakota that exceeded the pass price and began netting us some savings. Any more national parks/monuments/whatever that we visit between now and June 2022 are basically free. We should probably take advantage of that. If the pandemic would shoo, that’d really help us out. Or if someone could open another national park conveniently here in Indiana, even better.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

final Montana panorama!

Last call for Montana panoramas.

DAY SEVEN: Thursday, July 1st.

Our morning farewell to the state of Montana was short and unremarkable. We left rustic li’l Glendive and sped toward the day’s first attraction, across the border in North Dakota. We last saw the Peace Garden State in 2014, when we strolled around downtown Fargo and peeked inside a decommissioned nuclear missile silo. We knew we’d hardly scratched the surface of what their state has to offer. We spent all of Day Seven tallying new responses to that assumption.

Less than an hour east of Glendive is Theodore Roosevelt National Park, over 70,000 acres comprising the outer reaches of the Badlands, which sprawl across the western ends of both Dakotas. Officially designated a national park in 1947, it was named after a local bison hunter turned cattle rancher, U.S. President, and pioneering conservationist in that order. The park is divided into three units, closest of which to the interstate is the South Unit. The North Unit is another 68 miles beyond the South Unit, much of it mountainous and winding, and our time was limited. The Elkhorn Ranch Unit, where Roosevelt owned the eponymous grounds for a few years, is between the other two, but its roads were more rugged, largely unpaved, reportedly quite steep, and likely uninviting to our rental car. Our couple hours’ exploration were therefore limited to the South Unit.

But first, the visitor center offered a selection of exhibits, historical context, and amenities.

Theodore Roosevelt!

The myth, the mountain man, the man-mountain.

Teddy Roosevelt effigy!

A wooden effigy bearing some of his actual accoutrements.

Teddy Roosevelt rifles!

A pair of 1876 Winchester 50-95 rifles he brought along on an 1884 hunting trip in the Bighorn Mountains.

Progressive Party bandanna!

This Progressive Party bandanna (a.k.a. the Bull Moose Party) is a souvenir from the 1912 election, when he sought a third Presidential term.

Theodore Roosevelt assassination shirt.

The shirt he was wearing in October 1912 when a bar owner shot him in the chest during a campaign stop. Roosevelt kept bleeding for a bit but insisted on delivering his 50-page, 90-minute speech anyway because ’twas merely a flesh wound. He still lost…to Woodrow Wilson, of all people.

Samuel Eaton's More About the Roosevelt Bears!

A curio from the 1900s Roosevelt-inspired Teddy Bear craze, starring one of the last six remaining 20th-century IPs that have yet to be rebooted as a crappy live-action movie.

Champsosaurus Giga skeleton!

A nearly complete skeleton from a crocodile-adjacent Champsosaurus gigas, found in the South Unit’s Sentinel Butte Formation.

parking lot view!

Meanwhile beyond the parking lot, the park was waiting.

Much like Yellowstone, the South Unit is easily navigable via a single main road encircling the heart of it, the Scenic Loop Drive. One slight complication: nearly one-fourth of the loop’s 36-mile length was closed for road construction. We could venture at least a good half-circle’s worth, but at some point we’d have to reverse course and retreat the same way we’d come in.

After a few overlooks’ worth of stops and photos and moments to bask in the wonders of Creation yet again, a second complication arose: we were growing tired of hours of turtle-speed drives and constant stops and gazing at giant-sized nature over and over and over and over and over and over again. I feel awful confessing it, but we were in danger of overdosing on too much of a glorious thing. It’s a weird problem to have. I hesitate even to call it a problem. Suffice it to say our Roosevelt National Park photo collection is a fraction the size of our Yellowstone set and consequently won’t be spanning multiple chapters. But we enjoyed what we could while we were in the area.

prairie dog town!

The first landmark on our route was a prairie dog town. We could never tire of animals.

prairie dog!

Sample prairie dog.

intimate prairie dogs!

Prairie dog samples prairie dog.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The view of the visitor center from the first of the loop’s multiple pull-offs.

Skyline Vista view!

The view from Skyline Vista, the first overlook marked on the map.

I-94 North Dakota!

A sumptuous view of I-94.

Roosevelt Badlands overlook!

Another overlook, still more Badlands to go with our other Badlands pics.

Badlands mountain!

Random roadside mountain.

prairie dog different town!

At a second prairie dog town, a resident is surely shocked at what’s going on over in the first town.

Peaceful Valley Ranch!

Peaceful Valley Ranch. the last original ranch house in the South Unit, dates back to the 1880s. It’s been shuttered since 2014, but recent renovations imply hope for new purpose.

bighorn deer!

A bighorn deer with a grazing field all to itself, far away from all those weird prairie dogs.

high formations!

More formations looming over the roadway.

sandy roadside!

A sandy roadside offers an alternative to all those heights.

Boicourt Overlook!

The view from Boicourt Overlook, as also featured in our lead photo.

Boicourt Overlook!

Same overlook, farther off to one side.

Overlook view!

After we turned around to retrace our treads, we stopped at one last overlook view near the Wind Canyon Trail.

mountainside bison!

On our way out, a lone bison relaxes on a mountainside and apologizes for any discomfort caused by those weird prairie dogs.

We were done with the park, but our Theodore Roosevelt roadside experience was far from over. To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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