December Stamps: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota offers spectacular scenery of the Little Missouri River from the park's North Unit.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota offers spectacular scenery of the Little Missouri River from the park’s North Unit.

I’m a little late in getting to this post this month, which is ironic as there is actually only one new stamp from Eastern National for the month of December:

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park | Elkhorn Ranch

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a true hidden gem of a national park, located in western North Dakota.   Talk to many people who have visited a lot of national parks, and I guarantee that more than a few will list Theodore Roosevelt as providing more spectacular scenery and natural beauty than they had expected.

Theodore Roosevelt the man was born in 1858 into a life of relative privilege, a story that is now told by the reconstructed home at Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in New York City.   When he was 26, tragedy struck his life on Valentine’s Day 1884.  His mother passed away from typhoid fever in the early morning hours, and then later that same day, in the same house, his first wife, Alice, died of kidney failure – just two days after giving birth to their first child, Alice Lee.   Overcome with grief, Roosevelt famously wrote in his diary, “the light has gone out in my life” below a large “X” on the same page.

Roosevelt would entrust his baby daughter to care of his sister, and head off to the badlands of North Dakota.   Roosevelt had visited North Dakota the previous year on a hunting trip, and had become a partner in a ranching venture out there with two others.   This time, he would establish his own ranch, the Elkhorn Ranch.

Theodore Roosevelt originaly came to North Dakota on a hunting trip, and his disappointment at the despoiled wildlife would lead him to a lifetime of conservation.   Today, the national park is a refuge for bison, which you might find right outside your tent in the morning, if you are lucky.
Theodore Roosevelt originaly came to North Dakota on a hunting trip, and his disappointment at the despoiled wildlife would lead him to a lifetime of conservation. Today, the national park is a refuge for bison, which you might find right outside your tent in the morning, if you are lucky.

 

Roosevelt would spend about three years at the Elkhorn Ranch.   There’s no doubt that his time in the North Dakota badlands profoundly impacted him, making him a conservationist, and impressing upon him the value of outdoor living and recreation.  He would later say that “I would never have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.”

After about three years, the unusually severe winter of 1886-1887 would wipe out his cattle herd, like many others in the area.   Having lost his investment, he would return back east to re-enter politics (something he actually had really never left), marry his childhood friend Edith Kermit Carow, and reclaim custody of baby Alice Lee (who was now three.)

In 1947, President Truman would establish this area of the North Dakota badlands as Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park.   In 1978, the park was expanded and renamed Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Today the Park is comprised of two major units.  The North Unit is located just outside of Watford City, ND – in the heart of North Dakota’s shale oil boom.   This part of the park has spectacular views of the Little Missouri River cutting across the landscape, like the photo at the top of this article.

Rock concretions give the appearance of enormous mushrooms in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Rock concretions give the appearance of enormous mushrooms in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

 

The South Unit is located right outside the resort town of Medora and right off Interstate-94.    This area of the Park is particularly famous for its spectacular rock formations and petrified wood – making it a fantastic location for an easy day-hike.   Both the South Unit and the North Unit have bison herds, so you may see bison in either section of the park.

Finally, Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch is located 35 miles on a dirt road north of the South Unit Visitor Center near Medora.    Unfortunately, I didn’t make it up to that part of the park during my one visit (so far) to this National Park, so I don’t have any pictures.   However, the National Park Service website for the park has some nice short videos on Elkhorn Ranch that are very much worth checking out.

The Elkhorn Ranch is the fourth Passport Stamp for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, joining one stamp for the North Unit and two stamps for the South Unit (South Unit and Painted Canyon.)   With this new stamp,  there are now 1,946 active Passport Cancellations out there.

A final shot from Theodore Roosevelt National Park
A final shot from the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Note: All pictures in this post are from the Parkasaurus’ visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 2004.
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