Take a Drive

What’s a swing through the TR National Park without spending a moment with the national mammal, the Bison?   Most of the time, they’re very cooperative for photographers to get their souvenir snapshot – if the photographer does not get too close.  Not everyone is careful, though. It seems that every year, someone gets gored.

Restoration of the National Mammal

bison at national park

1962 unloading the first bison at the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National park near Watford City.

The bison at the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park came from a herd that started here in 1962.  They were part of a restoration project that began in the late 1800s. That’s when T Roosevelt and others woke up to the fact that the 60-million bison roaming the plains were nearly gone – down to just a couple thousand. 

In fact, a blizzard prompted ranchers to get behind the effort to save the bison.

At one time, they grazed from Canada to Mexico – apparently having migrated here from southern Asia.

After supporting mass hunting of bison, Congress did an about face. In 1894, Congress enacted legislation to protect the remaining animals with a $1,000 fine and or prison.

Today, most bison in America are raised commercially for their very healthy meat.  You can also find them roaming wild in state and national parks such as Custer State Park in South Dakota and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  Their history makes them suitable to represent America as the national mammal.

Exploring the Back Country

This winter, we are hiking and plotting the old roads through the Badlands. We’ve written about some, such as Devil’s Pass

That means we’re spending a lot of time in the back country, the interior of the Badlands where bison used to roam. Using maps and winter landscape we find the old roadbeds.

little Missouri river

The first bridge connecting McKenzie County across the Little Missouri River was the Roosevelt Bridge near the Park residences.

Most of the cowboys in the Badlands know where one or two of the old roads cross their ranch. One of the most important roads is the original trail that became the first Federal Highway 85 from the south, across the Little Missouri River into the north unit. Bison used to be thick here, but now they’re only in the National Park.

So, that’s the reason we took a swing through the north unit. First, we wanted to see if we could spot where the old Highway 85 crossed the Little Missouri River at Roosevelt Bridge (now gone).

Of course, going through the park prompts us to reminisce how we woke up in a bison herd on our wedding morning. We were rewarded with a very small herd next to the road at sunset.

Your Turn

If you drive through the north unit, stop and pay your entrance fee. That’s when you can ask the rangers where to find the national mammal.  You’ll see one or two along the way – loners.  And a small herd or two off in the distance. However, if you are fortunate, you’ll be able to drive along side of a herd like we did in this fun little 50 second video.

YouTube player

Good luck!

In about two months, April, new calves are born. So, that’s something to plan for.  This winter, though, when the weather is nice and the roads are open, take a drive through the park to visit the national mammal.