Petrified Forest Loop has its ups and downsIn this deadline-driven life, excuses for letting my backpack sit this summer have been numerous — new job, new responsibilities and on and on. But being overwhelmed is the very reason the backpack needs to get a little dusty — not from sitting dormant but from the trail.
By: Jennifer McBride, The Dickinson Press
In this deadline-driven life, excuses for letting my backpack sit this summer have been numerous — new job, new responsibilities and on and on. But being overwhelmed is the very reason the backpack needs to get a little dusty — not from sitting dormant but from the trail.
Luckily, there are 70,500 acres right down the road from Dickinson to play in.
One of the reasons I was excited to move to North Dakota from Wisconsin last fall was the recreational activities such a gem as Theodore Roosevelt National Park provides. About 10 years ago a friend and I took a four-night Little Missouri River canoe trip, followed by a few nights in the backcountry, leaving me desiring more. Since moving, I’ve only been out for day hikes.
Finally, this weekend I unplugged the gizmos and headed out. The staff at the park visitor center was very helpful and set me up with a map, permit, some tips, and I was off.
One of the unfortunate features of the park is the lack of filterable water. If you want to drink, you carry it all in and being among the hottest weekends of the year, I was loaded down.
I decided to take the Petrified Forest Loop, Lone Tree Spring Loop and venture off on to some nearby trails. It seemed like a challenge in such heat but that’s what’s great about hiking, you walk and walk and see beautiful scenery which helps ease you into a zone and you think about nothing and you think about everything and before you know it you have gone half a dozen miles.
Bison that are a little too close to the trail for comfort, little toadish-lizardish looking creatures that enjoyed darting at my feet and the occasional prairie dogs barking and pleading to be left alone can shake you out of that state of mind.
Beyond that, it’s pretty simple. If you are hungry, you eat; if you are tired, you rest; if you are thirsty, you drink; and if you want to leave, turn around and go back.
The scenery varies on the trek but sadly, man-made structures interrupt a number of great views.
There are also just enough people who don’t use “Leave No Trace” principles to kick you out of the zone. I really don’t enjoy packing out peoples’ cigarette butts and other junk.
But those inconveniences don’t last, and soon you are back in a different world.
It’s wonderful — if you want to toot or sing aloud there is no one there to think you are rude or crazy (and for those of you reading this thinking, “did she really write that, she must be nuts?” Take a hike and lighten up).
The area is also low-use. There was but one couple and one man on a skittish horse over 20 miles on a gorgeous weekend before school starts.
When my feet began to ache I found a little chunk of the world to call home for the evening. I ate what began as a PB and J (do you know they turn into mush in extreme heat?) and a nice juicy plum before laying back and watching the sun set over the Badlands. Though all day I was looking forward to seeing the deep night sky speckled in stars, my tired eyes closed before they even came out.
Luckily, packs of coyotes must have sensed that I wanted to see the constellations as their yipping woke me every few hours.
Up early, camp is struck and off again.
All in all, a great trip (we’ll exclude the portion where I tried to cross a drainage ditch, leaving me covered in thick black mud to my waist and walking barefoot, carrying my boots for a mile).
Though I got muddy, I bet I am completely cleansed as every remnant of cold brew or greasy burger that I have ingested in the last six months was sweated out of me and worries vanished with a chance to sit back and take in the bigger view.
Not only was my pack much lighter at the end of the trip but a much heavier load was lifted.
— If anyone can tell me what the toadish-looking creatures are, or has a good idea of a trail to take on next weekend’s adventure, e-mail McBride, Press managing editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.