North Dakota

North Dakota. Zach’s first new state of the trip; my eighth new state. Although he can only remember being in an airport in Minnesota so I’m not sure I trust his state count. Layovers do not count as being in a state. We spent the workweek in Fargo – winner of the “Toughest Weather City” poll, thanks to its harsh winters and frequent flooding.  Luckily, we only experienced high temperatures and one strange thunderstorm that appeared to have pink lightning.

Beautiful post-storm sunset

In Ohio, we like to complain about the amount of orange barrels covering the roads but it is nothing compared to the construction going on in Fargo. It seemed like every other street was closed due to road work. In order to drive the five miles from our campground to downtown, we had to take four detours! In addition to construction, Fargo also has a surprising amount of culture. We went to a different independent coffee shop every day. A brewery put on The Office themed trivia that packed the bar to well over capacity. I thought I knew The Office pretty well but there were some teams that didn’t miss a question the whole night!

Literally the only picture I took in Fargo

We left Fargo on Thursday afternoon and headed west. We ran into a bit of trouble when our trailer got a flat tire along the way. Thanks to teamwork, we fixed it without too much stress and continued on to Bismarck where we witnessed a beautiful sunset from the Walmart parking lot we spent the night in.

I think we’re ready to be NASCAR tire changers now

Our final destination in North Dakota was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We planned on going backpacking and, on Saturday morning, headed to the visitor’s center to pick up our permit.  The ranger warned us that our route was very difficult and seemed skeptical in our ability to find the way.  Undeterred, we headed out for the 18 mile Achenbach loop.

TRNP – where the Great Plains meet the rugged Badlands

The trail was by no means easy but we survived.  A few times we lost the trail, once getting over a half mile off it, but managed to find it again everytime.  We crossed the muddy Little Missouri twice, climbed up and down the hills of the badlands and traversed wide open plains.

This is how I traverse

The geology of the park is baffling.  I felt like I was hiking on the moon or Mars (or a planet with the oxygen and gravity levels of Earth.)  There were multiple times I looked around and said to Zach, “this is so weird”.  It’s hard to describe but here’s one of many strange formations we walked through.

What is going on with the dirt?

Along the way, we ran into a herd of buffalo on the trail. After taking pictures from a safe distance, we skirted around them.  Unbeknownst to us, a few had strayed from the pack. We rounded a corner and there was a very large bison, very close to us.  Bison, North America’s largest animal, weighing up to 2,000 pounds, are quite frightening up close.  Zach snapped a picture before we hightailed it out of there.

Zach is really upset the camera focused on the bush rather than the buffalo

About two-thirds of the way into the loop, we were feeling good and had plenty of sunlight left.  We decided to finish the whole trail that day.  There was cold beer and a nice bed waiting back at the camper and I wanted to prove we were fast and able backpackers after the talk from the skeptical ranger.  It seemed like a good idea at the time but the trail ended up being a few miles longer and more strenuous than we were expecting.  At that point, we were so close to being done that we had to finish.  By the end, I was exhausted and could barely keep moving. Walking 20 miles with a 30+ pound backpack is not easy.  We would have enjoyed it a lot more if we had stopped and camped along the way like originally planned.  But we learned our lesson and it made for a memorable day.

So thankful the last miles were on a flat road

Sunday, after sleeping in, we headed to the more popular south unit of the park.  Not feeling up for hiking, we drove to a prairie dog town where we saw prairie dogs (obviously) and some wild horses.  We said goodbye to North Dakota and headed down to  South Dakota for the next two weeks.

Prairie dog!

I had never heard of Teddy Roosevelt National Park until we decided to visit all of the National Parks. But I would highly recommend stopping by if you’re ever in the area.  The views are great and it’s pretty spectacular to see bison up close.  As Teddy himself said, “It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.”

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