Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park Things to Do Tips by sarahandgareth Top 5 Page for this destination
Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park Things to Do: 67 reviews and 143 photos
A buffalo enjoying the view
Buffalo, or bison (the names are interchangeable) were reintroduced to the Park in 1956, having been hunted almost to extinction by the end of the nineteenth century (it didn't take many settlers to bring about their near extermination).
Now they are one of the most imposing, and exciting, sights in the park. Our first sight of the buffalo was on a low hill in the North Unit. They seemed to be grazing placidly, but later something spooked them and they moved rapidly onward: we could just about imagine what a true stampede must have been like in the late 1800s.
They are magnificent animals, with a complex social structure. Twice, we saw big bulls wandering the park alone, one throwing up dust as he descended a steep slope in search of food, the other impassively presenting his rump to us as we passed by, on tenterhooks, in our tiny-looking car.
Directions: There's no guaranteed sighting point: keep your eyes open and hope you get a good view!
The Coal Vein trail, in the South Unit, is a very short - 0.8 mile - interpretive trail that explains more about the geology of the park.
There are veins of lignite coal throughout the park, and occasionally these catch fire, usually because of lightning. The fires can burn extremely hot, and for exceptionally extended periods (one burnt from 1951-1977 and picnickers would toast marshmallows there!). They often turn the nearby rocks a deep red, and make them very hard (like brick; the material is called clinker).
The trail leads you to some of the most spectacular examples of this burnt rock, as well as to stands of juniper and other points of interest.
Directions: The trail is at the extreme east point of the Scenic Loop Drive.
Alert Prairie Dog
There are several prairie dog towns within the park. Those in the South Unit are often right beside the roadway, but we found it more interesting to leave the other visitors behind and walk to one a little off the main road in the North Unit.
The towns were common enough a century ago, before farmers started to eradicate the animals, which caused a major disruption to cultivation. Some of the towns covered thousands of square miles: it's said that one in Texas contained 400,000,000 prairie dogs!
Here the scale is much smaller, thankfully, and it's fascinating to watch the animals go about their business. When we approached, they all turned tail, then reappeared from the burrow entrances once we didn't seem to be a threat. Some even emerged to go foraging, while others stood guard in rotation: every now and then a 'guard' would emit a high-pitched sound and they would all scurry back to safety.
The animals will come relatively close to you, but don't threaten them: they can give a nasty bite, and anyway, it's their home, not yours!
Directions: We 'visited' a town near the Caprock Coulee trail: the trail branches near the beginning, and there are signs to the town.
The Caprock Coulee trail in the North Unit is an excellent interpretive trail that gives an insight into the geology and flora of the Park. It's not a very long trail - just 1.6 miles - but is very informative, with regular stops to explain a variety of features, including the formation of the badlands landscapes, and the plant and animal life found in the area.
The landscape sometimes looks relatively barren - it's not a desert, but it can get very dry! - but the trail points you towards an array of things you might not otherwise have spotted, such as the different varieties of sagebrush and grass, never mind the petrified wood which you can see at ground level and sometimes high up on the side of coulees.
You will also see some of the most remarkable caprocks, hard rocks on high columns of softer material, isolated by erosion - and doomed, one day, to fall back to earth.
Directions: Off the main park road in the North Unit, about seven miles into the Park.
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