Terri and I are avid campers and have been since our university days. We’ve camped from coast to coast and border to border. Before we got our tiny popup last summer, we were tent campers. Sleeping in a tent is an acquired taste, and a big part of the experience is “communing with nature.”
Normally this phrase means critters, in one form or another, visiting our campsite.
Prior to our camping experience at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, the worst visitors we’d experienced were annoying but harmless armadillos, raccoons, mice, and the odd scavenging grackle. At Roosevelt Park, this all changed.
When sleeping in a tent, and 3000 pounds of horny buffalo (2000 pounds of he, 1000 pounds of she) ambles into your campsite, it’s time to pay attention. I can see the tip in the camper’s handbook that says: “Ignore at your peril.”
This sounds like madness, I know, but when we decided to camp in the park, there were a couple of crucial facts that we didn’t know. First, it was bison mating season and the National Park Service policy (which I totally agree with) is that we humans are guests in the animals’ homes. At Roosevelt, this means that the buffs pretty much go where they want. And second, the night before we arrived a couple of frisky males had done $1500 damage to a camper’s car while trying to decide who got to “dance” that night.
On the first night, I was awakened by a series of low, guttural growls and loud grunts. I slowly unzipped the corner of the tent window cover, peered out, and spied two huge bison no more than 10 feet from our tent. I rolled over, gently put my hand over Terri’s mouth, and breathed quietly into her ear, “Terri, there are buffalo in camp.” Now Terri, bless her heart, is as game as they come, but you can imagine the reaction this produced … and how much sleep we got for the remainder of the night.
We survived the night un-trampled, but had another visit the next morning. For some unknown reason, the entire herd decided to, once again, wander through our campsite. After the previous night’s visit we were on high alert, and their approach didn’t go unnoticed. It seemed prudent to finish our coffee inside the truck.
As we looked at the backside of the herd moving off, I said to Terri, “This is why we camp!!” But to her credit, she didn’t say (at least not out loud), “You’re so full of it!”
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a wonderful and unique place, and if your travels take you close, it’s a must-see.