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 communing 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 uninvited 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. Our motto is: “You don’t get old being stupid.”
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 National Park Service policy, which we totally agree with, is that humans are guests in the animals’ homes. At Roosevelt, this means the buffs pretty much wander where they choose. And the second bit of missing information was that the night before we arrived a couple of frisky males had damaged a camper’s car to the tune of $1500 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. My drowsy mind couldn’t imagine any situation where this noisy commotion could be a good thing, so I had to investigate. With gritted teeth, I slowly unzipped the corner of the tent window cover, peered out, and spied two huge bison no more than 10 feet from our flimsy 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 for some unknown reason the herd, and the amorous couple, decided to drop by our campsite for another social call the next morning. After the previous night’s visit we were on high alert, and 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 wild and wonderful destination, and while we can’t promise randy buffalo on every visit, it’s still a must-see.
James & Terri
Originally published July 14, 2014