A recent publication in the Bismarck Tribune stated that according to Continental Resources, Inc., the Bakken and Three Forks formations together contain an estimated 7.38 billion barrels of recoverable oil. This new estimate is double the estimate from 2008 and 50 times higher than the estimate in the 90s.
No wonder I sometimes feel like I can’t see western North Dakota through the trucks, flares, wells, drills, and hastily-constructed buildings. And trucks.
There is a place where western North Dakota still shines through, however, untouched by oil and its progress. This place is one of my favorites in the world, and I go there when I need an escape. I just escaped there a few days ago. This place is the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located only about 25 miles southeast of our farm. It’s similar to its more popular counterpart, the South Unit containing Medora, Painted Canyon, and other more well-known attractions, but the North Unit is more isolated and less traveled, so of course I like it just a little better.
If you haven’t been there, you need to go.
You need to go hike a few miles of the Maah Daah Hey trail, bike the roads, camp in the grove of trees next to the river, canoe the Little Missouri, see the bison, or just enjoy the views free of trucks, flares, wells, and drills. The North Unit is North Dakota at its best and most beautiful.
I think one reason I love it so much is my secret wish to be the early explorers, Lewis and Clark, seeing landscape after landscape in untouched beauty and solitude. Wouldn’t it be amazing to canoe down open rivers and hike over wild mountains only guessing at what might lie over the next hill? What did America look like back then? Or to be Teddy Roosevelt, ranching in the badlands, escaping Eastern urban and political life — he knew western North Dakota at its freshest and wildest, too.
Going to the North Unit is kind of like that. Ok, not quite, because there is a paved road and little parking spots for your pickups and campers, but it’s still open and undeveloped and, most importantly, untouched by progress like the oil field.
When I went a few days ago, the North Unit didn’t disappoint. Four of us canoed several miles down the Little Missouri River on a breezy, sunny evening. This is something you can only do in late spring and early summer, because after a few weeks of dry summer heat, it will be a winding snake of mud and sandbars without enough water to carry a canoe. But right now, after all the spring rains, the Little Missouri is flowing along at a brisk pace, just perfect for canoe trips.
And it was a perfect canoe trip.
We had excellent views…
The sun and the breeze were just right…
We saw wildlife…
And the turkey vultures even kept their distance this time. Thank goodness because they still give me the willies after my last experience…
Sometimes, I just had to stop paddling and take it all in…
Ok, this actually happened quite a bit, because my canoe partner was a better paddler than me, and I admit I may have slacked here and there.
It was perfect.
I almost felt like Lewis and Clark, out there exploring the wilderness. I suppose the big difference would be that our pickup and trailer waited for us at the end of the trip. Also, I had bug spray and cold drinks in a cooler. Also, I got to go home to a soft and comfortable bed. But even if I won’t ever see my beloved landscapes quite like Lewis and Clark and Teddy Roosevelt did, it’s as close as I can get, and I’ll take it.
Seriously, you need to go there.