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

Henry David Thoreau

We move to the North Unit and Get Heated Up

Monday July 28, 2015
Juniper Campground North Unit
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
North Dakota



We’re moving on to the North Unit of the Park


We are on the road by 9:15 am MST for the 80 mile drive to the North Unit of the park.  We’ve been told this area is much more rugged.   We have to go back east 15 miles on I-94, then about 65 miles north on US 85.   The drive has some pretty serious hills but other than that is very easy.  There is a lot of oil fracking equipment working sadly.  We have been drinking bottled water because we are worried about the damage to the water table by this process.  They say the wells are so low it’s not a problem but I lived through all the tobacco company lies so I don’t believe anything anyone says who stands to lose their profit if something is found to be a health concern.

At one point when we were very close, we come up to the top of the hills and the view coming down was enough to make your eyes pop out.  It is one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen.  These are definitely more rugged badlands.  Because we were driving separate so I could gas up Ruby, I couldn’t stop and take a picture of this amazing sight.  There definitely should be a scenic pull over there so people don’t run off the road.



Juniper Campground is our destination.



We arrive at Juniper campground about 12:15 CDT, I had assumed that checkout time was noon as it was in Cottonwood.  We hoped to be able to have our pick of sites since it was Monday but the campground is much smaller than Cottonwood and there are only a few sites open that would work for Winnona. 

When I arrive, I check the information boards for  checkout time.  I asked at the tiny Visitor Center and the person at the desk says he didn’t know of one.   Much of the campground is full and I guess everyone stays as long as they want.  I later saw people pulling out at 5:00 and later, one of them from a much nicer site than we had taken, but I’m not one for going to all the trouble to pull up stakes and button up the ship and change sites especially since we are only here for 3 nights.  The take home message here is that there is no way to plan when to come to increase your odds.  But probably Friday or Saturday would decrease them.


Our site is #42.  It is right on the road and shares the back of our drive in with the top of the one behind us and the front of our drive in with the back of the one in front of us.  In essence this makes the site even longer.  There is as you can see no privacy.  It is in the full sun which is great for the solar panels but terrible for Winnona in what turns out to be the hottest 3 days we have spend in the park.

We also changed into Central Time coming here and had changed our clocks last night so we could be here by noon or so their time.   Thus we have an extra hour once we arrive.   We check out the visitor center.  It’s tiny but cute.  It has nice but small book selection, the great hand puppets we’ve seen at the other 2 centers and the staff is very helpful in recommendations for hikes, confirming that the river is too slow to kayak and other things we always ask.  It also has an excellent 15 minute film on the North Unit which I actually thought was better than the film at the much bigger VC in the south.  If you come here, view them both and see what you think.



We have time in the evening to hike the short trail in the campground.



After dinner we take the Little Mo Trail.  The temperatures changed for this week and the highs are in the upper 80’s but it feels much much hotter than that.  Is the sun really closer to us up here?  We go out at 6:00 and it is really still too hot.  I am dragging and wilting until 7:00 when things began to cool off.  SO apparently we have been very lucky to have had unusually nice weather for July in TRNP.  I suggest if you are coming here that you plan for June.  And you definitely should come.

The Little Mo trail takes you, surprise surprise, down by the Little Missouri River which flows all the way through the park.  The trail is 1.2 miles.  7/10ths of those are paved and handicapped accessible.  The other is a dirt trail through the vegetation and up to the top of a butte overlooking the river. 



A bridge takes us across one of the little tributary streams that flows into the Little Missouri and there is a very nice CCC picnic pavilion with the giant timbers and rocks so characteristic of their work.  Inside is a large big stone fireplace and a stone floor.



The path leads us directly to the river where we can see raccoon and deer tracks in the river bottom mud.   The Missouri is a very different river from any we’ve seen before.  It is apparently quite volatile.  We see clear evidence that the river had flooded at least 10 feet above where we see it now.   But today it is slow, wide and shallow.   It’s hard to believe that this river with the help of erosion carved out  the canyons which surround it.

These little ducks zoom across the water away from the shore as we approach the river overlook.  By the time I could get my camera on them, they were a bit distant for a sharp picture.  I’m thinking these are mallard ducklings but I’m not sure.  If you know them or have a better guess, I’d love to hear it.  They were very cute.  I did not see any adults around.



The Little Missouri River




The birds take over our attention.

As we walk back from the river, birds are flying in and out among the trees and bushes.  With binoculars to our eyes we look to see who they are.  Tree swallows I think. (picture previous).  They are quite vocal in their soft sort of way and then I see what I think is the reason.  Right next to me on the path on a low branch is this little one.  When he doesn’t fly away as I take his picture I begin to worry about him but he seems big enough to take care of himself and I’m not sure what to do so I leave it to those I assume are his parents.  Bird lovers, is this the right thing to have done?




The path takes us through the sage along the river’s edge where we hear and then back into the prairie where we see the Western Meadowlark who appears also to like the sage as a singing platform.






It’s all about water and geology.


The trail through the grasses then goes over to a small butte with cool steps going up to the top for an elevated river view.  The butte has lots of capstones all along the side facing the river.  The details are just captivating.  It’s all about water and geology.











From here David takes this panorama shot of the bend in the river.  Above you see the two shots, I have to take to show each end from our higher vantage point. That’s one thing I really miss from my previous camera. It had all sorts of easy to use settings for great panoramas, fireworks, sunsets and lots of other things. It wasn’t a point and shoot exactly since it was bigger and had a view finder but it had many of those features which I miss.





It’s a good thing we always bring our binoculars.


Back on the grasslands we cross a service road and see the Common Flicker on the ground.   He’s on the road, in the bushes and constantly moving so my pictures of him are catch as catch can.  But he’s a beautiful bird we recognize as a resident at the farm in Virginia.  Clearly flickers get around.



Just a little further down we come upon another recognizable face, the Brown Thrasher. He and two or three lark sparrows are vying for whatever it is they find  interesting on this gravel path.





As we are nearing the end of the trail there is a heavily treed and bushed section where birds are flitting everywhere. We can’t keep up with who is flying but we definitely recognize another farm frequenter, the Cedar Wax Wing.  We recognize their squeaky vocalizations before we even see them.  I think they are such a sleek handsome bird with the black mask, hair tuft and soft muted colors

And there are a pair of brightly colored birds that we follow and take numerous pictures of as they chase each other around and then sit on the branches near each other. I later discover they are a pair of Orchard Orioles. The orange one is an adult male, the yellow one is an immature male. 








The sun has been so bright today that my eyes have started complaining and now as it lowers in the sky it is shining right in my eyes.  Time for me to go in but one more bird catches my tired eyes.  This time it is the female orchard oriole whom I misidentified until the Bird Lady of Blogland set me straight.  She’s amazing in what she knows.   This little miss is a beauty though isn’t she.




What a birding evening. 


We had no idea that between 6 and 8 pm we could see and see so many different species.  We walk back in time for David to go to the campground program on the CCC.   I know you are not surprised.  I tease him that he could give these programs now. 

They were here  from 1934 to 1942 and created most of the infrastructure of what became the North Unit of the park.   It seems we see their work  in nearly every campground we stay in.   I feel like singing “they’re everywhere, they’re everywhere”.

But instead I work on getting the blog on the Petrified Forest ready to publish.   However we have no verizon phone signal and only a weak verizon data signal with our booster.  Actually here we are using our cradlepoint set up with its antenna to bring in the 3G rather than much weaker 4G signal.   It seems to do the trick for email and for most web browsing but after 45 minutes of trying to get it to publish the Petrified Forest post I just wait until the next morning when we are on our way up to the highest spot in the park and take care of it in about 2 minutes.   

But the highest point in the park is a story for tomorrow. 
One last picture of our beautiful Little Missouri River Bottom neighborhood.




  1. Beautiful pictures again. I love this park.

  2. We've never been to that section of the park. It's going on our to-do list. Great pics!

  3. These descriptions and pictures are so wonderful. Thanks so much.

  4. Great pictures of the birds and the beautiful scenery around you. Thank you Sherry for being so detailed in your stories, it really makes me feel I right next to you.
    The areas you are covering are surely on our list for next year.

  5. Great pictures as always now days.
    How is the fridge holding up?

  6. We've got to get on the road. Looks like so much fun!

  7. Love all the birdies! Your posts and pictures makes me want to go back to this park - both units. I was there in August last year and didn't have any trouble finding a good site, but then I was camping in a tent.

  8. Sherry, your photos of the orchard orioles and cedar waxwing are wonderful! As far as the fledgling, you did the right thing in leaving it where it was because the parents know best how to take care of it. What a beautiful park -- you're certainly doing it justice!

  9. I know you don't want to hear the "R" word again...I took "Lucy" into Wenatchee today and $130. smackers later in 30 minutes ..I have a new DSI board...and everything is "cool" again...
    Back to your trip and photos..

  10. Such a great birding day. This park really is huge and diverse.

    If you use Windows Live Gallery to process photos you can stitch together photos to create a panorama.

  11. That is some really great birding and some really great pictures.

  12. Sorry about the heat... but thanks for sending your cooler weather to us for a few days;o)) That really does look like a rugid place...but oh those birds!! Wonder photos!!!

  13. Great birds and a pretty river-sounds like a nice campground hike. Glad you got a spot there. Smart about the water - I have trouble trusting anyone in big business these days.

  14. Just loved the photos of all the great variety of birds. I never paid much attention to them until I retired, now I love bird watching.

  15. Glad the heat was outside and not in your fridge! Quite a variety of birds you enjoyed. I have trouble identifying any of them, you do so much better than I can. :c)

  16. I don't see any hookups at your site so sure hope the evenings cool down. The variety of muted colors in the landscape and the birds is so pretty - you both really captured the "lazy river" feel of that little valley. The capstones are interesting, I'm sure Bill knows what caused them (and their blood type probably), but they're new to me :-). Looking forward to more of this rugged location!

    1. Jodee just wanted you and everyone to know that neither of the campgrounds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park has hook ups. That's why we were running our refrigerator on LP and not AC. Both have potable water but with the fracking, I wouldn't drink it and if you put it in a gallon jug it looks light tan. ugg. Also only Juniper has a dump station. At Cottonwood you can go to a local private campground and pay $10.

  17. Beautiful birds! I love the patterns on the feathers of the thrasher. The cedar waxwing is really pretty. You get photos this good with your zoom??? Often when I use my zoom, I get a nice blurry picture. Is yours a Canon? I have trouble with action shots also. xxxooo

  18. Love the birds. That little river must have been a doozy in it's day.

  19. You were lucky to have that spell of cool weather. It was quite warm while we were there. Turned out be a great birding evening for you. I enjoyed the birds with brighter colors.

  20. On the 50X, stitch-assist is available under SCN on the top dial. Then it's just a matter of opening all the photos in the series with PhotoStitch to merge them together. The software comes bundled with the camera, so you should have a DVD, or you can download it separately.

  21. Great job recreating the great evening hike. Your pictures enable us all to see the birds even better than we saw them on the trail with binoculars! Really fine.

  22. so happy to enjoy the North Unit of TRNP in this post, as I'm not sure we will make it there. . .really, really great pics. . .thanks!


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