Theodore Roosevelt National Park is subtly beautiful with colored rock, rolling hills, rivers and cottonwood filled ravines. It is the peacefulness though, the same quality that Roosevelt sought out when he came here in 1884, that makes this lightly visited park unique.
DATELINE: MEDORA, NORTH DAKOTA, EARLY SPRING, 1884.
A young Theodore Roosevelt stepped off the train, ready to head up management of his new Maltese Cross Ranch.
Roosevelt, 24, was there for one reason: to find himself again and to recover from the anguish of losing his mother to typhoid fever and wife to kidney failure within hours of each other on February 14, 1884. His diary entry for that day is simply a large X and the poignant words, “The light has gone out of my life.”
His ranching life expanded quickly and he purchased a second ranch, 40 miles north of Maltese Cross, christened Elkhorn for the set of bull elk skulls, antlers still locked from combat, found where he built his ranch house.
Roosevelt loved the ranching life, taking solace in the muted beauty of the landscape, the stillness and the hardy life of a rancher in the 1880’s. Fate dealt his business a fatal blow during the infamous winter of 1886-87 when most of the cattle in the Dakotas and eastern Montana were killed by severe weather. He sold out and moved back to New York to resume a promising political career.
The badlands of North Dakota had left its mark though, and he would later remark, “I have always said that I never would have been President if not for my experiences in North Dakota.”
DATELINE: THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK, MEDORA, NORTH DAKOTA, PRESENT DAY.
You don’t incidentally or accidentally go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. You have to want to go there as it really isn’t on the way to much of anything in particular other than the Bakken oil fields. So, we intentionally wound through Wyoming, battled the winds across Montana and found ourselves in Medora, South Dakota, to see why this land held such a spell over our 26th president, a man to whom anyone who loves the outdoors owes a debt of gratitude.
What became clear immediately was TR’s description of the country as one of, “a land of vast silent spaces...a place of grim beauty,” was accurate. The grandeur of the western parks is absent here but so is the busyness. As I write this in a campground of 60 units, it is almost completely quiet and still. No voices, no generators, no traffic. Bird song is easily heard though.
The grim beauty of the North Dakota Badlands country is not nearly the acerbic emptiness of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Here the draws are full of cottonwoods, the Little Missouri River bisects the north and south units and the dissected rolling hills, looking like crumpled paper, are green with vegetation. The views extend forever though. The descriptor isn’t grand, it is peaceful, exactly what Roosevelt sought.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only national park named for a person. No person deserves that singular honor more than Theodore Roosevelt. As president, Roosevelt conserved 230 million acres: five national parks, 18 national monuments, 150 national forests and 55 bird and game preserves (later to become wildlife refuges) creating the basis of a federal system that we enjoy today.
We are the future generations that he was talking about when he said: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.” Roosevelt did his part and then some. I hope we will be able to do the same.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), The Best of Nature is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center (425 Capital)
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho