Into the West

"Of All the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land or our descendants than it is for us." - President Theodore Roosevelt
I'm currently in Missoula, Montana getting ready to drive north to Glacier National Park. It's been a very busy week. Unfortunately, I fell a bit behind schedule while exploring the eastern United States. Last you heard from me, I was in Burlington, Vermont on Halloween. I have a friend flying out to camp with me in Washington next week so in order to meet with him on time, I had to make a beeline across the country. Unfortunately, this meant I didn't get to explore Chicago or the great lakes region as originally planned. However, the places I did get to explore were incredible. 

Lake Champlain as seen from Burlington, Vermont. 

I had heard many great things about Burlington, but sadly, due to the aforementioned time constraint I found myself in, I was only able to stay long enough to brave the cold and get a great shot of Lake Champlain (above). The next day, I woke up to ice on my windshield and snow lining the highway.

As soon as the frost had thawed from my car I got back on the road, driving through the Adirondacks of upper New York state en route to Niagra Falls. As I neared Buffalo, I decided to cross the border into Toronto. I had heard that the best views of the falls could be found on this side (plus I'd never been to Canada). Something I wasn't expecting about Niagra Falls was just how close you could get. The shot below, though zoomed in a bit from where I'm standing, is pretty much the view from the Canadian side. Another thing I hadn't anticipated (although I should have) was the overwhelming number of tourists, and while I didn't let this stop me from shooting, I found shooting at sunrise to be a much more enjoyable and less crowded experience. 

At Niagra Falls

Niagra Falls at sunrise

My next stop was Grand Rapids, Michigan where my dad works. My dad is a pretty awesome dude and one of my biggest fans and has spent the last few months telling all of his coworkers about my journey; earning me a few supporters in the process. After rendezvousing at his hotel, we went to dinner at a local brewery with about twenty of his teammates. They were all eager to hear about my life on the road and to get some dirt on my pops. We spent the evening enjoying beers, good food, and swapping stories about my dad (all in good fun, of course - apparently he has a big issue with jeans in the workplace). Unfortunately, I don't have any photos from that night, but it was a great time and such a treat to see my dad amongst his peers

After saying goodbye to dad, I got back in the car and continued west. My destination: Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota - which meant I had about 1,200 miles to cover in 48-hours...thank god for podcasts. I continued through the farmlands of Wisconsin and into Minnesota where I spent the night in my car outside of Minneapolis. 

This probably isn't surprising, but North Dakota is a pretty flat state. As I drove through the following day, endless farms and grasslands stretched as far as the eye could see. But as I neared the park on the western border of the state, suddenly, as if welcoming me to the west, the landscape exploded into stunning plateaus, deep canyons, and geographic formations unlike anything I'd ever seen. Teddy Roosevelt himself described the land as being, " so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth." 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only national park named after a person and is also one of the least visited parks in the country. In February of 1884, while in his mid-twenties, he tragically lost both his mother and his wife just hours apart from each other. Stricken with grief, he relocated to North Dakota in the hopes that solitude with nature ease his suffering. His time spent here had a profound impact on him and led him to later form the National Forest Service as well as numerous national parks - an achievement that would later earn him the nickname, the conservationist president. 

Bad to the bone

Cabin that Theodore Roosevelt lived in

I arrived the park in the late afternoon on a Friday. Due to the weekend, I was nervous that I would arrive at the campground and find it full. However, when I pulled into Cottonwood Campground, I found the exact opposite. aside from the numerous buffalo and wild horses roaming the campground, I had the whole place to myself. I took the opportunity to make sure I got a campsite with a view!

Camping at Cottonwoods campground

Unlike most national parks, Theodore Roosevelt National Park has two units located about 50-miles apart. The south unit is the bigger of the two so I opted to spend three nights there and one night in the north unit. 

One thing that can't be overstated is the sheer number of wildlife that roams this park. aside from the aformentioned buffalo and wild horses, the park is also home to hundreds of prairie dogs and numerous deer.

About a hundred feet from my campsite in the north unit

Wild horse at Cottonwood campground 

Deer in the south unit. I don't think I went a single day without almost running one of these guys over

Buffalo in the north unit

prairie dog town in the south unit

This guy really didn't like having his photo taken

Buffalo in the north unit

two buffalo fighting in the north unit

buffalo in the south unit

One night while out shooting, I met this incredible local family who was kind enough to invite me to dinner with them and even paid for my meal. The two oldest children Nick and Sarah were insane! While out shooting they would constantly traverse up and down steep cliff faces like it was nothing.

Their grandmother, Jeanie, is a children's book author as well. You can check out her book here: http://hislittlesister.homestead.com/

*Some of the children are foster children hence, for legal reasons, having to poorly disguise their faces

Buck Hill - the highest point in the south unit offering 360-degree views of the whole park

Sunset over the Little Missouri River

Sunrise in the South Unit

Sunrise in the South Unit

Sunrise at Oxbow Overlook in the north unit. My last morning in the park

Give me a home where the buffalo roam

At River Bend Overlook

I had an incredible time at this park. While it was much less crowded than the other parks I've visited, I welcomed the change. I often found myself completely alone with nature while out shooting. It gave me a chance to really reflect on how fortunate I am to be doing this and how fortunate we are to live in a country that offers such amazing parks and landscapes.