July 2-6, 2013
Crossing North Dakota
From Jay Cook State Park we drove across Minnesota into North Dakota heading west toward national lands. Although I have seen bison in Yellowstone and other places (including a small herd in western Massachusetts) I wanted to see the wild ones in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. That park is also home to the North Dakota badlands; we were curious how they compared to the surreal, austere beauty of the better known South Dakota badlands.
Entering North Dakota was entering my 49th state. Only Alaska remains unseen. The rolling green prairies dotted with blue ponds and fens created a soothing, expansive vista. The big sky and the distant horizon added to the pleasing spaciousness. The land was more verdant than we expected; they’d been having a wet summer so far. For long stretches there were few other cars on the freeway. Evening arrived while we were still in eastern ND, so we took the easy and cheap, if not restful, option of spending the night in a rest stop.
If you haven’t seen the amusing little video Chris made of an ordinary day on our trip (in ND), go to:
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP)
TRNP has two main sections separated by about 60 miles. We started at the North Unit just south of Watford City. The flat plains suddenly fell away, becoming riddled with canyons and opening up into large valleys. Layers of colorful earth were exposed and dramatic formations appeared. Everything was trimmed with greenery and wild flowers.
On our first full day there I explored the campground. As I walked toward some interesting rock formations, I suddenly noticed a small herd of bison resting and grazing peaceably under some cottonwoods. The signs say, “Bison are dangerous. View from a distance.” But what’s the right distance? Several of the bulls tracked my movements . . . so I slowly turned around and headed back to our campsite. Later that night, just past dusk, the herd of about 40 bulls, cows and calves, wandered into the grassy center common of the campground. Campers stood on the outskirts watching the buffalo graze until they became spooked and ran off.
Later numerous times while driving and on a 4-mile loop hike we encountered many more bison. As we almost completed our hike, two large bulls appeared on the trail just ahead of us. They slowly walked in the direction we were going and we followed discretely. Eventually we could make a wide arc off the trail and get back to our truck without disturbing them or them disturbing us.
Before reaching the badlands, the open fields as well as the empty roads changed dramatically as we approached Watford City near Williston, ND. Suddenly the road was filled with huge barreling trucks and, where grasslands had recently existed, were acres of brand new track homes. We were in the heart of the big oil boom created by fracturing.
Fracking rigs popped up across the landscape. More oil is now coming from ND than anywhere except Texas. The formally sleepy little cowboy towns are now noisy, overpopulated, expensive and at times dangerous. The light created from the flames of the wells has caused western ND to glow like a major city at night, giving it the nickname “Kuwait on the Prairie”. For more about this see:
Ironically, the day we arrived I had received an email from moveon.org asking if I would show the new film “Gasland II” at my home in CA. And as I wrote this post I received an email about Santa Cruz possibly instituting a moratorium on fracking in the county.
As a fan of “Battlestar Galactica” (a TV series showing an alternate – similar but different – reality to Earth), I am amused that the f-word used liberally on the show was “frack” or “frak”. So . . . frack fracking?