So, today was my first day on the road. After coffee and breakfast with my family, I headed west on I-94, and on to adventure.
Despite some rainy patches in Minnesota, the weather was wonderful for driving and stopping. I covered about 550 miles in about 9 hours to get to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Let’s talk about the things I learned today.
One the long patches of I-94 I passed acres and acres of sunflowers. Turns out, I never thought about where sunflowers are grown. The answer to that is North Dakota. ND is the largest producer of sunflower seeds, which are not only popular here, but are also exported to Spain. As their name implies they need full sun to grow and are native to North America. One big concern to sunflower seed yield is blackbirds, which destroy about $10 million worth of crop, according to USDA.
2. The Enchanted Highway
Roadside attractions are the bomb-diggity. On Exit 72, off of I-94 there is what is called the Enchanted Highway. This is billed as the world’s tallest tin statues, highlighting things about ND, including grasshoppers, geese, and Teddy Roosevelt himself.
4. How to Camp in a National Park
I did some preliminary research on where to stay each night, figuring at 8-10 hours of driving a day when traveling. I had the choice between heading through South Dakota or North Dakota, and ultimately settled on ND, because of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It seems fitting to have my first night spent here. Ol’ Teddy was a big fan of North Dakota, and spent a good deal of time here being a cowboy. From what I can tell means hunting down bad guys, and growing sweet mustaches.
My arrival at the park was quite a trepidation. Did you realize that National Parks don’t have address you can just plug into your GPS? It was a real mark of faith on my part that it would be there. All the information that I had was that yes, there is a camp ground, and yes it is open all year round. And no, you can’t make a reservation.
I was directed off of I-94 by the brown attraction signs on the highway, and eventually pulled into the park entrance, and was sent through some windy semi mountainous roads of the Painted Canyon, all the while thinking to myself, “So glad I took my mom’s car and not my Fit. Also, this camp site is open all year round?? Who would drive on these roads in the winter??”
There were no park services open, as visitor centers close at 4:30. I had arrived a little after 6:30, and still was not sure I was doing the right thing. I decided that following the 35 foot RV into the park would be my best bet to find a place where it would be ok to sleep. Sure enough, I made it to the Cottonwood Campground, at the bottom of the canyon, where a paved ring sat, with a few empty camp sites.
There, with the help of 2 middle-aged dudes, I was able to park my trailer, put my $5 to the pay slot, and wander around the park a bit before night was upon me. It was a little dicey because the camp ground not only required me to back the trailer in to the site, but unhitch my trailer in order to get the Audi out of the drive. But completely worth it for the view.
The weather was a little cold, dipping into the 50s overnight but I was snuggled up in my camper. In the morning, I was able to get my trailer rehitched and off to town for a cup of coffee and some wi-fi, but not before stopping to watch some prairie dogs, and talk to a white-haired single woman about the adventures she’s had in her teardrop trailer.
The park is located in Medora, North Dakota. The part of town you first drive through looks very much like a tourist trap, with western styled buildings that house doll outlets and sno-cone sellers. And since it’s after Labor Day, everything is closed. I was lucky to find a souvenir shop that also sold coffee, The Dakota Quench, and the woman was kind enough to let me sit at one of her chairs while I get this typed.
With this night done, I am off to Glacier tonight.