Times are good in NORTH DAKOTA, a rural state with a booming economy thanks to the controversial but incredibly lucrative fracking oil industry (it’s now the second biggest oil-producing state in the USA, after Texas). With an astounding state surplus of US$1 billion and unemployment at just three percent, ad-hoc “man-camp” settlements and sky-high property prices have become the norm, fuelling fears of a boom-bust economy. With a population of less than 700,000 and a harsh winter, for now the state’s tourism industry (as in Canada, its northern neighbour) only really operates in the summer, and though drilling rigs and pumpjacks dot the landscape in the western part of the state, there’s plenty here to attract visitors.
A vast tract of multihued rock formations, rough grassland and badlands, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is North Dakota’s premier tract of unspoiled wilderness, named after the feisty president who roamed, hunted and ranched here in the 1880s. Split into north and south units along the banks of the Little Missouri, approximately seventy miles apart, the park is at its most beautiful at sunrise or sundown – the best times to observe such fauna as mule deer, feral horses, elk, pronghorn, ever-present bison and closely knit prairie dog communities. Note that in an odd twist of raggedly drawn time zones, the park’s north unit is on Central time, while the south unit is on Mountain time.