“It is… vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.” –Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt first visited the badlands of North Dakota in 1883. This young man would eventually become the 26th president of the United States and be known as the “conservationist” president. But back then, he was just a man with a love for nature who recognized the necessity of preserving nature from human influence. During his presidency, Roosevelt would go on to set aside 230 million acres of land as “national forests” and five areas that would go on to become national parks. In many ways, he was the father of the park system that we know today- and the inspiration behind our next stop, Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Roosevelt fell in love with this area long before his presidency and invested funds in a local cattle ranch. Perhaps his love for this place and his influence in its development played the greatest role in its being named in his honor. The Elkhorn Ranches were where Theodore Roosevelt came to shape some of his most important beliefs about conservation. And the badlands, these vast expanses of hills, grasslands, and bison are like visions from another world, unlike anything you have ever seen before. Breathtaking.
We have now hit the halfway point of our journey across the nation surveying the National Parks and I can think of no better place to start than the very place T.R. came to see how important preservation was. Our natural first stop will of course be the ranches where he spent so much time. Though all that remains of the ranch itself are the worn foundations of the buildings, the 35 mile gravel road there leads us to an area of seclusion seldom reached even in our last four stops. Elkhorn Ranch will be our first introduction to the land Theodore Roosevelt fell in love with long ago.
From there, it’s simply a must to explore the Badlands for ourselves. Theodore Roosevelt once said of the Badlands, “[they are] so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly proper to belong to this earth.” These rough, unforgiving features of the North Dakota landscape were what made T.R. see the area so wonderfully unique and hopefully we will too. The park offers plenty of scenic drives, hiking trails, and horsebacking trails to form a comprehensive understanding of the special place the badlands have in our country.
An element of the park perhaps best seen from the roads around it is the diverse wildlife. Home to bison, wild horses, prairie dogs, and elk alike, Theodore Roosevelt National Park offers a unique experience to visitors to see these creatures in an entirely natural environment. So even as we experience the anomalies that are the North Dakota badlands, we are always being reminded that the land is shared with many more animals than people.
Ultimately, I have brought you here because I think it’s important to be reminded of your roots. As we continue to explore the rest of the country’s national parks, we should always keep in mind that they only exist because someone decided to fight for them. I hope I inspire you to value them as well.
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