You’re reading about Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch home in the North Dakota Bad Lands in the 1880’s, the Elkhorn Ranch, a lot lately. Not just here. It’s national news now. It’s in the local newspapers. Lauren Donavon at the Bismarck Tribune is doing a darn good job of telling the story of the threats to the Elkhorn, and the Bad Lands in general. Just go to the Tribune’s web site and enter Elkhorn Ranch in their search feature and you’ll get a whole string of stories. The Dickinson Press has had a number of stories too, but their owners, Forum Communications, takes the stories down after a few days, unless you want to pay to read them. (That’s as critical of them as I am going to get, since they host my blog on all four of their North Dakota newspapers’ web sites. Free.) You can also look at the last couple of months’ postings on this blog for more information.
Now, if you want to go to the Elkhorn and see what all the fuss is about, you can join a group of us who are going up there on Saturday, July 14. It’s an outing sponsored by the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’ll be a fascinating morning. The Friends group (you can learn more about them here) has enlisted Roosevelt Scholar Clay Jenkinson and Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor to lead the tour and tell us about our 26th President and the time he spent here in the Dakota Bad Lands.
The Friends have chartered a big old Harlow’s tour bus to take us there. It will be at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Visitor Center in Medora at 9 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time (10 Central) Saturday morning, July 14. If you show up, there’ll be a free seat on the bus, which will take us up the West River Road to the Elkhorn Ranch site. (I wish they would take us up East River Road and ford the Little Missouri River at the low water crossing by the ranch, but Plan B is to drug the driver just before we’re ready to come back to Medora, and I’ll get behind the wheel and take us across the river. It can’t be that hard to drive a bus through a river, can it?)
When we get to the Ranch Site, we’ll take a leisurely stroll from the parking lot down to the actual cabin site by the river, where Clay and Valerie will tell us stories and answer questions. We’ll sit on some big old fallen cottonwood trees which were standing when TR lived there. We’ll walk down and put our toes in the water where TR launched his homemade boat to track down the thieves who stole his real boat in the spring of 1886. (He caught them, and marched them across country, past the Killdeer Mountains to the Dickinson jail. You can read about it in any of the TR biographies. It’s one of the best stories about TR ever, and it started right at the spot we’re going to be standing on July 14.) And I bet Valerie will point out a couple of cottonwoods that were standing when TR lived there more than 125 years ago.
Valerie’s unpleasant task will be to point out a couple of oil wells which now despoil the horizon to the east across the river, and show you the site of the proposed gravel mine, which will make it worse, except that we’re all going to sit down together in front of the bulldozer if they really try to open that mine. Aren’t we?
And then, if the trip is anything like the last few I’ve taken there with Clay and Valerie, we’re going to just sit down and listen. Not speak a word. Listen to the quiet. And if we’re lucky a gentle breeze will rustle the leaves of the giant cottonwood trees, and you’ll hear exactly what the Rough Rider himself heard, a sound like no other, the wind in the cottonwoods.
And in the morning Bad Lands quiet, we’ll understand why it is so important that the gravel mine not happen, and that the oil barons not be allowed to build a bridge past the site to accommodate an oil industry freeway to be used by hundreds of tanker trucks a day.
Seats on the bus are free, but limited in number. You just have to get to Medora on your own, a pleasant task on a Summer Saturday morning. We’ll depart from the Visitor Center in Medora at 9 a.m. MDT. We’ll be back at the visitor center at 1 p.m., giving you lots of time to drive the loop road through the South Unit of the Park, or hike one of the Park trails, or wade in the Little Missouri, or just have a root beer float in Medora, before you head back home. If you want to reserve a seat, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Lillian’s on the board of directors of the Friends group and is helping to coordinate the trip. I hope you’ll join us. This is a very, very special place, a giant piece of American history. It’s where America’s conservation conscience was born. Trust me, there is no other place like it.