Finally some wildlife! Apparently summer time is not the best time to see moose or herds of buffalo in Yellowstone, which is part of the reason that we decided to stay north as we continued on our trip across the country.
A difference in the Dakotas
We parted ways with C’s parents after leaving Glacier, and we had the choice to travel through S. Dakota or N. Dakota. The southern route would have taken us to Badlands NP; several fellow travelers on our trip had come through Badlands on their way to Yellowstone or Glacier, and I, personally, had been looking forward to it. Additionally, my dad had made a last minute decision to go to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and was in S. Dakota. But…. when traveling, weather oftentimes plays the biggest role in decision making – at least for people like us.
After bailing on our Glacier campsite due to heavy rain, we wanted to make sure that wherever we were going would be suitable for camping and hiking. More than suitable, really. We were looking for enjoyable, close to perfection. And S. Dakota heat was projected to be significantly worse than N. Dakota. Plus, we would be more likely to see wild animals!
Since we needed to apply for NYC jobs and write blog posts (tasks at which we had been failing at throughout much of the trip), we booked a room at the Motel 6 in Dickinson. And it was, far and away, the nicest Motel 6 we have ever been to! Check the reviews online. This place is for real. Not like a Marriott or anything. More like a Holiday Inn. But a Holiday Inn for a $40 price tag.
The danger of staying at the Motel 6, though, was that we drove 45 minutes past Theodore Roosevelt NP in order to get there. Once cozy in our hotel bed, we were left wondering if it would really be worth it to drive back to the park the next day or if we should just continue to make progress across the country. We love traveling, but packing up your shit and moving onward every 2 days is a lot of work and adding driving time never helps. After mapping out our trip, we knew that if we wanted to keep our driving days at 6 hours or less, we couldn’t stay more than 2 nights in any one place. And driving more than 6 hours was miserable for my chronic back pain even with squeezing in yoga sun salutations in hotel rooms, campgrounds, and parking lots.
Luckily, we made the smart decision – the necessary decision – to drive the 45 minutes back into the park. We thought we would be able to easily get a campsite in the park, but found that even in this remote park, camping fills fast in the summer. There are several campgrounds just outside the park, so we randomly picked the nearby Medora campground. It was most certainly not primitive camping. It really didn’t feel like camping much at all. It felt like we were camping in a town park, which I guess, we kind of were. But it gave us easy access to Roosevelt (less than 5 minutes to the entrance of the park). The Little Missouri River also runs alongside the campground, which was beautiful and serene in the late night hours (pictured below, obviously, in the day time hours).
By 3pm, we had set up camp and decided to drive into the south unit of the park (the north unit is over an hour away, and we had decided only to do the south). We didn’t know a whole lot about the park, but we used the REI National Parks app (highly recommend) to find the top rated hikes and overlooks. We chose 2 very short hikes (Ridgeline and Boi Court Overlook) and decided to alternate so that one of us could watch Domino while the other one hiked. Turns out, this park isn’t really about the views or the hikes – it’s about the animals.
We saw a herd of wild horses, lots and lots of bison throughout the park (including an entire herd crossing the road – the best kind of traffic jam), and prairie dog towns. It only takes an hour or so to drive through the park, and a lot of people go right before dusk in order to see the sunset and more animals. It definitely wasn’t a busy park though. Even the bison traffic jam only included about 10 cars.