Unfinished Business at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

It was supposed to be a short camping stop, just a couple of nights of a five-week trip. Once camp was set up under the cottonwoods though and I stepped a few paces behind the tent onto the banks of the Little Missouri River, I knew instantly this was a place more captivating than I’d anticipated. I knew in this place I would refill my internal reservoir that requires this kind of peace and beauty. The symbolism of the Little Missouri as an oasis in the badlands was not lost on me as a metaphor for self-renewal. I would need much more time here.

So a couple of nights turned into many days of exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit) in North Dakota with my two sons. It quickly made the ranks onto the short-list of my favorite places. The stark beauty alone is worthy of attention but what makes it all the more compelling is its history in shaping the man who was not only one of our most influential presidents but the one who is responsible for what our park system is today.

Our initial explorations consisted of visiting the park museum, doing some geocaching in town, and driving the main loop. It was on that loop that I was stopped in my tracks by a lone tree on the hill overlooking the valley. The other visitors were focused on wild horses and bison yet I was taken in by this solitary tree. I stopped to shoot it for some time, soaking up my time in the badlands and letting this place seep into my soul. This is the place Theodore Roosevelt went to grieve and heal from the loss of his wife and mother on the same day. Spending the afternoon on that hill, I understand why.

I wanted more.

Being taken in by the badlands and the Little Missouri, I wanted to suck the marrow out of life here. The problem with this particular visit though was that we had our beloved dog with us. Our canine companion wasn’t permitted on the trails which meant we were stuck with the superficial adventures to be had, driving the loop and exploring the campground area. I rode an emotional roller-coaster between the delight of simply being there and making the most of my circumstances versus the frustration of knowing how much more there was to experience here that was so close yet unattainable to me.

Because of that limitation, I left the park longing for more but knowing it would have to wait… that I would have to leave with unfinished business.


  1. I’ve not been to that area at all. I recently made it to Devil’s Tower and if the landscape is similar to that of eastern Wyoming, then it needs to be high on anyone’s list. Let me know when you head back. I’d be game for that and so would my boys.

    • valinreallife says:

      It’s similar but more barren the DT. Epic geology though and cottonwoods along the Little Missouri are stunning. It’s certainly on my radar to get back too very soon!

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