12 Facts About Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Two bison grazing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Two bison grazing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
scgerding/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The only U.S. national park named after a person—America's 26th presidentTheodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) was established in North Dakota by Harry S. Truman in 1947. The park honors Roosevelt, who lived as a ranchman in the Dakota Territory in the 1880s and, as president, conserved 230 million acres of public land for future generations. Read on for things to do and see, plus what to know before you go camping, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Mental Floss just launched a new podcast with iHeartRadio called History Vs., and our first season is all about Theodore Roosevelt. Subscribe here!

1. The plans for Theodore Roosevelt National Park began not long after Roosevelt’s death in 1919.

Medora, North Dakota, was chosen as the site of the memorial, and in 1921, the state’s legislature asked its reps in Congress to help set aside land for that purpose. One early proposal called for a park of more than 2000 acres, but that was controversial—the land was valuable to ranchers. Some believed a national monument was more appropriate than a national park.

Then, in the 1930s, drought and overgrazing led many homesteaders to abandon their land, which they sold to the federal government; some of those lands were set aside to create a park. In 1935, the land—which was in a north unit and a south unit—became the Roosevelt Recreation Demonstration Area, and in 1946, it was taken over by the Fish and Wildlife Service and became the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge.

On April 25, 1947, President Harry Truman signed the bill that created Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park; at that time, the land included the South Unit and the site of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch. The North Unit of the park was added the next year. Finally, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a law that changed the memorial park to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. In 2018, it received nearly 750,000 visitors.

2. Before the land became Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Native Americans hunted in the area.

A flint spearpoint and other projectiles from the Archaic Culture (5500 BCE to 500 CE) have been found in the park, as have artifacts from the Plains Woodland Tradition (1 to 1200 CE) and pre-Columbian peoples. Though one of the pre-Columbian sites includes a bison processing camp (or what remains of it), there was no permanent occupation of the area of that time, according to the park’s website.

There are a number of sites from what the website calls the Historic Period, which lasted from 1742 to the 1880s, and included artifacts like “stone rings, a rock cairn, and four conical, timbered lodges. Two of the lodges, presumably used by men engaged in seasonal eagle trapping, are still standing today … One archaeological interpretation indicated that the use of the badlands for hunting, gathering, and spiritual pursuits, though undertaken by numerous cultures and groups over millennia, had not significantly changed over that entire time span.” The Mandan and Hidatsa, among many other Native tribes, hunted in the area, and the lands have spiritual significance for some tribes as well.

3. Theodore Roosevelt National Park contains 70,488 acres.

The park is spread over three units. The South Unit, which is located in Medora off I-94, is its most visited area. The North Unit, 50 miles off the same highway, is more remote. Both units have scenic drives—though the drive in the South Unit is currently closed due to slumping—and hiking trails. The South Unit also has a petrified forest with a 10.3-mile trail.

The third unit of the park is its smallest, and very out of the way: The roads leading to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit are unpaved and sometimes require four-wheel drive. No roads go directly to the site to preserve the solitude TR would have felt living there, so getting to the site requires a bit of a walk along a mowed pathway.

4. Visitors to Theodore Roosevelt National Park can see the future president’s Maltese Cross ranch house.

Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin.
Erin McCarthy

When Theodore Roosevelt first came to the Dakota Badlands to hunt bison in 1883, he stayed with some cattle ranchers and decided to invest in a ranch himself. Before he left, he invested $14,000 into Maltese Cross Ranch. The cabin was built seven miles outside of Medora, and it was unusual for the area: While most houses were made of sod, Roosevelt’s ranch was made of ponderosa pine. It had a singled, pitched roof, which created an upper half-story where his ranch hands could sleep. There were three rooms (a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom for TR), and white-washed walls.

The cabin got new owners in 1900, and after Roosevelt became president, it went on tour: It could be seen at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, then to Portland, Oregon, for the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. For a time, it sat in Fargo, North Dakota, and then on the state capital grounds in Bismarck. Finally, in 1959, the cabin came back to what was, by then, Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park. Today, it can be found in the South Unit of the Park behind the Visitor’s Center.

The building is mostly original; the roof and shingles were removed at one point and have been restored. Inside, visitors can see several authentic Roosevelt artifacts, including a traveling trunk with “T.R.” on the top and a hutch.

5. Visitors to Theodore Roosevelt National Park can go out to the site where Roosevelt’s second ranch house once stood.

A gate in front of the site of Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site.
A gate in front of the site of Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site.
Erin McCarthy

In 1884, Roosevelt decided to abandon politics after the deaths of his wife and mother and settle at his ranch in the Dakotas permanently. But his Maltese Cross cabin was located on a popular route into Medora, and people were always stopping by. Grieving and seeking solitude, Roosevelt rode out to a site 35 miles north of Medora that had been recommended to him.

On the site, Roosevelt found the skulls of two elk, their horns interlocked, and named what he would come to refer to as his Home Ranch in their honor. He bought the rights to the site for $400; his nearest neighbors were at least 10 miles away.

Two friends of Roosevelt’s from Maine, Bill Sewall and Wilmont Dow, came to the Dakotas and built the 30-by-60-foot house of cottonwood pine; it had 7-foot high walls, eight rooms, and a veranda. Also on the site was a barn, a blacksmith’s shop, a cattle shed, and a chicken coop.

In Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Roosevelt wrote:

“My home ranch-house stands on the river brink. From the low, long veranda, shaded by leafy cotton-woods, one looks across sand bars and shallows to a strip of meadowland, behind which rises a line of sheer cliffs and grassy plateaus. This veranda is a pleasant place in the summer evenings when a cool breeze stirs along the river and blows in the faces of the tired men, who loll back in their rocking-chairs (what true American does not enjoy a rocking-chair?), book in hand—though they do not often read the books, but rock gently to and for, gazing sleepily out at the weird-looking buttes opposite, until their sharp outlines grow indistinct and purple in the after-glow of the sunset."

But the cattle business was not meant to be Roosevelt’s future. He eventually returned to New York, and after a hard winter where he lost 60 percent of his herd, he sold the ranch in 1898. By 1901—the year Roosevelt became president—the ranch was gone. A local said that all that remained was “a couple of half-rotted foundations."

Today, visitors to TRNP can take a scenic drive on gravel roads, then hike three-eighths of a mile to the Elkhorn site, located between the Little Missouri River and black, white, and yellow Badlands bluffs. There, they can stand on the foundation stones that mark where TR’s Home Ranch once stood, listening to the birds, insects, and low mooing of cattle, as he would have done. (They might even encounter a cow or two on the trail!)

6. More than 185 species of birds have been spotted in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The black and brown Spotted Towhee in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
Spotted Towhee in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Wildnerdpix/iStock via Getty Images Plus

They include bald and golden eagles, blue-winged teal, American wigeon, turkey vultures, prairie and peregrine falcons, and the sage grouse. The park has a handy checklist [PDF] to help visitors keep track of the birds they’ve seen.

Birds aren’t the only animals you might see: TRNP is also home to elk, prairie dogs, pronghorns, feral horses, big horn sheep, coyotes, badgers, beavers, porcupines, mule deer, longhorn steers, rattlesnakes, and bison.

7. There are hundreds of bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Whether you call them bison or buffalo (though Americans use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference!), you’ll have a chance to see plenty of them at TRNP. Both the north and south units have herds—200 to 400 animals in the south and 100 to 300 in the north. Full-grown bison bulls can stand up to 6 feet tall and weigh up to 2000 pounds, so visitors should give them a wide berth or risk getting charged and possibly gored.

The American bison (Bison bison) was once critically endangered and nearly went extinct. (Roosevelt was one person who was instrumental in saving the species from extinction.) The animals were reintroduced into the park in 1956. Because all of the living bison are descended from a small number of animals, monitoring the genetic diversity of the herd is important. Every couple of years in October, park staff round up the animals in both units by using helicopters to herd them into progressively smaller enclosures. Eventually, each animal ends up in a squeeze shoot, where staff takes hair (for DNA analysis) and blood (to test for disease) samples and weighs and measures the animals. Bison born since the last roundup are given tags and microchips so they can be tracked.

8. Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a few prairie dog towns.

Two black-tailed prairie dogs coming out of a burrow in the ground.
Two black-tailed prairie dogs coming out of a burrow in the ground in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
RONSAN4D/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Black-tailed prairie dogs are abundant in TRNP. Roosevelt himself described them as “in shape like little woodchucks,” and called them “the most noisy and inquisitive animals imaginable.” Visitors can see the first of many prairie dog towns in the park near the Skyline Vista trail.

9. In prehistoric times, Theodore Roosevelt National Park was home to a Champsosaurus.

Fifty-five million years ago, during the Paleocene Epoch, North Dakota—including the area of TRNP—was a swamp, and in that swamp lived a reptile called Champsosaurus. The animal looked like modern-day crocodilians called gharials and could measure nearly 10 feet long.

10. You can go camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

There are three campgrounds in TNRP, but visitors just can’t drive in and set up a tent—reservations must be made, fees must be paid, and, in some cases, permits are required to camp in the park.

Camping isn't the only thing you can do in the park: It's also possible to canoe or kayak down the Little Missouri River if the water is deep enough.

11. The colors of the rocks in Theodore Roosevelt National Park tell a story.

A rock formation in Theodore Roosevelt National Park with gray, yellow, and light colored-layers.
hartmanc10/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The massive and unusual formations in TRNP, created by erosion over millions of years, are awe-inspiring—and you can tell a lot about them from the colors of their layers [PDF]. Brown and tan layers indicate sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone, which came from the Rocky Mountains, while blue-gray is bentonite clay laid down by the ash of far-away volcanic eruptions. (The clay can absorb up to five times its weight in liquid, which is why it’s used in … kitty litter.)

Black is a layer of coal, and red is the delightfully named clinker, which is formed when coal veins catch fire and cook the rock above it. Locally, the red rock is called scoria, but clinker is its scientific name.

One coal vein located in the park caught fire in 1951 and burned for 26 years. Apparently, visitors could roast marshmallows over the fire, which finally burned out in 1977. Fires in the Badlands aren’t unusual; they can be caused by lightning strikes or even set purposefully to reduce hazards or benefit certain species.

12. There are a number of interesting historic sites near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

While you’re in the area, check out the Chateau de Mores—the mansion that was home to a French marquis who dreamed of bringing a cattle-slaughtering business to Medora—and the Von Hoffman House. And don’t miss the Medora Musical, a variety show held in an open-air amphitheater that features the history of the town’s most famous and infamous figures—plus an appearance by the president who once called the area his home.

Ingenious Moving Tips, According to Twitter

BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Whether or not you’ve outsourced the actual loading and unloading of your precious belongings to professional movers, the planning and packing process necessary for any move is enough to make even the most organized individuals contemplate climbing inside a cardboard box themselves.

To resist the urge, Twitter user “Shameless Maya” asked her followers to share their best tips and tricks for her own move—and, as was the case with hotel hacks last month, the Twittersphere rose to the occasion spectacularly. While it might be an exaggeration to say that these hacks will make moving fun, they can definitely help take the edge off your moving-day headache (or backache). Take a look through some of the most ingenious responses below, compiled by Thrillist.

1. Pack your dishes with your clothes.

Wrapping dishes and other fragile items in your sweaters and socks will not only keep you from generating extra waste with newspapers or packing peanuts, it’ll also save you some space. (@yuffieh_)

2. Protect your floors with a set of furniture sliders.

Even if the pros are packing your U-Haul, you will probably move your furniture around your new home while you’re getting set up. Prevent those beloved hardwood floors from getting scratched with these furniture sliders from Amazon. (@GabberWaukee)

3. Save space by packing with vacuum-sealed bags.

It’s impossible to accurately describe the awe you’ll feel—and the space you’ll save—when watching your vacuum-sealed bags shrink before your eyes. Turn your packing party into a consolidation station with this jumbo set from Amazon. (@HunniB_Rose)

4. Use trash bags as bulk garment bags.

Skip the hassle of taking your clothes off their hangers and wrap groups of them in large plastic trash bags. That way, they’ll stay on their hangers whether you’re packing them into boxes or wheeling them out on a portable rack. (@thegirllogan_)

5. Tape loose hardware to its corresponding furniture.

It’s easy to lose screws, washers, and other small hardware during a big move. Instead of throwing everything into a bag and hoping you’ll remember which tiny bits of metal go to what, just duct tape them to their corresponding furniture. (@NebFeminists)

6. Hit up department stores for free cardboard boxes.

Before you splurge on cardboard boxes that you’ll end up throwing out immediately after your move, see if department stores have any that they’d love to get rid of for free. (@jackseve)

7. Ask your local liquor store for special partitioned boxes.

And before you painstakingly wrap each and every glass you own, see if your local liquor store has a stash of those special partitioned cardboard boxes that bottles are often shipped in. (@SuzPageWrites)

8. Invest in a few of IKEA’s giant shopping bags.

Nothing beats IKEA’s big blue reusable shopping bags for transporting oddly shaped items or last-minute things you forgot to pack—they also make great laundry bags if you’re moving to a place without an in-unit washer and dryer. You can get a set of five for $12 from Amazon here. (@PaigeUnabridged)

[h/t Thrillist]

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

11 Gifts for the Home Improvement Guru in Your Life

Dia-Grip/Amazon
Dia-Grip/Amazon

Picking out the right gift for the handyperson on your list isn’t always easy. With so many choices out there and price tags that could quickly balloon, it’s important to do your research before making a commitment. Thankfully there are plenty of straight-forward tools and gadgets on the market that any home DIYer would love to have—and they don't have to wreck your holiday budget, either. Check out 11 gift recommendations for the home improvement guru in your life.

1. RAK Magnetic Wristband; $16

The RAK Magnetic Wristband is pictured
Amazon

Losing screws has to be among the biggest pet peeves of any DIYer. This magnetic wristband makes any job significantly less frustrating by keeping fasteners and accessories (screws, bolts, drill bits) within easy reach instead of on the floor or down a drain.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Vampliers; $45

A pair of Vampliers is pictured
Amazon

The unique, toothy design of the Vampliers's jaw makes it far easier to pull and cut wire, and grab hold of any stripped screw, bolt, or nut. For someone doing serious work around the house, this tool could save them a lot of elbow grease.

Buy it: Amazon

3. 5-in-1 Tool Pen; $25

The 5-in-1 Tool Pen from Uncommon Goods is pictured
Uncommon Goods

No matter what kind of job you’re tackling, a pen is mightier than most blunt-force instruments. This multi-use writing utensil allows you to scribble notes, measure levels, check a ruler, deploy a screwdriver, or use it as a stylus.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

4. Stanley FuBar Demolition Bar; $25

The Stanley FuBar Demolition Bar is pictured
Walmart

Destroy anything—really, anything—with this forceful tool from the good people at Stanley. The pry bar can loosen nearly whatever you need, while the sharp end can do anything from trimming branches to splitting firewood.

Buy it: Walmart

5. General Tools LTM1 Laser Tape Measure; $30

The General Tools LTM1 Laser Tape Measure is pictured
Amazon

See how products measure up with this tape measure that uses a laser to beam to distances up to 50 feet. A conventional 16-foot analog tape measure is also included.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Little Giant Ladder; $229

The Little Giant Ladder is pictured
Amazon

Sometimes a plain ladder just won’t get you where you need to go. The Little Giant is the Swiss Army Knife of steps, allowing for a number of configurations from a 19-foot extension to a footprint that can be set on stairs and other awkward locations.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Dia-Grip Universal Socket Wrench; $18

The Dia-Grip Universal Socket Wrench is pictured
Amazon

No one enjoys searching for the right size socket for the job, so the Dia-Grip makes the choice for you. The socket wrench has steel pins that automatically configure to the bolt or nut you’re trying to attack, taking a lot of the guesswork off the user's plate.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Cartman Bungee Cords; $14

Cartman Bungee Cords are pictured
Amazon

Want to prevent your Christmas tree from ending up as a crumpled pile of broken pine needles in the middle of the highway? These elastic bungee cords allow you to haul items without worrying that they'll topple over or fall off the roof of your car. The 24 cords come in different sizes, so no matter how big of a tree you get this year, you'll still be able to secure it properly.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Rhino Strong Air Wedge; $24

The Rhino Strong Air Wedge is pictured
Amazon

When you need to get a heavy object off the ground for leveling or moving, all you have to do is push these inflatable bladders underneath, then use the hand pump. The resulting wedge can hold up to 300 pounds. Three sizes (small, medium, and large) are included.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Fix It Kit; $30

The Fix-It Kit from Uncommon Goods is pictured
Uncommon Goods

Sometimes you don’t necessarily need a contractor-grade tool set to get a simple job done. Alternately, you may want to keep a small assortment in a utility area or car. That’s where the Fix It Kit comes in. Inside a faux-leather case is a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, a flashlight, and other essentials. It's the perfect gift for someone in need of their first travel tool set.

Buy it: Uncommon Goods

11. Myivell LED Flashlight Glove; $13

The Mylivell LED flashlight glove is pictured
Amazon

Have a hands-on lighting source when working in dark spaces with these gloves. Each one has a small LED light located on the forefinger and thumb to illuminate your project. One size fits all.

Buy it: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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