Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Jeff Bradybaugh and Jack Norland
In 1883 Theodore Roosevelt visited the Little Missouri River Badlands of Dakota Territory on a hunting trip. He described the area as a "land of vast silent spaces" occupied by only a few widely scattered open-range cattle operations.
The principle natural features in the two units of the park include the scenic geology of the badlands and superb examples of Northern Plains flora and fauna. Here the soft sedimentary rock is constantly carved by wind and by the waters of the Little Missouri River and its tributaries, forming a wild topography easily viewed from pullouts along the park roads. Here one can examine the direct effects of erosion, the story of the geologic history of the area as told in the layers of exposed rock and find a hint of the kinds of vegetation that grew here in ancient times, by studying the remaining coal beds and petrified trees.
Besides the physical beauty of the badlands and its interesting geologic history, within the park can be found large populations of wildlife in a nearly pristine environment. Bison, elk, wild horses, white-tailed deer, mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, and longhorn cattle all forage together in balance with the park's other resources. Prairie dogs occur in the park's grasslands. The park provides a home for numerous birds such as golden eagles, prairie falcons, Sprague's pipit, mountain bluebird, sharp-tailed grouse, and many others commonly found on the prairie. Found in the park are many interesting reptiles such as horned toads, sagebrush lizards, a variety of snakes, and many invertebrate species.
The park preserves a glimpse of how the area may have looked just before Roosevelt and his compatriots arrived.
Background Information: There are many brochures, auto loop and nature trail guides, maps, and books explaining the natural and cultural history of the region available at the park visitor centers. The Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association maintains a library at the Medora Visitor Center.
Facilities: In both units, all campgrounds and picnic areas are open year-round, receiving light use in spring, fall and winter. There are numerous marked and unmarked trails throughout the park; check in at the visitor centers for more information. With the exception of a few small areas, all of the park is available for backcountry camping. A backcountry camping permit (free) is required, and can be obtained at the visitor centers. During the summer, special programs including historical and craft demonstrations, guided nature walks, campfire programs and others are scheduled throughout the day. Special interpretive programs can be arranged for any season of the year by calling the park at least 10 days in advance.
North Unit 701/842-2333 Visitor center hours: open as staffing allows; in winter call ahead. 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. CDT (summer) South Unit 701/623-4466 Medora Visitor Center 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. MST (winter) 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. MDT (summer)Administration and Contact: Lands within the park are administered by the National Park Service. Information can be obtained by writing: Superintendent, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, P.O. Box 7, Medora, ND 58645.
JEFF BRADYBAUGH is resources management specialist and JACK NORLAND is biological technician, both at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, ND.