Legends of the American West live on in North Dakota

Could Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis and Clark, Sitting Bull and Sakakawea and have been wrong? Not likely.

All these legends of the American West fashioned iconic legacies in what is now North Dakota. They were lured here for different reasons but each left a lasting impression that is still talked about around the world.

Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

Perhaps the one with the biggest influence was Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States. A New Yorker who came here to hunt in 1883 and purchased a ranch, he returned when his wife and mother both died on St. Valentine’s Day in 1884. He ran cattle and hunted among the rugged landscape of western North Dakota and left a few years later a hardened rancher. He attributed his rise to the presidency to his time spent in what is now North Dakota.

Today, the three units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are permanent tributes to the man whose efforts in conservation and the great outdoors led to the creation of the National Park Service.

Photo by Katherine Plessner Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is made up almost entirely of the rugged Badlands that was home to his Elkhorn Ranch and Maltese Cross Ranch. The Maltese Cross Ranch cabin can be toured at the South Unit visitor center in Medora. The visitor center also includes the shirt worn by Roosevelt – complete with bullet hole – he wore while delivering a 90-minute speech after he had been shot in an assassination attempt in 1912.

Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame also is in Medora, a ranching and tourist town that is home to the nightly Medora Musical and Pitchfork Fondue (steaks on a pitchfork cooked in oil). It’s also the location of Bully Pulpit Golf Course, with holes through the Badlands.

A trek inside the national park is where a visitor would find a wide range of wildlife, much of it up close. Bison herds graze the flatlands and wander around rugged buttes, often leading to “buffalo jams” along the 36-mile scenic loop winding around the park.

Wild horses and prairie dogs can be seen frolicking throughout the day, while deer are most likely found in the morning and evenings when they come out to eat. Coyotes, eagles, hawks, bighorn sheep and elk are other species found in the park. Many migratory birds can be found passing through the park in the spring and fall.

Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

The 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail runs through the park and is open to hiking and biking. However, bicycling is not allowed on the singletrack trail within the part. Road biking is allowed on all paved or dirt roads and the Buffalo Gap Trail is an alternate route around the park for mountain bikers.

The North Unit near Watford City has a 14-mile scenic byway along a more rugged terrain than the South Unit. It follows roughly the Little Missouri River in the valley below. Trails and wildlife abound there, too.

Real adventurers make their ways to the Elkhorn ranch site midway between the two units. The foundations of Roosevelt’s first cabin and interpretive signs are found here.

Feature Image: Photo by Chuck Haney courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

North Dakota Department of Commerce, Tourism Division
1600 E. Century Avenue, Suite 2
Bismarck, ND 58502 USA