A Hike in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

  • November 01, 2017
  • Posted by Matt Kessler

The prevalence of noxious weeds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s southern unit offers little time away from herbicide application and spraying. So, when an opportunity for an afternoon away from a field of invasive plants presents itself, it’s best to take it. On a beautiful fall afternoon in September, my crew mates and I set off for the North Dakota badlands. The hike started by crossing the Little Missouri River. Cool, dark, and muddy the water flowed steadily north at thigh level as it journeyed past, rejuvenated by recent rainfall. After a mandatory trail register signing on the other side, the trail immediately began climbing the layered bluffs, taking you high above the river valley below and among a vast prairie dog colony filled with watchful sentinels barking short warnings throughout the community. The cries continue for 20 minutes as you stride across their town to the elevated prairie plains along the other side. The terms ‘nothing’ or ‘nothingness’ often have a negative connotation to them in today’s society and are often words used as excuses to disregard or develop landscapes. But, as you stare across the wide prairies of the Midwest, what you really see is nothing. Nothing but a giant sky and the millions of blades of grass waving in unison as the wind rushes by. It is simply a beautiful nothingness with the ability to make anyone and their problems feel small. It is a place to let go, to feel as a piece of the landscape rather than apart from it. Standing there, you feel as though you could be there forever, simply drowning in its vastness. That is until an elk bugle cuts across the breeze beckoning you back down the coulees. We scrambled down, side stepping a basking rattlesnake, as we searched for the source of the calls. Moments later in a small valley we surprised a small herd grazing in the evening light. A large bull crashed through some brush emerging on a hill crest opposite of us. He remained there for several moments, the sun silhouetting his figure, then he quickly ushered his cows away and disappeared. Moments like these are almost too much to take in such a short time span, and as we navigated back to camp along a small stream avoiding several impressive, yet pesky, beaver ponds, little was said because we were all thinking the same thing. North Dakota is amazing. 


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