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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Adventure Honeymoon 2013 - Journey Through Montana to Theodore Roosevelt National Park Then Home

The journey through Montana was relatively uneventful. Other than the occasional Indian Reservation and town consisting primarily of casinos, the vast nothingness of eastern Montana was rather impressive.

Not long after nightfall, we were in Medora, ND, home to Theordore Roosevelt National Park. With TRNP being in the middle of nowhere and on our drive home, we decided to spend a couple days exploring the park, assuming that we may never come back. After checking into the hotel, we drove into the park to get away from the lights of Medora to try to catch a glimpse at the stars. It is hard to describe the stunning display the stars make when not competing with city lights. Incredible. With the drive catching up to us, we headed to the room to get some rest before hiking in the morning.

After a good night's rest, we started organizing our supplies for our day hike. While this was happening, we also took advantage of our plethora of cellular coverage to check and return messages. Once we were loaded up, we headed off to the ranger station to ask a few questions and pick up a map of the area. The ranger mentioned that we should hike the big plateau trail to the petrified forest then backtrack to take the lone tree trail. While we were told that there should be 4x4s indicating the trail, we were advised that there was not really a trail marker indicating where lone tree trail diverged from big plateau trail, only a supposed mud hole. Confident that we knew the plan and had plenty of water (Ben was carrying a little over 1 gallon and Kari had about 3/4 of a gallon), we left the ranger station in search of the trailhead. Perhaps the only poor decision we made was starting our hike around noon with temperatures already in the mid-90s.

The first challenge on our hike was crossing the Little Missouri River. Nothing like getting your feet wet less than a mile into the trail, knowing that to exit would require the same crossing. We quickly set off on our trail, climbing buttes to eventually reach the plateau. The majority of this section of trail, once atop the plateau, was fairly flat. The only major challenge was the herd of buffalo hanging out on the trail. After assessing the best way around and taking a few photos, we set off around the buffalo, chatting briefly with the only other person we saw on trail all day. Solitude was easy to come by in this park. Apart from the noticing that about every other 4x4 was knocked over, likely from the buffalo, our journey to the petrified forest was rather uneventful.

Hoping to find some shade to eat our lunch, we backtracked to where Ben thought the lone tree trail might diverge. With some excellent route finding skills, and a bit of luck, we found the mud hole and sat in the shade for our lunch. Following lunch, we continued our journey along lone tree "trail". Trail is in quotation marks because for about 90% of it, there was no trail. We just tried to aim for 4x4s, whenever they were present, and find the path of least resistance (sometimes the actual trail, sometimes game trails, and sometimes bushwhacking our way through). We were not mentally, nor physically, prepared for this section of trail. After enjoying the super highways in Glacier, this was a bit of a shock. We both wore shorts to account for the incredible heat. As a result, our legs got torn up from the various thorns, grasses, brush, etc as we journeyed along. Pants would have been phenomenal! We did manage to enjoy the view to some degree. Extreme solitude amidst the buttes with only elk and buffalo as our companions. After about 5 hours of hiking and drinking almost all of our water, we finally reached the river crossing that would get us back to our car. Victory!

Instead of taking a scenic drive, we opted to head back to town to shower and grab dinner. Following dinner, we took a scenic drive around dusk to see some wildlife and hopefully see some more stars. Unfortunately, Ben was not feeling well, so we ended up cutting our evening short. Not before we saw a few lone buffalo, a badger and then got stuck in a buffalo traffic jam for close to 30 minutes! Nothing quite like a herd of buffalo completely surrounding your vehicle, preventing passage to our desired destination.

Our final morning in the park consisted of one last scenic drive to drive the loop. Despite overcast skies, the badlands really are a special place. Arid wastelands, full of life. Frontier men referred to the North Dakota Badlands as "hell with the fires put out". After our day roasting in the blazing sun, we have a deeper understanding of this saying. The scenic loop did not disappoint. We saw lots of buttes, buffalo, wild horses, and antelope.

Following our time on the scenic drive and at Painted Canyon, we started our drive back home. Partly due to how short a drive we had to get to our next stop and partly because Kari was obsessed with roadamerica.com, we made a quick pit stop at Salem Sue for some photos. Before long, we were at our hotel for the night.

For our final leg of the trip, we swung by Kari's Aunt and Uncle in the Minneapolis area for lunch. It was nice to have a home-cooked meal after almost 2 weeks of meals on-the-go and spend some time with their family. The remainder of the drive was very uneventful. We were excited to be getting home to our own bed and be able to get out of the car for a while. Needless to say, laundry was one of the first priorities after the car was unloaded!

Click here for photos from Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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