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Let the Broken Hearts Stand

Badlands, you gotta live it everyday Let the broken hearts stand as the price you've gotta pay Keep pushin' 'til it's understood and these badlands start treating us good

-Bruce Springsteen

On February 14, 1884 two days after the birth of his daughter Alice, Teddy Roosevelt was summoned home from the New York State Legislature. Within hours his mother had died of Typhoid fever. A few hours later his wife succumbed to Bright’s Disease, a severe kidney ailment. For those who have faced tragedy, one of the most incomprehensible aspects of it is that the world just shrugs and continues on around you, more or less, as if nothing has happened. Roosevelt knew that New York was not a place he would be able to heal. So he journeyed west to a place vast enough and sufficiently bleak to mirror his grief and swallow his sorrow – The Badlands of North Dakota. He would remain for several years before returning to New York, his political career and ultimately the presidency.

Teddy was a tough dude. Not only was he a Rough Rider, taking San Juan Hill under heavy fire in the Spanish American War, but once while giving a political speech, some guy shot him in the chest. With a gun. He got up, assessed the wound as non-fatal and finished the speech. That's a true story and pretty fucking badass, if I don't say so myself.

Teddy also penned A Man in the Arena which is one of my favorite passages for facing up to the inevitable setbacks in life. It's a staple in our catalog of inspiring (in the coaches’ minds at least) quotes that we use on the hardwood every season for motivational purposes. That's really the best part of coaching by the way, a captive audience whose feigned attention is nearly guaranteed by their hoped for minutes in the next game. Also, as a definite bonus, they are unarmed.

Houses of the Holy

Roosevelt not only went on to become president of these United States, he was, notably, the greatest conservationist president, establishing the National Forest Service and signing the 1906 American Antiquities Act which paved the way for the 425 National Parks and Monuments across the country. In those days “conservatives” believed in conservation of all sorts of things like wild places and natural wonders. I think it was 1980s when they thought: "that seems like a lot of work" and just pared it down to conserving wealth in the hands of the already wealthy.

In gratitude for Roosevelt’s conservation accomplishments and in acknowledgement of the special place North Dakota held for him, in 1978 Congress created the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Dakota Badlands. It is one of the lesser-known National Parks. Maybe that’s because it is more recently established? Or maybe because it is relatively small? But, more likely, it's because it’s in North Dakota.

Curious place North Dakota. You can drive a hundred miles of highway and see perhaps 400 pickup trucks and fewer than a dozen passenger cars. Zero Teslas. Everywhere you look are oil derricks and gas drilling rigs. But, outside of Fargo, you don’t see many places for people to actually live. It’s like the only people that live here work in the oil fields using temporary housing. Whoever owns the oil itself must live someplace else, like Monaco. The state tourism board once floated the idea of renaming the state to simply "Dakota" which they hoped sounded more romantic and less like you might freeze to death while still in your saddle.

Still, North Dakota is pretty in that way of the plains. Rolling hills, sunflower fields, and horses. The Badlands comprise a comparatively small but scenic part of the state. The Little Missouri River winds through the country carving up the soft erodible soil and creating the eerie wilderness of the Badlands.

Here are some interesting things about the Theodore Roosevelt National Park:

  • It sits in two separate time zones (the North Unit is CST & the South Unit is MST).

  • There are bands of wild horses roaming the park.

  • Dozens of prairie dog towns with adorable little critters all standing up and peering at your passage dot the landscape.

  • There are herds of wild bison all over the place.

  • The hiking trails in the North Unit are so little used that they barely exist, despite being prominently displayed on the park map. To hike some of them you need to cross the Little Missouri the old-fashioned way, which is to say without a bridge. This makes for high adventure compared to most hikes in National Parks which can be crowded to the point of actual traffic.

If you are like me and are a little nostalgic for the National Parks of, say the 1950s (or even 2010) before vehicle reservation systems and campsite scarcity akin to Taylor Swift concert tickets; you might enjoy a trip to TRNP. Especially the North Unit. You can just drive in, head over to the campground and pick a site, perhaps pausing to shoo some bison out of it first. There are so few other people around that you can drive for miles on the park roads before passing another car, in August. Come wintertime, you could probably spend a month in the park and not see another person.

Hope on the Prairie

Did you know that prairies are the second most complex ecosystem on the planet behind rain forests? And like rain forests, they don’t happen fast. It takes hundreds and sometimes thousands of years for that web of life to reach its zenith. The American Prairie once stretched for over 170 million acres, from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains covering a third of the United States. It took Americans less than a century to plow it under. Today only 1% of that marvelous ecosystem remains and it is now the daunting task of a few committed conservatives (I’m trying to reclaim this word) to try to preserve the small bits that are left.

One such person is Ali Fox (Dartmouth ‘02, Go Big Green) CEO of American Prairie. Ali and American Prairie are attempting to restore (not save!) a tiny, but still significant, portion of our prairie heritage. It’s a massive and ambitious undertaking that will take many generations if it is to succeed in terms of land deals, and then a very long time after that for the ecosystem to rebuild to its pre-industrial state. Check out this 60 Minutes segment to learn more. Then please donate your Trump Tax Cut to them. Tell them I sent you.

Leaving the Prairie in the dust of our dreams, we pushed hard east to our former home in Minneapolis for a quick catch up with old mates Paul & Karen, followed by a ludicrous 2.5-day push to Vermont, wrapping an incredible 5-month odyssey. Thanks for coming along again. I'm not sure we would bother if we didn't have you to muse about it to. :) Love y'all.

Up Next: A Grand Tour 3 sum up, meditation, and readership check in (that's you).


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Sep 18, 2023

Thanks for putting us right there with you in ND. I drove through in the early '90s once, next to zero cars around, with the old Sentra's radio set to 'scan'...all the way thru the range on FM, over and over, then all of a sudden a foreign language! Maybe Sioux? The speaker eventually broke into English, talking about items for sale, meetings and such. Glad to hear it's still in the way out there!


Betsy Bluto
Betsy Bluto
Sep 16, 2023

Love reading about your adventures. I learn so m and laugh a lot!

love you and welcome back to VT!

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