PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer
Bert Gildart: “See ‘em,” said the man with the walking stick sitting at the Beef Coral Overlook in Theodore Roosevelt National Historic Park. “Do you see all those wild mustangs on that butte? Quite a sight, isn’t it?”
The man’s name was Jerry Martin, and he was a retired electrician from West Virginia and we liked him immediately. Though we had worked different professions all our lives, we discovered we shared in common a passion for nature, and for a moment Jerry continued helping me locate the wild mustangs that he said he’d been watching for the last half hour. Then our focus turned to a herd of bison that were now walking along the Little Missouri River, also a part of this famous park.
“Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have been here when the plains were filled with buffalo,” said Jerry.
I agreed, sharing what I knew about bison. I added that the Lewis & Clark Journals recorded days when the ground shook and the air thundered with the bellowing of bulls.
In part, that’s what this North Dakota park does; it brings together people from all walks of life where they are united through their common interests in nature and in their common interest in American patriotism. Here, it didn’t make any difference whether we were Republican or Democratic; religious or not religious. Here, we were united by the bond of nature, and perhaps too, by a touch of patriotism, else we might not have been lured to this particular park. Here, all of these ingredients are found in abundance. And they unify.
Over the years, this area of America has been one of my favorite, and I have visited it often enough to provide a number magazines with stories about the Medora Musical and about Roosevelt. In fact, this past month, Rich Luhr carried a new story about this park in his wonderful magazine, Airstream Life.
Roosevelt came to the Badlands often, but most notably in 1884 to try and regain his direction after the death of both his wife and mother. To compound this tragedy, both died on the same day. But the Badlands helped him regain his sanity, and in the course of living here, he became an ardent proponent of the “vigorous life,” overcoming through hard work some of his childhood afflictions. All those stories are told not only in the park but at the Medora Musical as well.
The Medora Musical has been around for ages, certainly longer than the 20 years I’ve been venturing to this park. Several nights ago when we saw it, it contained the same award-winning aspects that has made it an internationally famous production. Beginning the program were songs performed by the Burning Hills Singers.
Shortly thereafter, it was followed by one of the most amazing demonstrations of acrobatics and shear strength we have ever seen. Out of Africa, five top Kenya athletes dazzled us all with feats of strength and coordination. Perhaps most amazingly, one man supported four others: two perched on each knee angling out, but with yet two more further creating a vertical tower tiered three humans high.
Appropriately, the grand finale featured “Theodore Roosevelt” explaining against a backdrop of firecrackers, that “If it had not been for my days in the Badlands of North Dakota, I would never have been President of the United States.”
As Jerry, Janie and I sat overlooking the Little Missouri, we decided we were glad a park has been named for the man who helped preserve so much.
And now, we are back in our Airstream, docked at Juniper campground in the park’s north unit. It is mating season for the park’s several hundred bison, and their lion-like roars fill the air.