Watford City, North Dakota
In 1883 a young politician from New York came to the North Dakota badlands to hunt buffalo and was inspired by the beauty of the place. A few months after his return to New York, his wife and his mother died, both on the same day, whereupon he returned to this haunting wilderness for comfort and solace. Later, as president, Theodore Roosevelt championed the protection of public lands, and this, the only national park honoring an individual, is dedicated to his memory.
The badlands’ configurations tell the history of this part of the continent. Some 60 million years ago runoff from the Rocky Mountains deposited the debris that forms the badlands’ distinctive multicolored layers. Ash from volcanoes in the west added the layers of blue. Bolts of lightning ignited seams of soft coal, baking the sand and clay and adding red hues. In time swift-running streams cut through the layers, sculpting the terrain.
This moonlike landscape can be enjoyed along a 13-mile scenic drive or experienced on foot or horseback along several well-marked trails that include 11-mile routes through the rugged backcountry as well as a half-mile nature walk. Either way, the chances are good you will see some of the park’s abundant wildlife. There is good canoeing when the water is high in the Little Missouri after the ice melts in early April.
Open year-round. Admission charged.