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