Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

David Wins–Thank Goodness!!

July 27, 2014
Cottonwood Campground
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Medora, North Dakota




You heard it here.  The refrigerator was at 37 degrees this morning and at 33 when we came back from the great hike that is the bulk of this post. 

So that is very good news and it looks like Ben at Red Trail Campground has fixed our problem for us for the grand sum of $65.00.  You betcha we feel  lucky.  We’ve been told that a ten year old refrigerator is near the end of its life but we’re hoping we can coax a few more years out of it.

Fingers crossed that this good news continues since we are going to go even further into the wilds of North Dakota and take Winnona up to Juniper Campground in the North Unit about 80 miles from here.  Watford is the nearest city and it’s 20 miles away.  Medora, while it doesn’t have any services other than tourist shopping, gas and a convenience store was only 5 miles away from the campground.  



When we find out this morning that the refrigerator seems to be fine, we set out for for the Petrified Forest hike on the far west side of the park.  It is about a 5 mile drive down dirt roads.  Best to check road conditions with the visitor center if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle.  



We are ogling the scenery when about half way there David spies something white out in the grass off to the side.

We were just talking about the wildlife we had seen and listing the ones we haven’t seen or would like to see closer.  Coyote, elk, pronghorn.  It’s like our wish was his command.  Well not really but it was a seriously terrific start to a fabulous day.





What a face!!




We watch him for a while and he seems to be watching us although we are a long way from him so far away in the grasses.  But apparently our having stopped has made him alert.  We’ve found this several times, that if we just keep moving wildlife sort of ignore us.  But if we stop they think better  of it.






At the parking lot they have this map of the trail.  It begins at You Are Here and goes a half mile in until you need to decide which direction you wish to hike.

Although there is petrified wood all along this trail,  I know, from Friday, that the largest number of specimens  in one place are to the left. 

If you are hiking the entire trail and know this you have to decide if you want the oh wows at the beginning or end of your hike.  

We will go left on the little dotted line and almost to the bigger darker line which is the Maah Daah Hey Trail (ma da hey) Mandan for “an area that has been or will be around for a long time”.   The entire Maah Daah Hey trail is 110 miles long.  Only part of it traverses the park.  You would follow it about half way down to the first little dotted line going right to hike the entire Petrified Forest Trail.

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the 3rd most important collection of petrified wood in the country. I assume Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is the first but I don’t know the second. Do you??   No roads lead to this area, keeping it remote and well preserved. If you want to see it, you must hike in.



From the parking lot it is about a mile up and down some tricky rock climbs then across  beautiful prairie before you arrive at the start of the major petrified trees area.  We take hiking poles and they helped although you don’t need them at all after you get there unless you are going further around the loop.  The entire Petrified Forest trail is 10.3 miles. 

I am quite disappointed in our early pictures.  The sky was not this dark.  But the skies lightened up unfortunately after we left the petrified area.   The weather was perfect, low 70’s with a wonderful breeze.

The trail is marked by posts every 1/4 mile or so.  On one of them was what looks like a wren to me but I’ve checked all wrens and sparrows in the park listing and I’m not sure.  Anyone recognize this sweetheart?



Beautiful Prairie


Getting close



Geologists say the park was once on the eastern edge of a flat swampy area covered with rivers that fanned out into a broad, sea level delta.  This swampy region contained dense forests of sequoia, bald cypress, magnolia and other water loving trees growing in or near the shallow waters.

Some forests were buried by flood deposits or volcanic ash falls.  When silica-rich water soaked into the trees, organic compounds in the wood were dissolved and replaced by very small crystals of quartz.  This is petrification.

When we get to the petrified area they are all over the place. Some are stumps standing up, some on their sides.  Some look like wood that has been split for a fire.  The wood chips are also everywhere.  You have to pick some of them up just to believe they aren’t wood.




Looks like a rotting tree with wood chips all around to me until I pick up the chips.  They are rocks.




This is the bottom of the stump above that was sitting on the ground until the rock eroded away under it and it tipped over.  I love the design.



In the beginning of this gully wash out you can see a tree trunk buried under the sediment.  There may be lots more petrified trees and logs buried which will be revealed as erosion works its magic.





These two logs looked like the light weight poplar splits David used to do in our wood yard.  We used them for kindling and early spring fires.  I could have taken this picture except that when I picked up these light colored pieces I had to use two hands.  I laughed out loud.




I hope you can see all the petrified wood strewn all over everywhere in every direction.  David said it looks like a bone yard.









Even a petrified tree deserves a hug.  I always wish trees a long and healthy life when I hug.  This guy is for sure going to have a long life as a rock.







The petrified wood area seems to go on and on even though I don’t think it was more than 1/4 of a mile. There is just so much of it strewn here and there.  It looks so real. Finally we seem to be leaving the biggest concentration although we continue to see some here and there as we hike on along the Petrified Forest Trail Loop.

We really probably could hike the entire thing but today we only go about 3 miles out and 3 miles back.







I look at this and think of Egypt.



We hike out onto the Prairie where you can see for miles and miles nothing but grass and wildflowers. It’s just gorgeous. I can imagine though how it might have felt walking for days and days with nothing but prairie to the horizon. Would they have seen more wildflowers than we do? What were the original wildflowers here before the exotics came in?

I want to keep walking, I want to walk it all.  “Next time” I want to get organized and do an over night backpacking hike and stop about half way and spend the night and hike out in the morning. This hike is so remote I think it would be wonderful.

The feeling of “Wide Open Spaces” and “Fifty Miles of Elbow Room makes me start singing those songs.   I just LOVE this!





I’m amazed that there are still wildflowers in late July.  I wish I could come here once a month just to see how the flowers change.  The coneflowers are among my favorites.



The western salsify is beautiful and unusual.  Here is the flower.  It’s small, maybe 3” across with slender pointed green structures the extend beyond the ray flowers.  Its leaves are erect and grass like.  It’s a European native so it qualifies as an exotic but I read that it is seldom a nuisance and from what I’ve seen that is true. 

We have seen its striking dandelion-like seed heads somewhere every day we’ve been here but never in big clusters.  Just scattered around. , They look like puffballs with parachutes.  This is the very first time I’ve seen the flower.  


Look at the geometry here.  This thing is bigger than my hand and stands about 16” tall.  It is very striking in the field.







We aren’t very far out into the prairie when we pass a buffalo wallow where they like to roll.  Their rolling of course denudes the ground and it becomes just the big circle of the dust they want.  I’m looking back at David coming out of the Petrified Rock area.

Big puffy cloud skies




The Prairie we are walking through is up on a butte between two canyons.  The views of the canyon are just dazzling.








On we walk until the trail becomes a ridge between the two canyons.  Now we can look out on either side and see badlands stretching to the Horizon. 









Up we go and then our trail and starts going down down down into the canyon and then up up to a perpendicular ridge where it will meet the Maah Daah Hey Trail (pronounced ma da hey). In the Mandan Language it means “an area that has been or will be around a long time”. This intersection is about 1/3 of the way around the loop. We had thought we might go to that intersection but think better of it as we look down at the trail.







We’re almost to the edge when I find the only bench or log or anything to sit on since we’ve been out here on the prairie.  It’s one of the trail posts that has somehow gotten broken off.  I can’t see any reason for this perfectly good post to have broken unless perhaps one too many giant bison tried to scratch his back on it and finally just broke it off but it works great for me for a little sit down and snack.  Being taller, David has a bit more trouble with the height of the bench.





After the break, I go a “little” way down but when I see how far it drops, I reluctantly head back.  I would really like to hike it all.  We just aren’t prepared for that.  Can you see me , the blue dot with the tan hat in the picture below??




We’d have to go way down and around and back up that little tiny trail you can see going through the grasses on the left.  It climbs up the butte.  But unless we went on we’d have to turn right back around and do it again to turn back.  Oh well, I guess we’ll turn around here.




Just this section is a long way back up.  The trail post is that little brown line in the middle at the top.





And of course on the way back we see all kinds of things we did not see on the way out including this short horned lizard.  I look down when I see something hurry away on the trail in front of me. He doesn’t go far, just sort of off to the side.  But the trail is rather a rut so he’d have to really move to get up the sides and into the grass.   He’s about 3” long including his tail and blends in perfectly with his environment. His skin is pretty amazing up close.  Not only does he have those spiny looking things on the edge of what sort of resembles a shell, but his skin is rather spiny too.











We find the short horned lizard at the very edge of the grasses where the butte rock faces are present.  But it’s walking back through the prairie that David finds this caterpillar on the stalk of one of the wild flowers


  I had seen him on Friday and hoped we might find him again and David did.

The best I can determine is that he is some sort of Hawkmoth Larva. If you know for sure, please let me know. He’s gorgeous isn’t he?


And then here we are back in the petrified forest where tree trunks sit on an angle atop huge butte rock faces.






This picture was taken on my Friday morning Ranger hike on this trail.  It shoes how huge the trunks of some of these trees are.





Here’s the fun rock for the day.  Does he look worried??   Look carefully you’ll see him.





Here we are at the edge of the Petrified Rock section on our way back to the car.  We hike down to the larger rock formations and as we approach, we see off to our left much further away this time, another bull bison resting.  Resting and dusting I should say.  Glad he didn’t want to use the wallow on the trail.   I just love that we are permitted to walk in their habitat being mindful that it is theirs and taking care not to intrude.












The very end of this hike turns out to have one wildlife sighting after another.  

Hoping down the path in front of us beyond the buffalo is this really beautiful vesper sparrow.   He isn’t shy at all and keeps hoping down the trail in front of us rather than flying away.  This is why it takes us ages to hike a simple trail.  We have to stop and watch lizards and bison and sparrows and who knows what else.





Well we do know what else – it isn’t quite as cute as the sparrow.  Those who do not like to see pictures of the narrow fellows in the grass might want to skip on by this.  But if you do you’ll really miss something.

Our final wildlife siting of the day was  another one of those shocks.  We are climbing up a narrow dirt path on our final ascent before the parking lot when off to my right I see something that causes me to stop dead in my tracks.


What we believe was either a very fat prairie rattle snake or a bull snake is sunning part of his body.  He is right next to but off the trail.  When I start moving backwards and stop to get his picture he just slithers across the trail and disappears but not before I get a couple of shots of him. 

The first picture is of him beside the trail where I first saw him and the second is him slithering across the trail in front of me at a distance of several feet, this is a zoom. 


Rattlesnakes are not aggressive and given the choice will retreat rather than strike.  So all we had to do was make sure that like the buffalo, we didn’t surprise him or make him feel cornered.   We stepped off the path in the opposite direction that he had been and walked a few feet and then rejoined the path.  By then I’m sure he was long gone.  But it is a thrill to see him and I was really surprised at how big he was and how lovely whoever he is.




We spent another fabulous day here in the park hiking a total of about 6 miles in and out.   My only regret is that we didn’t plan for the whole 10.3.    “Next time”!!




  1. What an incredible hike....really it's just one gorgeous day after another (except for the RV repair hiccups)!

    We are heading for the Black Hills of SD next summer and now I want to add this Nat'l Park to the schedule!

    We saw some petrified wood at Capitol Reef NP this past spring but nowhere near the amount you saw here.

    1. Lisa I hope you come to TRNP but I'd suggest June. Apparently the really nice July weather we've been having is unusual. The past two days have been highs in the upper 80's and H-O-T!! In that weather you really can only hike from 5am to about 10:30 and then from 7 to 9 or so.

  2. All I can say is, "WOW!". I can almost smell that prairie grass. Incredible pictures of the bison and prong horn--not to mention the petrified wood. We missed a lot in South Dakota because we didn't plan enough time. Wonderful post, Sherry. Thanks for sharing another wonderful hike.

    1. This park is in North Dakota Nancy. I'm amazed at how different the two states are.

  3. If your woman's intuition had to be wrong, I'm glad it was about your fridge being fixed! I'm going to file the info about your repair away for the future, just in case. :c)

    Thanks for the chuckle of you hugging the petrified tree stump! Only you... :cD

    Fabulous hike, who'd a thunk North Dakota had so many wonderful treasures!

    1. Well I wouldn't have thunk it for sure. We came because we are crazy about our national parks and this one sure didn't disappoint.

  4. Another wonderful post with great pictures! Seems like you had an amazing day. Thought I'd look up what the beautiful caterpillar was, and you were right - I think it's from a leafy spurge hawkmoth.

    1. Margaret thanks so much for the confirmation on my guess. Unfortunately neither he nor the leafy spurge should be in the park. They actually take measures to eradicated the plant.

  5. Definitely a lot of "oh wows" on that hike! This must be the right time of year for getting bison pics - their winter coats have been completely rubbed off and they look so clean and magnificent - and really big!! You certainly captured the beauty of looking down when hiking the prairies - lizards and caterpillars and that gorgeous snake, all would have been missed if only focused on the horizon. The worried rock looked like he melted down the hillside.....that would worry me too :-). I just never want your posts to end, they are so fun and educational and your love of the land is inspiring.
    Also glad you had a nice cold frig to return home to :-).

    1. Jody you are so sweet to say you never want them to end. They are SOO long! But I'm glad to hear someone is happy with them. Thank you so much for enjoying them it makes me happy.

  6. The snake sure is a big guy, and gorgeous! I wish I could spend a couple of weeks camping at TR and take the time to see everything. It isn't going to happen if I have to do it alone though. I think of all the animals I've seen, the bison is the most fascinating.

    1. I wonder if you couldn't find another solo lady RVer and just meet her somewhere for a couple of weeks. I think the bison is just an amazing creature too.

  7. My guess would be a grasshopper sparrow.

    I would love to see those petrified trees, but I'm afraid I couldn't hike that far. I sure enjoyed your pictures of them though.

    1. I thought it might be since he's on the list as being in the park. Thanks so much for the confirmation. So glad you enjoyed the hike. We did too.

  8. The prairie is my favorite landscape. Being born there I think it's in my blood, as much as I love the mountains and forests, they make me claustrophobic after a while and I feel a need to get out where I can see for miles in all directions. I'm not sure which direction you are heading once you leave TRNP, but the little town of Lemmon SD has a crazy Petrified Wood Park in the middle of town. It was built in the early 30's by a man who hired the out-of-work men in town to haul in the petrified wood and fossils and build the park which includes a waterfall, castle, wishing well and hundreds of other sculptures. There's a nice little museum in the park made of petrified rock, and another museum a few blocks away on Highway 12 that features a sculpture of a cowboy riding a triceratops made from scrap metal by an artist named John Lopez. I believe he has another sculpture in front of the school that hadn't been installed yet when I was there.

    1. Welcome to my blog and thanks so much for your comment. I love to see new commenters as well as my wonderful faithful. Hope you'll become one of them. I think you are right about many people being imprinted on the landscape where they were born. I'm so happy to get your recommendation on Lemmon SD. I'm going to look it up and see if it is anywhere on your route to my brother's in Colorado.

  9. We are so glad to hear that the fridge is working again (at a very reasonable price, too).
    Great minds must think alike! We hiked a bit shorter portion of the Petrified Forest Trail last week and I have some almost identical pictures as you. Wow, that sure was a great hike! We loved it, but I believe that the wildlife must love you more than us. The only snake that we saw that day was a "skin only". No bison at all. I was disappointed.
    Great blog today.

  10. Part of my folks extensive rock collection is petrified wood logs which I imagine someday I'll inherit. What a wonderful hike, thanks for taking us along

  11. Magnificent photos of that bison. I love seeing them in their natural habitat, free to be happy. The entire area looks gorgeous. I am in love with our United States and the diversity of scenery from sea to sea. Very happy indeed to know that the frig is fixed. David is so much like his brother, Roger, who would persist and be patient until the problem is solved. Smart men, those two.

  12. I thought I'd add that there is supposed to be a John Lopez metal sculpture in front of the Lemmon high school if you pass through there. Get pictures!

  13. Gorgeous shots of the rolling bison, the caterpillar and the canyon with the coneflowers in the foreground.

  14. Great day! The big dandelion is a salsify- one of my favorites to photograph.

  15. That toad was cool!!! short stubby tail..... he looked worried....

  16. Everyday just seems to get better and better:o)) Hope we get the opportunity to see all these wonderful places in person one day. Also glad to hear the fridge lives on!!! Keep bringing us all the marvelous sights and wildlife. That Bison was one big dude!!!

  17. Yay Fridge … $65? wow…. good show ~ gorgeous shots of the Pronghorns! look at that face!

    I've been to the Petrified Forest in Arizona … and the Painted Desert … the colors are gorgeous …. hahaa you hugged a petrified tree… HAHaaaa

    ohhhhh the Buffalo! y'all weren't scared? how beautiful is that … the trust. WOW

    Great Hike!

  18. Great hikes ... except for the snake ;-) Neat to see a bison dusting himself, isn't it?

  19. So glad the fridge is working again (at the right temperature! ). Petrified wood is such an interesting thing. Never knew there was more in other areas of the country.

  20. Happy your fridge is working....but you passed it on to us :-(. Going to try and get a mobile tech out asap. Al has exhausted his ability to fix it. Luckily we do have access to a big walk-in fridge here at the ranch so we didn't lose all our groceries.
    Love your hikes and pictures. Will definitely put this park on an itinerary in the future.

  21. Oh my God! what a beautiful place. Are you alone (with David of course) on these hikes? It seems desolate and you are the only ones enjoying this magnificent place!

  22. Wow -- what a spectacular landscape! We definitely need to go there. Love the photos of the echinacea (never seen so much in the wild!) and the bison taking dust baths. And I'm really glad to hear that your fridge problem is solved. Life is good, eh?

  23. Great day! Good prognhorn pic. Ours were all shaggy-still shedding the winter coat. That is one big snake -too bad it was not laying the other way so we could see the whole thing.

  24. Good news on the fridge! Wow. Definitely wood looking, but heavy as rock with pretty designs. Great wildlife sightings, especially the lizard and caterpillar. Magnificent views! Wish you could have gone the whole way!!

  25. so glad to have had this preview of TRNP before we get there in a couple of weeks. . .really great!


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