You can see why this is a popular easy rugged trip: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

A bison sleeps at the entrance of the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I love taking visitors, even young children to the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). It’s on the very south edge of McKenzie County, and is one of those features that makes McKenzie County a world class destination.  In classic North Dakota style, the TRNP under promises and over delivers.  You’ll be amazed when you put on your hiking shoes and explore the park.

It’s a rugged wilderness with a variety of trails through the park to suit all types of hikers. That’s why, when we visit the park, we don’t stay in the car, we get out of the car and in to nature.  When my three kids were in their energetic elementary and preschool days, they could be loose, free and safe to run, explore and challenge one another.

Sure, some people just drive through the park, a 14-mile Scenic Drive that leads from the entrance station to Oxbow Overlook, with turnouts and interpretive signs along the way. Drive-by tourists look for bison, park at the top loop and the lookout post, then drive away.

You can see the Little Missouri River from the far end of the park, near the Overlook Shelter

The park is there for you to experience, not merely view. So, along the 14-mile drive, you will pass a number of hiking trails. Some are self-guiding nature trails that have interpretive brochures to help you learn more about the park.

The Caprock Coulee nature trail is an easy jaunt with good photo opportunities. It does not have the rugged climbs and overlooks that the Achenbach trail has.

 

 

History

The idea for a park was evolutionary.  It started to be just an idea for a memorial to President Theodore Roosevelt in about 1919 shortly after he died.  Eventually, in addition to a connection with a president, the land was recognized for its diverse cultural and natural resources. On November 10, 1978, the area was given national park status when President Carter signed the bill that changed the memorial park to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

 

Here’s the history of the park

When Theodore Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1885, he was a skinny, young, spectacled dude from New York. He could not have imagined how his adventure in this remote and unfamiliar place would forever alter the course of the nation. The rugged landscape and strenuous life that TR experienced here would help shape a conservation policy that we still benefit from today.  –from the the National Park System publication about TRNP

Our recommendation

The North Unit is eons younger than it’s twin in the southern part of the state, the South Unit near Medora. The North Unit is more rugged and challenging. It also has less tourist traffic since it is more remote than the South Unit. The South Unit is on Interstate 94 and easily attracts people to pull off the Interstate.

Our personal favorite is to hike all or part of the Achenbach Trial. It is 18 miles long and you can extend it in to a two-day hike. If you intend to camp in the backcountry must obtain a free backcountry permit prior to their trip. Permits are issued at the South Unit and North Unit visitor centers. The full trail provides steep climbs and descents and two river crossings await you on a trail that leads deep into the heart of the Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness. 

It’s tough to do in one day, so we recommend just taking the west end of the trail down the hill from the Oxbow overlook.  The map will shows where to get on and off. 

Family Tip

If you have children, try the Caprock Coulee or Cannonball Concretions for a couple hours.  If you keep it short, you won’t get as worn out, and the kids will look forward to returning.

See what we saw

Last fall, we hiked the west portion of the Achenbach. We parked our Jeep near the bottom of the hill, and hiked up over a ridge to the south to intersect with the trail. Once on the trail, we headed westerly.  It’s an upward grade, but we were fresh, so it was an easy hike up. 

We’d stop every so often to look over the hills, or look back to see how far we’d come. 

At one of the highest points on the Achenbach Trail, near the west terminus, a look back at where the trail started.

It doesn’t seem like much until you look back to see where you started.  There are attractive/amazing/impressive spots along the trail where we got and exercise climbing over, around or through rock formations.

The Oxbow Overlook is one of the most photographed buildings in the state.

How to get there

The North Unit is a 50-mile drive north from Interstate 94.  Or a 15 mile drive south of Watford City in McKenzie County.  It’s a good highway in to the park from either direction.  The highway in the park is well-maintained.  Motorcyclists often make it a day ride to and through the park.

The 14-mile loop in the park attracts motorcyclists and others who ride through the canyon floor up to the overlook at the end. The highway is below some of the higher points on the trail.

Stop in the visitor center when you pay the entrance fee to get maps. There are three easy trails, each shorter than one mile and can be hiked in less than a half hour.

 It’s right on Highway 85, a modern two-lane highway 50 miles north from Belfield and Interstate 94.  Or you can come down from the north, about 14 miles south of Watford City on Highway 85.

Can you recommend a hike in the North Unit?

What to read more?  Here’s a link to read more about the Achenbach Trail  

Here’s the link to get the Park Hiking Guide

Subscribe to get more vacation and exploration ideas from Western North Dakota.

Enter the word “McKenzie” in the subject line to get a free 22-page eGuide to places to go in McKenzie County.

 

 

 

 

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An amazing find — a little known Indian Scout Cemetery honors fallen U.S. Soldiers

Indian Scout Post #1 on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation between White Shield and Parshall is a nearly forgotten veteran cemetery. The Old Scout Society has kept alive the memory of the tribal members who served in the U.S. Army since the time of General Custer. (photo courtesy of Mary Tastad of Mary's Photos)

Indian Scout Post #1 on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation between White Shield and Parshall is a nearly forgotten veteran cemetery. The Old Scout Society has kept alive the memory of the tribal members who served in the U.S. Army since the time of General Custer. (photo courtesy of Mary Tastad of Mary’s Photos)

There’s no other place on earth like this place.  There is only one Old Scouts Society and this is the graveyard where the Society honors their war dead.  Here lay members of the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara who served in the U.S. military.

Relatives leave memorials at the site of their ancestors who served in the U.S. Military.

Relatives leave memorials at the site of their ancestors who served in the U.S. Military.

The tradition of scouts from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara goes back nearly 200 years.  Today, the Society is a group of relatives of those historic soldiers.  They honor the U.S. Army veterans of the Indian Wars and other tribal members who served in all branches after the Indian Wars.old scouts_0005

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old scouts_0002Go back to the first Hidatsa scout, Sakakawea (Hidatsa pronunciation suh-CAG-a-wee-uh).  She and her husband Charbonneau helped the Corps of Discovery find its way west and back again.sagawea-picture-1

Later when the U.S. Army occupied this region to protect the railroad expansion to the west coast, Army commanders relied on scouts from these tribes to provide intelligence about the tribe’s hostile opponents, the warriors of the Sioux Nation. The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara scouts carried dispatches, found food and water, tracked game and served as interpreters.

Several unrelated events converged to create the birth of the long-standing tradition of tribal members joining the U.S. military.  In 1873, Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were stationed at Fort Lincoln, south of Mandan, North Dakota.  The Seventh Cavalry was to protect the Northern Pacific Railroad Survey crews who had been attacked by hostile Sioux.

A rebuilt blockhouse above Fort Lincoln marks the uppermost reach of the Fort where General Custer and his scouts once lived.

A rebuilt blockhouse above Fort Lincoln marks the uppermost reach of the Fort where General Custer and his scouts once lived.

Before Custer, hostile Sioux were at war with neighboring tribes, including the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara who had withstood the Sioux attacks, at first.  Then, small pox wiped out nearly all the three tribes so they banded together to defend themselves against the Sioux.  Forming a confederacy between the three tribes, was insufficient, they were not strong enough to battle the Sioux, so they aligned themselves with the new and stronger opposition to the Sioux – the Blue Coats or the Seventh Cavalry – the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

At first, the Arikara or Ree were the principal tribe to supply scouts for Custer.  From 1872 until the late 1800’s Arikara scouts were the backbone of the Army’s scouts.

A few soldiers are buried at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan including some of Custer's scouts from the Hidatsa and Arikara tribes

A few soldiers are buried at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan including some of Custer’s scouts from the Hidatsa and Arikara tribes

One of the earliest scouts was Red Bear who later was joined by his younger brother Boy Chief.  He was one of the first scouts to die in a skirmish with the Sioux while stationed at Fort Lincoln along the Missouri River south of present day Mandan.

Bobtailed Bull, one of Custer's favorite scouts in the Indian Wars against the Sioux is second from the left.

Bobtailed Bull, one of Custer’s favorite scouts in the Indian Wars against the Sioux is second from the left.

Boy Chief tells the story of his enlistment like this: “Bobtail Bull brought me to Fort Abraham Lincoln in 1872.  Bobtail Bull took me to headquarters to ‘touch the pen’ to my enlistment papers.  I thought the medical examination would throw me out, as I was very young.  But I passed.  In another building, an officer gave me a gun, clothing and two gray blankets.”

Bobtail Bull was one of the first Indian scouts to be promoted and receive a commission under Lt. Col Custer who often bragged of this Arikara scout when in Washington.  Custer said of Sergeant Bobtail Bull that he was a man of good heart and good character.  He promised that if anything happened to Bobtail Bull and his fellow scouts that “their reward will not be forgotten by the government.”

It is said that a good scout who was promoted as Bobtailed Bull was promoted, could earn more than the $13/month paid most soldiers and in some cases earned as much as $50/month

Sgt. Bobtail Bull was one of the first under Custer to fall at Little Big Horn. That was despite the fact that Custer would not use his scouts as a fighting force except for skirmishes. Bobtail Bull, however, boasted of his experience in fighting the Sioux and stood ready for whatever battle commands Custer ordered.

Custer used the scouts to find the enemy, report their movement and act as couriers.  On the day of the Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer ordered Bobtail Bull and other scouts to “take the horses away from the Sioux camp. Take away as many horses as possible.”  Custer knew that a warrior on foot was no match for a soldier on horse.

Bobtail Bull's grave site is at Little Big Horn, one of the few Hidatsa Scouts in a marked grave off the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Bobtail Bull’s grave site is at Little Big Horn, one of the few Hidatsa Scouts in a marked grave off the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Bobtail Bull got separated from the rest of the troops. Sioux warriors grouped behind him, separating him from help and from escape.  A dense swarm of Sioux rode against him and he attempted to fall back. He was left as a solitary horseman, surrounded by circling warriors.  He was shot off his horse and so became one of the first to fall at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Like Bobtail Bull, Red Bear, Boy Chief and others the scouts who served in the U.S. Army from 1866 to 1914 at most western forts, these scouts served with fidelity, placing their unique skills at the disposal of the frontier army.  To the shame of the U.S. Government, many of these brave soldiers were harshly treated after they served the U.S. Army.  For some, prison, poor health, disabilities or even death was the future they faced after serving the United States.  Many have been completely forgotten.

(A contemporary of Custer who worked with tribal members of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara left an influence on the people who remains today.  To learn of Harold Case’ missionary work see this link: http://wp.me/pOdPo-HP )

In 1979 the Old Scouts Society of White Shield was established. The group cares for and maintains Post #1 Cemetery at White Shield where several of the scouts of the Seventh Cavalry are buried alongside veterans of WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam.old scouts_0003

In 1983, the Fort McKeen Detachment, Old Scouts Society was officially formed. Organizers included the grandsons of Bears Belly who was one of the original scouts who served under Custer at Fort Lincoln.

The Fort McKeen Detachment of the Old Scouts Society is dedicated to correcting misconceptions about the scouts who served in the U.S. Army.  Members educate the public about the military scouts and work to keep alive the stories of how the historic scouts influenced American and North Dakota history.  They work to preserve and honor the gravesites of the scouts buried at Fort Abraham Lincoln south of Mandan.  They also help maintain the Old Scouts Cemetery west of Garrison, North Dakota on Highway 1804.

The Indian Scout Cemetery, also known as the Old Scouts Cemetery is near White Shield, North Dakota. On New Years Eve, 2014, it stood quietly against the setting sun.

The Indian Scout Cemetery, also known as the Old Scouts Cemetery is near White Shield, North Dakota. On New Years Eve, 2014, it stood quietly against the setting sun.

As often as possible, I go past the cemetery, usually on motorcycle. I stop to tend to fallen flags and other markers left to honor this group of war dead who contributed much but received so little recognition for their sacrifice.  old scouts_0001Have you taken the scenic drive past Garrison, up to Parshall on 1804?  Did you see the Old Scouts Cemetery?

(This article is excerpted from a script I wrote for a documentary on the Old Scouts Society — yet unproduced. It is the product of months of research at the Fort Berthold Library, the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum and the North Dakota State Historical Society. For more information see http://www.mhanation.com/main2/history.html)

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