North Dakota

From one Dakota to the next.

White Butte

After our last night in South Dakota we kept driving north and crossed over into North Dakota. The driving scenery remained pretty much the same and while normally I’m sure you could see for miles in every direction, we were still surrounded by a smoky haze in every direction. We saw a lot of farm land, cows, and a few ginormous birds of prey posted up on telephone polls along the highway, which seemed to be the only elevated spot for them to perch and look for unsuspecting prey.

Our first stop was White Butte, the highest point in North Dakota at 3500 ft. According to Google a butte is “an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top”. White Butte is located in Little Missouri National Grassland, but it’s technically on private property, so when we pulled up to the parking area we parked between a field of cows and a farm. We were the only ones there on a weekday afternoon, besides all the cows curiously checking us out, and enjoyed a relatively simple hike up. The smoky skies made for an eerie backdrop from the top.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

From White Butte we kept driving north and made a stop at the Dollar Store for essentials (snacks, marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers). We found a spot to camp for the night on top of a hill in Little Missouri National Grassland, just outside of Theodore Roosevelt National Park (the south unit; turns out there’s also a north unit farther up which we didn’t make it to) with incredible views of the badlands. The trees and and shrubs were all starting to change colors and it started to feel like fall. We enjoyed some camp stove s’mores, but both agree that s’mores roasted over a fire just hit different.

The next day we drove into the park with plans to do a 7 miles hike through a valley, along the Lower Paddock Creek Trail. Even with smokey skies we could see pretty far along the valley and up onto the hillside, and the trail wasn’t crowded. The reviews for the trail all mention wildlife sightings, and we were not disappointed.

Lower Paddock Creek Trail
Views from the Lower Paddock Creek Trail

Immediately after getting out of the car at the beginning of the trail, we were greeted by hundreds of fluffy little prairie dogs popping out of their holes. They squeaked at each other when people got too close, and then scampered to their holes to take cover. Along the trail we came across several other prairie dogs towns, and honestly the hike probably took longer than it should have because we stopped at all of them. While writing this post we looked up some fun facts about prairie dogs and learned that their vocabulary is more advanced than any other animal language that’s been decoded.

“To a human ear, prairie dogs’ squeaky calls sound simple and repetitive. But recent research has found that those calls can convey incredibly descriptive details. Prairie dogs can alert one another, for example, that there’s not just a human approaching their burrows, but a tall human wearing the color blue.”

Cute and smart. This further confirms that prairie dogs are Emily’s new favorite animal.

We also saw three wild horses hanging out in the shade and a few lone bison in the distance. After we got back to our car we decided to keep driving around the park looking for more bison. Fortunately, as soon as we got back to the main loop around the park we found a very large bison patiently waiting to cross the road, which caused us an an oncoming RV to stop and wait patiently. It was a standoff. The bison, clearly demonstrating his dominance, finally went first and crossed the road.

After leaving the park we made a pit stop at a nearby campground to shower and fill up on water. We continued heading west and crossed into our next state, Montana, on our way to Wyoming.

P.S. We have more pictures of North Dakota saved on our photo page, and it’s starting to become mostly pictures of animals.

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