Day 17: Bismarck, ND to Medora, ND

It’s been hard to motivate myself to write these past few days. I’m just in a different zone now, letting myself go with my own flow, knowing that the trip is about to take a dramatically different turn. I’m watching more TV, going to bed early, not pushing too hard to cross things off my list. I’m totally on this road trip. I don’t have to prove it’s happening.

Starting Thursday, October 8th, and continuing through October 28th when I deliver my brother to his home in southeastern PA, I’ll have a new travel partner every few days—six very different, very cool people. In most cases I won’t have any time alone between each person. It will be exhausting and invigorating.

I probably won’t be updating the blog much during those weeks, if at all. But I do plan to write an entry for each day, eventually, even if it takes me till the end of the year or beyond. Don’t touch that dial.

Today, October 3, is my birthday. I’m 37! It seems like such a high number. But it’s a good number. I’m not feeling particularly reflective at this hour, so I’m not going to say more about it now. I just wanted to acknowledge that I’m officially in my late 30s. (Note: Due to internet problems I’m posting this the next day. I’m still in my late 30s.)

I also want to acknowledge that things rarely go the way I imagine they will, on this trip and also in life, and that being open to what they actually are, rather than trying to impose on them the will of my imagination, regularly leads to gratification and delight. I want make a rule for myself: “Don’t try to picture how any given thing will go, because it won’t go that way,” but then I don’t want to make any rules for myself. Maybe I’ll always picture how any given thing will go. It’s okay.


Tuesday, September 15

I knew Tuesday would be better than Monday because it pretty much had to be.

On my way out of Bismarck I stopped at the Barnes and Noble to pick up the last volume in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I’d brought a couple of books with me on the trip but hadn’t opened them; reading felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford. But I was determined to make time to read while I was alone.


The spoils.

The drive was unremarkable until just before Medora, when I entered the Badlands. From Wikitravel:

The Badlands is a region in the USA that includes western South Dakota and North Dakota marked by rugged terrain and formations that resemble a science fiction landscape of another world. These rock formations take on the shapes of domes, twisted canyons and slanted walls, often striped in different colors.

Yeah, that’s about right. I hadn’t really known what the Badlands were until I was upon them, and I found them refreshing and marvelous. I think of the “standard” U.S. landscape as being foresty or grassy or mountainous, with occasional rivers and streams. I guess my idea of this standard came from growing up in the northeast. I’m discovering now that many places look nothing that; they’re rocky and dry, a habitat for dinosaurs or aliens. But no, they’re actually a habitat for people, somehow. Earth is a wonder.

In Medora I headed straight for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, paid my fee, watched the video (I am a fan of the welcome center video genre), and moseyed around the exhibits in and around the main building.


Roosevelt’s cabin. Teddy Roosevelt came to the North Dakota Badlands to mourn the loss of his wife, who died in childbirth, and his mother. Both women died on the same day. He stayed in this cabin, which has been relocated to the site of the museum.

Then I drove deeper into the park, making stops for scenery:


Chillin’ bison(!!)


Standard Badlands


There are dozens of prairie dogs in this photo, but they’re impossible to spot.


Here, I zoomed in.


Mickey glamour shot

Medora itself seems to be either a recreated or well-preserved historical town that serves tourists of the National Park. It is quaint in an Old West fashion. It is tastefully tacky, manicured in a way I think of as catering to the predilections of vacationing Baby Boomers. I didn’t spend any time wandering around, mainly because I’d used up most of the day and was hungry.

Spending time in nature had reset my mind and spirit, and by the time I checked in to the Rough Riders Hotel, my hitching post for the night, I was feeling a little giddy. My room was nice, maybe the nicest I’d stayed in yet, and it was less expensive than most places, too. The decor was rustic but refined, with a broken-in leather chair and lamps with iron bases. An official Teddy Bear rested on the bed. The bathroom had nice soap. I was happy to be in a new place and happy that it had some character.

The hotel restaurant was supposed to be the best in town, and I had no interest in making my dinner decision more difficult, so I headed down right when it opened. Inspired by the verve of Teddy Roosevelt, or maybe just energized by having seen bison in person, I decided to have a feast. I ordered myself a bottle of wine to go along with it.


Wine for one.


The beet salad.


Chicken in a barbecue vinaigrette with asparagus and squash.


Some kind of chocolate cake that I could barely eat.


Every place should let you rate and review your meal.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal. I enjoyed the food and I enjoyed my own company. I went to bed sated and psyched for the adventures ahead.

Hotel Art of the Day

17-artBison in the Badlands
Probably oil, ~24″ x 20″
Rough Riders Hotel, Medora, ND

Hotel Art Score

6/10. It’s fine, even pretty, and I like that it shows the range of color in the Badlands. But it’s also boring. Everything feels too far away.

Art Art Score

4/10. It’s just not very affecting.