Anyone wanting to get away from it all probably couldn’t pick a more remote, unknown corner of the U.S. than this area of the Great Plains. It isn’t the most well-known of national parks, and it has never been among the most visited. In fact, most people probably wouldn’t be able to say what state this park is located in if you asked them. These prairies and badlands in North Dakota are less famous than their counterparts in nearby South Dakota. However, this national park is deeply intertwined with the history of an American president, a man who became known as a rough rider, daredevil and perhaps the fiercest advocates the National Park Service and the entire American conservation movement ever had. The place where President Theodore Roosevelt once went to escape the most devastating events of his life now pays homage to him in perhaps the most appropriate way - as Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Known as the Little Missouri Badlands, this area went from being the home of nomadic native tribes to a sportsman’s paradise before it was decided to preserve the area in memory of Roosevelt and his legacy as a conservationist. Known today for its feral horses and spectacular views of the Northern Lights, this park features some of the most unique scenery in the Great Plains with views that are breathtaking no matter the season. It is easy to see how anyone who spent time at Theodore Roosevelt National Park would come away with a desire to protect the natural beauty of America.
Badlands National Park has long been sacred to the Oglala Lakota and today, portions of the park are surrounded by the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The Lakota once roamed this area and the nearby Black Hills freely, and now work to ensure their ancestral lands are preserved for future generations. A national monument since the 1920s, it wasn’t until 1978 that the Badlands achieved national park status. By then, the land had seen the clashes between its native inhabitants and homesteaders, the last of the ghost dances, been used as a U.S. Air Force base, and a touchstone for the members of the American Indian Movement. Inhospitable as they may seem, the Badlands are iconic not only because of the natural wonders found here but also because of the cultural history and legacy they stand for.
The relative isolation and natural beauty of this area has led to many cultures making their homes here or at least creating their myths about how this area came to be. The forbidding nature of the area made it seem unconquerable to some and despite several attempts to settle it in the modern day, Capitol Reef remained largely untouched. Soon, it was determined the rugged beauty of this area was best preserved for future generations, a testament to the sheer power and force of nature. It would take nearly 50 years before the dream of preserving Capitol Reef was realized.
While it is arguably one of the most famous national parks, Arches didn’t obtain its status until the 1970s, making it one of the younger parks. Oddly enough, the superintendent who campaigned for the creation of Arches was able to successfully get a national park designation for nearby Canyonlands before he could obtain one for his own park. Those who see the natural arches, balanced rocks, petroglyphs and numerous other sites of Arches might wonder why it took so long to preserve this beautiful piece of land outside Moab. Of course, conservation can only do so much and natural forces beyond the control of man continue to shape this park in new and amazing ways.
Dedicated to all things travel, places I have been and places I want to go.