Rough Riders Hotel/Medora ND

Historic, non-chain Hotel at the edge of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, suggested to me by park staff. $99/night during the winter, $129 during spring and fall, and $200 during the summer months (high season).

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This hotel is way nicer than I expected to be. Fairly fast Wi-Fi free, my room was really nicely decorated….  very plush looking, and the bathroom was gorgeous. People don’t tend to come to this town unless they’re going to the national parks. Also, there is supposed to be a ghost of a young boy who haunts the top floor of the building — no I did not see it.

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There’s a huge library inside, but unfortunately you’re not allowed to take the books back to your room. While there is a parking lot, it is so woefully small, so that I had to park on the street, even though the Hotel was no where near full.

Medora is a really cute town. The whole place looks like it’s out of a Wild West movie with elevated wooden sidewalks, swinging doors, etc. However, to quote one of the locals, “this is not a normal town.” One guy I talked to told me that they have a sort of transient population of folks who are here yearly to work the season, but otherwise can live as far afield as New York City. The permanent population is (according to wikipedia) only about 100 people, or 27 families.  As such, only a handful of the businesses in town were open on Tuesday May 24th, the day I was there — for example only three restaurants out of twelve and one of those was a breakfast only place, the rest were all closed till the coming Thursday (the day before Memorial Day weekend) and I was told that the staff who work those businesses were only just starting to return to the town, so there was a bit of an ‘old friends reuniting’ vibe going on at the restaurant, gas station, etc., while I was there.

I ate my dinner, a buffalo ribeye steak, at the Little Missouri Dining Room and Saloon (VERY tasty — wish buffalo were more common). There were only two folks working the front of the house, and they seemed pretty overwhelmed because the place was completely full with tourists, bikers (who seemed to be at least semi-locals), and other returning locals.

The next day I filled my tank at the only station in town, from a gas from a pump like I haven’t seen since before I learned how to drive; I actually had to ask for help on how to get it running. Inside the shop they were handing out free breakfast sandwiches — as many as you wanted, and massive ones — because “you know it’s not breakfast time anymore.”

Teddy Roosevelt National Park

You can just view it from a viewpoint/visitor center off of Interstate 94, or do the right thing and spend the night in the area, and really appreciate the THREE units of the National Park (there are two main ones, and a third small one — the site of Roosevelt’s ranch, which I didn’t find out about till after) in all their dangerous beauty.

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I94 Exit 32, Belfield, ND, brings you to the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, where if you don’t have time to really stop and see the place, you can at least get a taste of it. The visitor’s centers tend to have limited hours (they’re usually all closed by 4:30 or such), but if you get there when open the staff are very helpful with suggestions of how best to enjoy the parks, and places to stay

It was also there that I learned about the fact that there are Two main Unites to the park: North and South that are about an hour apart from each other, connected only by government owned grazing pasture lands (not interesting, unless you’re a farmer), each of which will take you a good two hours or more just two a drive drive through (assuming you’ll be stoping for photographs along the way). It was then that I decided I should stay the night so that I could do both parts, and it was a staff member who told me about the Rough Rider’s Inn in Medora and gave me the phone number so I could make a reservation for that night.

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North Unit is in fact the better one, to paraphrase the young guide who worked at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, it has everything the south park does, only twice as big, twice as nice, and there are more animals…. and for all that… fewer visitors.

Like WAY fewer… It was like I was practically the only one there (although not completely alone), I was standing there listening to really loud birdsong and crickets … and I was only a few days shy of the main season. According to the staff I’d spoken too, if I’d shown up a week later, it would be me following a whole row of cars and hearing mostly the sounds of visitors.

To get there from I94, you have to take North Dakota state road 85 (exit 42), and drive for a full 52 minutes north; along the  way you’ll drive past the sweet crude gas station and convience store (nice place, clean bathrooms, friendly staff)

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There are so many buffalo here that they are blocking the road and I can’t get out of the park!

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To get to the entrance to the South Unit of the park, you essentially have leave I94 either at exits 24 or 27 (depending on which direction you’re coming from) towards the town of Medora (which has an historic hotel I really enjoyed), which is sort of a mini cowboy-themed tourist mecca, .

 

Sadly, I didn’t learn about the Elkhorn Ranch section of the Park, the historic part, till well after I had left the area. As a History buff it might have been nice to see where Teddy’s ranch was (but isn’t any more). But I have a feeling the staff didn’t mention it because it is kind of a let down ….

Enchanted Highway

Badly marked roadside attraction that I only spotted it because a local had suggested it to me; Although she said that of all the outdoor art pieces the best was the geese by the I94

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I was told about this by the local lady who took my photograph at the Sue the Cow; I had not heard about it before that. Apparently it’s a 32 mile piece of state highway (a 2 line one) along which you’re supposed to find a bunch of really impressive art. I only know this now because afterwards I looked it up on line, and was more than kind of annoyed because while there are five pieces in place, with another five on the drawing boards…  and even though I drove down that road for a full half hour at about 60 mph (and then the same distance back to 94), and I only managed to spot one other piece — some deer jumping a fence placed next to a sort of maze of iron gates.

… I simply could not find the rest of it.  I kept driving and driving and finally started to get nervous, because there were no signs telling me if I had missed them, or how far to the next one, or anything, so that I finally just turned around and went back to 94.

Much later I found THIS MAP… which it would have been really helpful if it there were displayed along the way — which it wasn’t, even though there was a display board by the deer

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Something in the way of an, “you are here” type map would have been nice … Please note just how FAR it is between object 2 and 3 on the map? Odds are if I had just kept going I’d have found it, but like I said, I was starting to get nervous that I had missed it all and would just keep driving down this rural highway for hours out of my way.

While I applaud the idea, I’m not sure it’s worth going two hours out of one’s way (there and back) for a few pieces of art… it would have been better had they kept them near to I94

Salem Sue

Salem Sue is a MASSIVE cow statue, so big you can see it from at least 3 miles away while Driving down Interstate 94

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I was a little bit concerned that maybe this cow was overhyped, because I’ve seen a lot of very large cows recently, however…. Damn! That is a big cow! You start seeing it about 5 miles down the road, and you can’t help but see it  

The view from up there is also pretty nice… well not the cows backside, but the view

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I had to go into google to change their location for Sue, which was majorly wrong… the one below is parallel to her, but just after where you meet the entrance to the dirt road that drive to get to her.

Since then, I got word back from Google, who have changed the location to where I said it was,

 

Five Nations Arts

This place is huge! It’s a co-operative store run by the five local tribes: Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa & Arikara), Lakota and Dakota. All staff are tribal members and the art is all sold on consignment.

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As a general rule, when buying Native American art if you are not buying it directly from the artist, it’s best to search out these sorts of places, as they never take advantage of the artists — which most other places will do.

The reclining woman tempted me but I do not currently have a local friend to hold on to it for me (I did recently buy a painting in Georgia, which I left at a friend’s home for safe keeping) and she was very heavy (solid stone), so lugging her around in my car till I get to such a location is not feasible. Sigh…

Like I said, I spent a summer doing research into economic development on an Indian reservations (with most rez’s having the highest percentage of poverty in the country). Most native American artists don’t understand the business aspect of their work, and will tend to sell at a overall loss (for a variety of reasons). Gallery’s like this one, which are run by the tribes, ensure that this does not happen. Additionally, most stores that sell NA art, jewelry, etc, add on massive profit margins so that you will pay FAR more buying from them, than from places like this. So it really is a win win to try to search these places out.

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The woman showed me the bunch of really beautiful rings (above) and said “these are made by our youngest artist she’s 8 years old, she’s been beading since she was about two.”

 

World’s Largest Buffalo & Frontier Fort

A nice FREE break if you’re driving past Jamestown, ND (I 94)

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This place is kind of cute and there’s plenty of free things to see: there’s the “world’s largest buffalo” (but of course it isn’t — it’s a statue of a buffalo), and frontier fort — a whole town just sitting there unattended, as in nobody standing around to make sure you don’t steal anything, and you can walk through all the different buildings.

There is also a (not free) museum devoted to the American buffalo with a petting zoo, but by the time I got to the town and found the place, it had closed.

And on that note, Oh boy did I get misdirected on the way to this the buffalo! I had learned about it via one of the many road tripping apps and the address they’d included may have been completely wrong, or maybe it was my GPS in my car. Anyway, I found myself in the middle of … not much, so I ended up waving down a passing car — which had two women in it, and they told me to drive behind them and they would lead me here… and it took us about 10 minutes to get from where I was to where this. The thing to remember is the buffalo museum, the worlds larges buffalo and the frontier fort are all located alongside each other

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