A (long overdue) return to camping

WATFORD CITY – Last month, I made a camping trip to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was my first overnight excursion to the park in five years. Like others, I had found all the activity in the region objectionable to driving, camping and relaxing, and chose to stay away from the hustle and bustle and noise and dust.

However, my urge to enjoy the Badlands proved too great to be extinguished and I summoned up the courage to give camping in T.R. National Park another try. I’m glad I did. One of the first things I knew I had to do was get my thinking in the right frame of mind to deal with the energy impact that has overwhelmed much of the Bakken. Watford City is in the very eye of the storm.

I determined to embrace the situation as best I could. It was actually nice to discover the new shopping facilities in Watford City that made it very easy to pick up those last-minute camping supplies, notably groceries. Sure, there were more people than I have been used to encountering in Watford City since the time my dad introduced me to the Badlands many years ago, but change is inevitable.

A few minutes after making a final stop in Watford City we found ourselves entering T.R. North Unit. Of course, we took a few moments to gaze at the spectacular Badlands from the scenic overlook atop the hill that leads down to the park entrance. It was different. Traffic has increased, no question about that. But once inside the park I found myself greeting an old friend – the Badlands.

The first order of business was to set up camp, which was accomplished in an hour or so. That left plenty of time for driving the park’s loop road and afternoon sightseeing. Later, a fine meal was enjoyed in camp. Then it was more sightseeing in the park as evening approached.

Mule deer and white-tailed deer were seen. So, too, were turkeys, bison, sharptailed grouse, antelope and an assortment of birds ranging from high soaring turkey vultures to meadowlarks.

As I finally settled into my comfortable camp cot and listened to the howling of coyotes above a very gentle breeze, it struck me how much I missed camping and the Badlands. As is always the case, there were good people in the campground and the scenery was spectacular. The park remains an oasis among one of the busiest places in the United States. How lucky we are to have an area that, at least until now, remains safe from encroachment.

Sleep was beautiful. Fresh air will do that. When I awoke I felt well rested. I grabbed an orange juice from the cooler and took an early morning drive through the park. The amount of wildlife to be seen at that hour can be memorable. That morning was no exception. It was refreshing, invigorating and important to be reassured that such refuge still exists despite changing landscape in all directions due to Bakken development.

No, its not like it once was in the Watford City region. Much has changed. There’s no question I liked it the way it used to be, perhaps selfishly, but those days are gone. I’ve reasoned that a person either has to adapt and accept or run away. I chose the former.

I used a simple camping trip to reintroduce myself to the Badlands, and I’m glad I did. I know I will never again stay away for as long as I did. For those of us who grew up believing we had the Badlands virtually to ourselves, it is not an easy change, but nothing can replace the evening howl of the coyote and the always pleasant sight of a mule deer browsing in the Badlands.