Sep. 12 2015

Driving Across Canada Day 12: Prairie Dogs and Painted Canyons

First of all, I’d like to apologize for the radio silence!

No, we didn’t get eaten by prairie dogs.

I was having trouble balancing posting each day with enjoying the adventure at hand, wo I decided instead to wait until I got back to Halifax to finish posting (and here I am!).

This way, I spent more time on the trip having adventures, and less on the internet. A wise choice, I like to think.

Now, where were we?

Ah, yes.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park!


We woke up like this.


Driving in the night and setting up in the dark, we had no idea what our morning surroundings would look like. Turns out, they were pretty cool.

Waking up here feels kind of like waking up on an alien planet. Huge, barren sloughs of land lift up around you, and the climate is arid.

They call these ‘the badlands’ (ohhhh, scary name). But Theodore Roosevelt National Park is made up of three geologically separate areas of badlands near the western town of Medora in North Dakota.

North_America_Day_12_Mel_Hattie-2We’re becoming pretty proficient with the little butane-powered cookstove that we’ve been using on this trip, at least to the point where scrambled eggs and beef-flavoured ramen noodles are no struggle.

I put myself on bison watch after we struck camp. Driving out of the park, I spotted one wee, tiny bison on a hill I knew it was a bison and not a rock because it flicked its tail and lifted its head.

Score. One bison.

We were headed to the nearby Painted Canyon, but were stalled by a gathering of Prairie Dogs on the way which we had to stop and document.





Prairie dogs are so much smaller than I thought! They’re about the size of guinea pigs and move fast.

I was able to get pretty close by sitting on the ground and slowly scootching my butt closer to them. #prophotographertips

Our next stop in this part of the land was the Painted Canyon.

There was a cool interpretation center here where you can read all about Theodore Roosevelt and his history with the park. He’s known as one of America’s big nature-friendly presidents. On the wall of the interpretation center, there’s this quote:

“I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.” – Theodore Roosevelt


The Painted Canyon was really lovely, but there’s nothing much to do except stare at it. It’s not really accessible for walking about, but you wouldn’t really want to anyway. The packed earth makes it reflect heat like a mirror. I was sweating just standing there looking at it.


Yes, I as extremely toasted here. And this is with VIGOROUS sunscreen application. You just can’t win.


There were lots of trucks in the parking lot. Coffee was available and I got the impression that this was kind of a way station.

Gawks made, we headed onward to the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Shortly before arriving at our campsite we pulled into the small town of White Sulphur Springs (Population: 970) and spot a large sign outside the Truck Stop Café that says “PIE FIXES EVERYTHING”. For roaming internet children like myself, their super-fast is also a blessing in the middle of an internet dessert.

The owner of the TSC is a big-armed guy who laughs easily, makes a great BLT, and (as you may have guessed) is very serious about his pies.

We obviously can’t leave without trying some. We choose apple. “You want me to heat that pie up so that ice cream drips down the side?” he says as he clears our plates.

Ummm. Yes? Yes.

When the pie comes, it is so good that Rob uses two forks to finish it.


The atmosphere is star-spangled. In the washroom, fabric sunflowers sit in an old German milk jug with WILKOMMEN painted across it. There’s a framed photo of some babies sitting amid various flowers on the wall. Yeah, it’s kitschy, but I like this place.

I felt so at home that I walked out with their mug after I finished my tea, then had to run back in and return it.

This is the kind of town the cashier at the grocery store says “Thanks for stopping by.” Really charming; really American.

The free campsite we headed to was the Richardson Campground  – about twenty minutes from town and off the highway. It was beside a river in the middle of nowhere and there was already firewood at the site.

It even came with a cow. How nice of the National Park Service to provide dinner for us.



I made an awesome campfire, and we started to make a later dinner, all the while noticing the sky was growing more and more ominous.

Then the sky said, “Nope,” and it started to downpour.

Thanks sky.

We had no tarp, and the weather app told us to expect thundershowers all night, so we decided to flee back to White Sulphur Springs to splurge on a motel for the night. We could have stayed in the van, but both of us were feeling tired and having daydreams about real beds and showers.

Everything from the campsite got thrown haphazardly into the back of the van and we retreated. You win this time, nature.

Our motel had two double beds inside the room. Rob and I locked eyes, “I love you, but I’m taking a whole bed for myself.”

Ah. true love.

I’m not going to mention the motel here because it was a little bit sketchy. Let’s just say we’ll be watching one of our credit cards very closely. On the plus side, the toilet paper dispensers looked like bears, so it couldn’t be that bad… right?

Most places in the area had TripAdvisor reviews. I’d recommend checking them out (like we didn’t) before deciding on a place there.

We also finished our first American time-lapse, up to North Dakota!

Day 12 Costs:

  • Nat’l Park Fee: $20.00
  • Gas in Glendive, MT: $44.09
  • McDonald’s Coffee and Pop: $3.59
  • Groceries in White Sulphur Springs: $13.43
  • Lunch: $13.18
  • Motel: $74.90
  • Gas in White Sulphur Springs: $32.86

Total: $202.05