“The land was treeless and seventeen different shades of tan. It slowly grew more rugged, but the badlands still came up unexpectedly: a crenellation along the horizon that opened up on both sides of the highway into phantasmagorical landscape. It wasn’t so much the buttes rising above the earth, but more as if the skin of the earth had been ripped away, revealing the ragged, broken flesh beneath. You stared down into the badlands, and the maze of twisted gorges, trapped meadows, wind-eaten towers and bluffs were a geological underworld, as unearthly as beautiful.”
— Reed Karaim, The Winter in Anna
This was my first visit to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. I think few tourists venture here. It is 90 miles north of the more easily accessible South Unit, which lies off I-94. I was entering North Dakota from the north, on Highway 2, so I spent a late afternoon and evening here exploring a new landscape.
First I claimed a camping spot at the Juniper Campground — very uncrowded, and I got a site close to the camp hosts. I loved the setting of this campground on the edge of a huge grove of towering cottonwood trees. Lovely.
Then I drove the 14-mile scenic drive to Oxbow Overlook. There were plenty of viewpoints along the way, some overlooking the Missouri River below. I enjoyed stopping at the viewpoints in this national park because the landscape was so different, varied, and unexpected. I didn’t hike here, but I enjoyed photographing at the stops.
I especially loved the vast grasslands: “The grassland stretches out in the sunlight like a sea, every wind bending the blades into a ripple, and flecking the prairie with shifting patches of a different green from that around, exactly as the touch of a light squall or wind-gust will fleck the smooth surface of the ocean.”
— Theodore Roosevelt, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail
It was wonderful to see wildlife along the road. I saw mule deer and rabbits. I saw some bison in the distance, and then as I was leaving early the next morning, there were some bison in the road! The North Unit is a rewarding destination, and one that I’d recommend to anyone traveling in the Midwest.