Sunday, September 5, 2010 Rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, 70 degrees
We were driving the rolling hills of western North Dakota this morning when the Badlands suddenly appeared on the horizon. They are a natural wonder in their own right, but they seem less rugged and the colors more muted than those in South Dakota.
The views from Painted Canyon Visitors Center was spectacular. Colorful in hues of reds, browns, and yellow buttes are separated from each other by valleys. Off in the distance we saw our first bison. A ranger told us that he had separated himself from the herd because he was old and would no longer mate. Yet his great size was evident even through the binoculars.
At the main visitors center in Medora, we watched a short film about Theodore Roosevelt's life in the Badlands. He came west to hunt. Over the years he realized that the land and its wildlife were being destroyed. Conservation became on his major concerns, and when he became president he set aside 18 national monuments, 5 national parks, 51 wildlife refuges, and millions of acres as national forests. It is because of his zeal that we have so many parks to enjoy now.
At his restored Maltese Cross cabin, a ranger gave a detailed talk about T.R.'s life: his illnesses, the deaths of family members, the loss of his ranch, political ups and downs, all of which he overcame. He was an extremely intelligent, charismatic man who has greatly and positively impacted our country. I am psyched to read his biography.
A scenic 36 mile loop drive with interpretive signs explains the park's historical and natural features. We stopped at every overlook. My favorite was at the trail head for the Ridgeline Trail. Veins of coal had burned, creating colorful bands in the rocks: blues, blacks, and tans. Along the trail were signposts that gave information about various plants growing in the park. We took our second hike on the Wind Canyon Trail. By then it had rained, and it was a slippery climb. But at the top we overlooked the Little Missouri River and some of the wildest parts of the park, a magnificent view. With the off and on rains we were glad we were able to see and do as much as we did, but we know the colors were not what they would have been, and we missed parts of the park we would have liked to hike.
After we left the park, we strolled the streets of Medora. Its buildings are constructed to look like the Old West, but the stores are filled with the typical fares found in touristy areas.
The forecast for tomorrow is for heavy winds and rain. If it holds, that will greatly impact our visit to the North Unit.
TODAY'S MISCELLANEA: At the Painted Canyon Visitors Center we met a couple from Durban, South Africa. Living in SA they have been robbed, held at gunpoint, had a car riddled with bullets, and had friends murdered. They came here because they feared for their lives. In the three years they've been here, they had started and operated a business. They want to stay, but their visas have expired, and they are being denied green cards. As the wife said, "It's easier to get into the USA under the fence than over it." It's a sad commentary that people who can and do contribute to our country can't become citizens, yet those who come illegally are given welfare, housing, health care, etc., endlessly draining our country. (Interestingly during the conversation we learned that they have been to Penn Yan. Small world.)