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TRAIL TIPS


by larry rice


What’s Good About the Badlands? Find out by hiking North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


BIG SKY COUNTRY. Where it’s just miles and miles of miles and miles. Those who live in and around this area of western North Dakota know that not a heck of a lot of people call this expanse of badlands home. That’s what drew Theodore


Roosevelt —then a scrawny 24-year- old from New York—to these parts in 1883, long before he became this country’s 26th president. “I never would have been president if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota,” he once remarked, reflecting on his life’s influences. Consisting of 70,447 acres


of rugged topography, of which nearly half is designated wilderness, Roosevelt’s namesake park offers some of the best national park soli- tude south of Alaska. More than 100 miles of hiking trails wind through the park’s three units. But if you want to get an idea of the kind of raw, untamed country that thrilled the former president, spend a few nights along the Achenbach and Buckhorn trails in the remote North Unit.


Looping out from the Juniper


Campground, the 16-mile Achenbach Trail twice fords the sluggish, cotton- wood-lined Little Missouri River as it weaves back and forth between sage- brush terraces and the fantastically hued and eroded Achenbach Hills. The gullies, coulees, and grassy


buttes are home to a great variety and bounty of wildlife—another reason for Roosevelt’s love of this land. “It was a land of vast, silent spaces,” he wrote. “Of lonely rivers, and of plains where the wild game stared at the passing horsemen.” Fortunately, some things never change. Ambling quietly


along the Achenbach and Buckhorn trails on a couple of recent autumn mornings, I saw no passing horse- men (or anyone else, for that matter). But I did


50 S COUTING ¿ SEPTEMBER•OCTOBER 2011


spot both mule and whitetail deer, bison, pronghorn antelope, a coyote, a golden eagle, and a large and active prairie dog town. If there’s time and energy left after


exploring the Achenbach Trail, hook up with the Buckhorn Trail, an 11-mile loop that lies directly to the east. You can return to the Juniper


Campground each day after hiking. Or, pitch your tent or sleep under the stars in the park’s backcountry. There’s an abundance of isolated campsites, but some of the best lay alongside the silt-laden river. No matter where you camp, be sure to scan the night sky. It’s been said that on a clear night in these smog-free badlands it’s nothing to see stars thousands of light years away— reason enough to toss a star chart and a small telescope into your pack. A former contributing editor for


Backpacker Magazine, LARRY RICE resides in Buena Vista, Colo., in the shadow of several 14,000-foot moun- tain summits.


NPS.GOV


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