Off the beaten path – it’s exactly where Teddy Roosevelt wanted to be in 1883 – and so the Elkhorn ranch became his refuge. He’d just suffered a string of losses, including the deaths of his wife and his mother. To get his life back on track he went where others have gone for more than 100 years – and you can go there too, if you’re willing to get off the beaten path.
To find the healing place TR called home for many years, you’ll travel more than 25 miles of gravel road through wilderness ranch area. It’s a place of few people and many miles. “The lives of such places were strangely cut off from the outside world,” TR wrote. “The whole region is one vast grazing country.” Where TR ranched in the Badlands.
To the ear, there is a great amount of peacefulness, but that does not mean quiet. Birds carry on loud conversations, particularly in the early morning and evening. The wind itself is a sound travels the musical octaves. In the evening, it’s the melody of the coyotes’ songs you’ll hear.
To the eye, distance and color become a stimulating visual entertainment. When you think you can see no further in the distance, the next hill-top will unveil further horizons. When you think you know what green looks like you’ll find more variations in the landscape – or in the autumn, brown takes on a rainbow of variations.
The Elkhorn ranch area is undeveloped and perhaps that’s best. It gives a visitor a chance to see Roosevelt’s nature as it was when he was here, an experience that prompted him to establish conservation measures and advance the national park system. Thanks to his time in these valleys and hills, Theodore Roosevelt became “the conservation president,” and doubled the number of sites within the National Park system. As President from 1901 to 1909, he signed legislation establishing five new national parks.
For the day-visitor it’s a moment of spiritual rest, visual stimulation, and a sense of accomplishment when you climb a hill, turn and look back at how far you’ve come – a good life lesson.
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