Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

We’d spent most of a week in Wisconsin, culminating in a few nice days on the shore of Lake Superior in the city of Ashland and near the Apostle Islands in the town of Bayfield, and it finally was time to go.  North Dakota was calling us–the last of the lower 48 states to receive our Airstream.

Yes, with this one we’ve finally hit all 48. (I doubt our Airstream will ever visit Hawaii, and Alaska is somewhere in the distant future.) North Dakota had eluded us all this time because, well, it’s not on the way to anywhere and (sorry) there just wasn’t much to draw us into the state.

TRNP bison herd

Except for T.R.’s legacy: Theodore Roosevelt National Park to be precise, a fine place by reputation that just happens to be located in the western end of a state that is otherwise not known for tourism. Year after year I’ve considered making North Dakota a stop and each year it just hasn’t worked out. But this year we devised a route specifically with the intent of finally giving N.D. some Airstream love.

TRNP wild horses

I can see why Teddy liked the place. It’s wild, open, beautiful, and saturated with adventure. There are wild horses and bison, prairie dog towns, caves and coal veins, badlands and rivers, and all the fresh air you can inhale.  We’re finally back in the west, Teddy. Thanks for saving this place for us.

TRNP bison photography

As you can see, the wildlife is pretty easy to spot.  There’s a nice 34 mile loop drive in the park with many short walking trails that can easily consume your entire day and give you incredible vistas with little effort.  For us, the horses and bison were particularly accommodating and twice blocked the road with a parade.

[I feel obliged to point out that approaching bison is a particularly stupid thing to do. They’ll gore you and toss you fifty feet before you can even start to run away.  My photos were taken with a long lens. We stayed in the car and slowly drove away when it looked like they were roaming too close.]

TRNP prairie dog

On the other hand, you don’t have to fear the prairie dogs, even fierce-looking fellows like this one.  They look a little smug sometimes, probably because they know they are protected creatures living in a national park, and if tourists bug them they might get a ticket from a park ranger.  This particular beast was part of a large lawn-mowing crew that was spanning a couple of acres.

The campground here is exactly what we expect from a good national park. Very few amenities, a nice quiet site in the trees, ranger talks in the evening, and a natural setting that is untrammeled by hordes.  A few dried bison chips scattered in the campsite are a bonus.

No 30 amp power, no dump, and sulfury-tasting water help limit participation by the tenderfeet (or at least, those tenderfeet who don’t have a nice travel trailer to camp in!)  I’ve been mixing the water with powdered drink mix to disguise the flavor, because it has been fairly hot and I’m gulping down about 2 liters a day.


TRNP Eleanor BadlandsWe’re living on solar power here.  I’ve been wondering how we got along before we started carrying a portable solar panel, because lately it seems like we keep hitting campgrounds where trees shade the roof-mounted panels.  Except for a few hours in the morning, the only direct sun we can capture is far away from the Airstream.  I’ve been using every inch of the 45-foot cable to get the panels in a spot where the sun hits them in the early morning and late afternoon.

Even with that we aren’t getting a full recharge each day, so we have gone to our best boondocking practices.  One of my latest tricks for saving electricity is to use the iPad for 95% of my Internet needs.  It uses a fraction of the power of my laptop and recharges off a USB outlet, which means I can skip the inverter.  Plus, I can recharge in the car while we’re driving around.

Since it has been hot, we’re hanging around in the trailer during the morning while it’s cool, and then heading out for the day until sometime past 5 pm.  This cuts down the length of time we need the vent fans, which is also a big power saver.  Each vent fan consumes about 2 DC amps, which means all three of them running for six hours = 36 amp-hours.  That’s a lot of juice, which is put to better use after 7 pm when the temperatures start to drop quickly (thanks to dry western air).

We’ve got another day planned here, and then we’ll relocate to the lesser-visited North Unit of the park, which is about 70 miles away.  I’m told there’s no cellular service up there, so we’ll just do one night and then start heading to Montana.

Our stops from here to Seattle are completely uncharted.  We have no real plan at all.  Weather, campground availability, and our whims will reveal a route at some point, but it’s much like traveling by Ouija board—anything might be spelled out in the next 12 days or so…


  1. says

    I have always skipped this park and North Dakota in general because it is simply not on the way to anywhere I go. I just wanted to let you know that my portable solar panel that I purchased from Airstream Life works like a champ. I do not have an inverter. Also, I did not face the same kind of heat you seem to be dealing with when I was in Montana and Wyoming a couple of weeks ago. However, the Go Power panels and the long cord are a game changer for me. The unit is a foolproof plug and play setup that just works. I never had a battery issue and dry camped for about five days in a row.

    • RichLuhr says

      Thanks, Douglas! Great to hear the panel is working out and you’re able to camp longer without hookups. I think we’ll have at least a couple more stops along this trip where we need ours, too.

  2. David B Johnson says

    Well, you folks covered a lot of ground lately. I was hoping for a Maze chapter about your crossing my old home state of Minnesota. It’s like Michigan and Wisconsin I suppose, but pretty nice on its own. You could learn about iron mining, stopped at beautiful Gull Lake in Brainerd, seen the Mississippi head waters at Itasca, and the like.

    Buffalo are magnificent animals. You are right, they can flick a human out of the way like we flick a fly off our arm. It’s best not to agitate them.


  3. says

    We were in the north unit of TR a couple of weeks ago and got to see the big horn sheep and the Texas longhorns. Hope you do too!