There's plenty good about the Badlands!
Travels with Deb
When I began my travel writing career, I set a goal to visit each of the fifty states. Slowly, I began chipping away at this objective and soon only one state remained, North Dakota. Time for a road trip!
With nature as my focus, I headed to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the western section of the state. Named for the country’s 26th President, the park was actually not Roosevelt’s own creation, as it was established in 1947, long after his death. It was created in his honor, not only to recognize the work he did to protect and conserve millions of acres of natural land, but also to acknowledge the special connection he had to this corner of the country.
Roosevelt first came to the Dakota Territory in 1883 and was instantly enamored with the rugged beauty of the Badlands landscape. A year later, he returned to the area to seek refuge and solitude while grieving the loss of his wife and mother, who had passed away on the same day. He became a cattle rancher and found adventure and purpose, and the land helped heal him.
Roosevelt credited his Dakota experiences as the basis for his trail-blazing preservation efforts. As President, he translated his love of nature into law, establishing the U.S. Forest Service and signing the Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed eighteen national monuments. During his tenure, he also worked with Congress to create five national parks, 150 national forests and dozens of federal reserves.
The park protects over 70,000 acres, spread across three sectors: South Unit, North Unit and Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Of the total acres, nearly 30,000 have been designated Wilderness Area. The South and North Units offer scenic drives, miles of trails and opportunities to view wildlife. The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is the site of Roosevelt’s ranch, but only the cornerstones of his cabin remain.
The South Unit is most popular with visitors due to its accessibility off of I-94, and proximity to the gateway town of Medora, while the North Unit is more remote. Size wise, the South Unit is larger and its geological features are more stable and settled in comparison to those of the North Unit, which are still fairly rugged. I chose to explore the South Unit and made Medora my base.
The name “Badlands” refers to the challenges pioneers and others faced when traveling through this broken landscape. After heading west for miles across the Great Plains on flat, grassy land, they would eventually encounter canyons of loose rock, strange landforms, extreme temperatures and very little water. These harsh conditions made their journey arduous and grueling, and gave the region its infamous reputation.
This otherworldly and wild landscape formed millions of years ago. As the Rockies rose up over the Great Plains, streams began to erode the mountains and sediment and debris spread across the region. Later, the Little Missouri River got in on the act and started the process of carving the Badlands.