Hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

 

Jodi and I ventured out to Theodore Roosevelt National Park recently for some hiking and camping. Here's what went down, in Jodi's words:

 

The National Park Service is celebrating its Centennial this year, which meant that Zach and I had to plan at least one trip to what we call our “home park”, Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s underrated as far as national parks go. It’s hard to trek through in winter, and North Dakota experiences long winters. Hopefully after seeing our photos, though, you’ll make the trip.

When we pitched our tent the first night, it was getting dark. Not dark like “your backyard” dark, but DARK like “thank goodness we have headlamps or we’d fall off this cliff” dark. We had (of course) planned to pitch it earlier, so we could eat dinner as the sun was setting, but we were looking for the perfect campsite — one on a bluff with a killer view, some place slightly out of the wind and free of cacti. No one manicures the backcountry of your National Park like golf courses, which is why we all want to go out there, but also why it took us an hour to pick a spot.

After making a supper of mashed potatoes and stuffing, a springtime thanksgiving, and we were certainly thankful to finally be eating, we hunkered down in the tent to read and wait for the clouds to unveil a starry sky. But before really any of this could happen, Zach’s eyes widened and he put his fingers over his lips. I quieted but assumed the wind had spooked him. A minute later, however, we heard sniffing, pawing… and then the tent sagged. And something pressed up against my body.

We went motionless and slowed our breathing, each of us cataloguing the types of wildlife in the park: bison, ok too big, not a bison, phew; prairie dogs, now that’s just wishful thinking; coyotes, there *was* howling in the distance; mountain lions, crap. For the next two hours our bodies began to cramp up as we huddled together as silently as possible. One of us would start to fall asleep but then the animal would move or start sniffing around again and we’d wake up from the other person grabbing onto our leg. Our bodies eventually couldn’t take the stress after a full day of hiking and gave into sleep.

We woke up a little after dawn. When we finally worked up the nerve to peek outside, we were greeted by an empty campsite and a beautiful view. A few unidentifiable tracks lay around the tent but we ate, packed up, and began the hike again. Despite joking about the night and our fear of being eaten, there wasn’t a night afterwards on the trail that a sound outside the tent didn’t cause us to flinch.Yet, if you gave a chance to go back, we’d both take it without a second thought, new animal friends and all.