In addition to not doing much birding or photography this summer, I also failed to process photos from the relatively few photo opportunities I DID have. That includes all the photos from our family vacation at the end of July into the beginning of August. We LOVE visiting National Parks, and this summer we decided to do a driving trip to visit three: 1) Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, 2) Glacier National Park in Montana, and 3) Banff National Park in Alberta. We’d been to the latter two before, but just once each time. Banff was the end point of the trip, and in my mind was going to be the highlight of the vacation, while Glacier is a place we felt we “missed out” on during our first visit, because the “going-to-the-sun” scenic road was unexpectedly closed (still snow in early July!).
Teddy Roosevelt National Park? Eh. I admit I wasn’t too excited about it before we left, but it was kind of on the way, and my wife and son hadn’t seen it before. We ended up staying a couple of nights in Medora, North Dakota, at the edge of the park, and spending 2 days in the park itself. It ended up being one of the highlights of the trip!!
Banff is gorgeous. Glacier National Park is gorgeous. But my GOD, the people! In Glacier National Park, we got to do going-to-the-sun road, but with the road jammed with tourists, it was almost impossible to find a place to park and walk on most of the route. In Banff National Park, you can certainly find quieter spots if you get off the road and hike, but Lake Louise? The town of Banff itself? The glacier on the way up to Jasper? You sometimes feel like you’re in Central Park or some other park in the middle of a metropolis. SO many people, which for me, takes away much of the joy of places like that.
And that, my friends, is one reason why Teddy Roosevelt was such a gem to me. Let’s start with where we stayed, in Medora. I had a bit of an issue with the company that seemed to OWN most of Medora, as they ran many of the restaurants, lodging, and tourist traps in town. But Medora itself? It’s tiny, and even in the middle of the tourist season, it was uncrowded, relaxing, and may I say, damn enjoyable for a town that could easily be turned into a gaudy tourist trap. You can comfortably walk and see every site in town, walk to visit any restaurant in town. There are a few shops that you’d deem typical for a summer tourist town, such as candy shops, ice-cream shops, upscale art…but they’re not crowded and don’t overwhelm the natural charm of the place.
The park itself is lovely. Coming from South Dakota, we knew Teddy Roosevelt National Park is sometimes described as a “greener” version of South Dakota’s Badlands. That’s an apt description, because the topography and geological features do look similar, but with quite a bit more grassland and other vegetation in comparison with the Badlands. It really was quite lovely, and for someone trying to get away from humanity (one of my goals on any vacation!), it’s remarkably quiet. We walked many trails during our two days in the park, and typically we’d only run into one or two other hiking groups, if we met any at all. I’m a sucker for open spaces and grasslands, and Teddy Roosevelt certainly has plenty of that to offer, in addition to the rugged terrain in many places.
With just 2 days in the park, I really didn’t get a chance to get away and do any devoted birding, but it was still a very interesting place from a wildlife perspective. Bison roam through much of the park, and there was a time or two where we had to detour or pause on a hike to give some nearby Bison the spaced they need. Pronghorn and deer were commonly seen, and more often than not, when you scanned the sky around you, you’d see soaring hawks. Prairie dog towns are always a favorite spot for mine, not for the prairie dogs themselves (although they are darned cute), but for the wildlife that’s often attracted to them. In one spot we saw a badger loping through a prairie dog town (much to the chagrin of the prairie dogs), and we also saw coyotes on a couple of occasions. There aren’t many in the park, but one attraction from a “wildlife” standpoint are the few dozen wild horses that roam the park. We did see about a dozen of them at one point, but they were very skittish and didn’t allow people to get within half a mile of them. I did manage to get a few nice photos of a pair standing on a ridge, before they galloped away.
If you’re looking for a relaxing, quiet, beautiful, and UNCROWDED vacation spot…Teddy Roosevelt National Park really turned out to be a gem in my book! It goes to show that the “big name” parks like Yellowstone, Glacier, or Banff up in Canada certainly are majestic, but a visit to the lesser-known National Parks is definitely worth your time as well.