Our first real glimpse of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, TRNP, was the visitors center at Painted Canyon. It was a perfect vantage point to view an area of the park not accessible by car, buttes and bluffs in shades of red, gray and blue. After a trial run through Medora, missing the camp ground entrance, we doubled back all the way to the Visitors Center and caught the Medora Campground on the return trip. We checked in for a three day stay and after settling
into our sight, had a quiet dinner followed by a walk to the Little Missouri River which runs directly behind the campground. It is a windy little river, not 50 feet across with a beach strewn with rocks and bits of petrified wood. Like all campgrounds, this one was near the railroad tracks where the coal trains ran through the night and day.
Friday morning was rainy and chilly so we opted for breakfast downtown at the Cowboy Café and a walking/shopping tour of Medora. The town of Medora was founded in 1883 by a 24-year-old French nobleman, the Marquis de Mores and named for his bride, Medora. He built the town east of the Little Missouri River, building a meat packing plane, a hotel, stores and a large home, the Chateau de Mores. The Marquis faced financial ruin in 1886, and he and his wife moved back to France. The town continued to thrive, aided by establishment of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 1947. In 1962, Harold Shafer began the restoration and modernization of the old western town, an effort that continues through the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.
But how and when did Teddy get here? In 1883, TR came to the Dakota territory to hunt buffalo. He fell in love with the land and invested in a cattle ranch. He would eventually own
two ranches, the Maltese Cross, about seven miles south of Medora, and the Elkhorn, about 35 miles north of town. Teddy's ranching experience was no more successful financially than the Marquis and in 1887, after a disastrous winter, lost interest in cattle ranching and turned his interest to politics.
Saturday we toured Theodore Roosevelt National Park which has two distinct units, north and south. Our explorations were limited to the southern part., accessed through Medora. Unlike the South Dakota Badlands, the TRNP was much more weathered through years of wind, rain,
erosion, and fire and supported more vegetation and more moderate bluffs and buttes. Also present were scoria. According to the park literature, "Lightning strikes and prairie fires can ignite coal beds, which then may burn for many years. When a coal bed burns, it bakes the overlying sediments into a hard, natural brick that geologists call porcelanite but is locally called "scoria." The red color of the rock comes from the oxidation of iron released from the coal as it burns. The burning lends both color to the badlands and helps to shape them. These hardened rocks are more resistant to erosion than the unbaked rocks nearby. Over time, erosion has worn down the less resistant rocks, leaving behind a jumble of knobs, ridges, and buttes topped with durable red scoria caps." We traveled the 36 miles of the park, saw prairie dogs, wild horses and a lone buffalo, along with many interesting wild flowers.
Sunday evening was a delightful one with a Pitchfork Fondue dinner and the Medora Musical. The dinner consisted of a prime rib steak, cooked on a pitchfork in vats of cottonseed oil, salad, baked potato, baked beans and chocolate cake for dessert, all enjoyed while listening to a western band. The pavilion was high on a hill, overlooking the town of Medora and was quite scenic. Following dinner, it was Short walk to the Medora Amphitheater; build into the side of the hill. The show was a family oriented presentation all about the town of Medora, the settling of the area and of course, Teddy Roosevelt himself. It was filled with singing, dancing and comedy, with a few onstage horses thrown in for good measure.
The ride from the Black Hills to Medora was fortunately, uneventful. We continued on I-90 to 85 then on I-94. The landscape continued with rolling hills, an even greater distance between houses and ranches and then something new appeared on the hills, oil wells.