A new refinery that will process 20,000 barrels of Bakken Field oil per day will open soon near Dickinson. It’s 75% complete. Of the 90 jobs to be created, 70 have already been filled mostly with North Dakota residents according to the Associated Press. Jobs are the upside. The downside is that I was behind 5 impassable trucks for 50 miles on two-lane Highway 85 on my way to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
I mentioned the trucks to Bruce, Theodore Roosevelt National Park ranger, and he suggested I read “What’s Going on Around Here?!”, an article in TRNP’s Visitor Guide. It reported, “Each new well means another drill rig, well pad, pumpjack, debris pit, flare pit, storage tanks, and access road on the landscape.” Each new well also results in 2,000 “trucking events” before oil extraction even begins and pumping wells seen from inside Park boundaries.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park comprises over 70,000 acres of North Dakota’s Badlands that, according to my AAA Tour Book, General Alfred Sully wittily described as “hell with the fires put out” in 1864. Theodore Roosevelt came here to hunt bison in 1883 and liked the area so much that he built 2 ranches. Bad weather eventually drove him out. Nevertheless, he called his bad land years the romance of his life. Fortunately, I saw it at its best–after copious rain and in the morning. Besides its terrain, TRNP’s unusual in other ways. For example, it’s composed of 3 units (Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch site is the 3rd) and has 3 visitor centers.
One of Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s main attractions is its wildlife. The North Unit has bighorn sheep, cattle, and around 250 American bison. The South Unit is home to 130+ wild horses, elk, and about 500 American bison, North America’s largest mammal and a member of the Bovidae or cow family. They are dangerous, at least partially,because of their size. A mature bull can weigh more than 2,000 pounds and run 40 mph.
Since I had already been to the South Unit some years ago, this time I headed for the North Unit, which traditionally has far fewer visitors because going there means an extra 100+ mile, non-Interstate drive. It was worth it. North offered a 14 mile scenic road that, in my case, crossed abundant grassland and ended with a spectacular view of Badlands from windy Oxbow Overlook. I saw no wildlife but plenty of cattle, erosion buttes, draws, canyons, and the Little Missouri River.
On my war to the South Unit I stopped at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center and talked to Kate, another ranger. She told me that when the bison herd grows to around 800, which it has, the land can’t support so many, so the herd is culled and the animals given to Native Americans.
The entrance to the South Unit, which has a 36 mile scenic drive (5 of them currently under re-construction), is 7 miles from Painted Canyon overlook in the town of Medora, which sprang to life the same year that Roosevelt came to hunt. Its founder was the Marquis de Mores, a French nobleman who named the town after his bride Medora, daughter of a New York banker.