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Boicourt Overlook, Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit), Medora, North Dakota | by Ken Lund
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Boicourt Overlook, Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit), Medora, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an American national park comprising three geographically separated areas of badlands in western North Dakota. The park was named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. The park covers 70,446 acres (110.072 sq mi; 28,508 ha; 285.08 km2) of land in three sections: the North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.


The park's larger South Unit lies alongside Interstate 94 near Medora, North Dakota. The smaller North Unit is situated about 80 mi (130 km) north of the South Unit, on U.S. Route 85, just south of Watford City, North Dakota. Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch is located between the North and South units, approximately 20 mi (32 km) west of US 85 and Fairfield, North Dakota. The Little Missouri River flows through all three units of the park. The Maah Daah Hey Trail connects all three units.


The park received 749,389 recreational visitors in 2018. It is the only American national park named directly after a single person.


Both main units of the park have scenic drives, approximately 100 miles of foot and horse trails, wildlife viewing, and opportunities for back country hiking and camping. There are three developed campgrounds: Juniper Campground in the North Unit, Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit, and the Roundup Group Horse Campground in the South Unit.


One of the most popular attractions is wildlife viewing. Among the local wildlife, bison may be more dangerous and visitors are advised to view them from a distance.


The scenery changes constantly in relationship with the seasons. The brown, dormant grass dominates from late summer through the winter, but explodes into green color in the early summer along with hundreds of species of flowering plants. Winter can be a beautiful scene as snow covers the sharp terrain of the badlands and locks the park into what Theodore Roosevelt called "an abode of iron desolation."


The badlands are very important in Roosevelt's life, and the park memorializes his contributions to the conservation of America's natural resources. A museum at the South Unit Visitor Center provides background on Roosevelt and his ranching days. Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin is open for public viewing year-round at the South Unit Visitor Center.


Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch is a separate, remote area of the park, 35 miles north of Medora, accessible by gravel roads. Check with park rangers for road conditions and routes to travel to the site. The foundation of the ranch house and other shops buildings have been preserved, though the other portions of the cabin were removed and re-purposed after Roosevelt vacated the ranch. Threats to the Elkhorn Ranch site include oil development on adjacent lands, particularly visual intrusions and noise pollution from oil facilities and traffic.


The park is popular for back country hiking and horseback riding. Permits for back country camping may be obtained at the South Unit or North Unit Visitor Centers. Over 100 miles of trail make it a fine hiking park, though water and shade are limited along trails. The park units are mostly surrounded by Forest Service grasslands. The area has very dark night skies with excellent star gazing and occasional northern lights.


The entire park has been surrounded with a 7-foot (2.1 m) tall woven wire fence to keep bison and feral horses inside the park and commercial livestock out. Other animals are able to pass over, under, or through the fence in specific locations provided for that purpose.


The town of Medora, at the entrance to the south unit, provides a touristy western experience, with wooden planked sidewalks, old fashioned ice cream parlors, and buggy rides. There are several museums and the Burning Hills Amphitheather with nightly productions of the Medora Musical from early June to early September.

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Taken on August 8, 2018