North Dakota

I was up with the sun and longing to spend the day in air conditioning, coasting along the highway, and listening to the quiet. Unfortunately, I was completely cranky after a disjointed night of what felt like more dreams than sleep. I also decided to skip coffee, but that's never a good plan when I'm tired because I hate going into gas stations or coffee shops, or really stopping at all, when I'm tired and cranky.

I stuck to my plan to make a fairly long detour to Mt. Rushmore, arriving there around 8:00 in the morning, along with busloads of tourists, all chattering and clicking away. The monument was stunningly beautiful in its detail and simplicity. I managed a few photos before I started losing my cool. The tourists grated on my raw nerves, as did the "this is a free park, but parking is $10 and it's good for 364 more days!" part. Clearly, I needed to leave; no sense in raining on anyone else's parade.

I ended up in Dickinson, ND after a very long day of either no traffic for miles or 20-minute lines to get through road construction. Eventually, I settled into the pace of the ride, waiting for things to even out. At some point, I managed to buy coffee, which helped. I landed in a fairly sketchy hotel, comforted only by the fact that the woman who ran the place lived onsite and that the bathroom was really clean. I'm getting close to the end of this trip, so money is getting tight, and I can't afford to be choosy. In any case, it was nice to sleep in a bed again.

The next morning I set out for Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora. The park is a lot smaller than others I've visited and there weren't many people on the roads, so it was a nice, leisurely drive with easy stops to scramble up paths and look at the spectacular view or some of the crazy short, squat hoodoos that are all over the place. These are also Badlands, but they're the warmer, fuzzier version, if that's possible. There are trees and prairie wherever there is space and enough soil. Wildflowers blossom everywhere; juniper and sagebrush cover the ground, while cottonwoods coat the small creeks that meander through the valley.

If my 8th grade history classes had focused on how each president was interesting instead of rote memorization of their terms, I would have known that Theodore Roosevelt was known as the conservationist president. I'm sure I learned it somewhere along the way, but that early introduction spoiled me for having any interest in later years. I'm developing one now as I see the places that inspired so much the energy behind the movement to set up our national park system. Roosevelt was a rancher on this land in his 20s; wild horses still roam the park today and his tiny cabin is open to the public.

I felt peaceful here. The sun was still bright, and it was pretty hot, but the wind was softer, and there were trees to shelter under. I was also alone for the most part, outside in that softly rolling landscape, soaking in the color, smell, and sound.

I ate lunch in Medora at a cowboy bar that seemed to largely run off of tourist dollars these days, but had hats tacked all over the ceiling, some dating back to the 1960s. They had gluten free pizza, so I indulged, smiling to myself and thinking as I ordered that no real cowboy would ever order such a thing. The heat got into my bones after that, so I headed back to my hotel to work on some photos and bask in the air conditioning. One more night and then I was Fargo-bound.