Wild Horses in the Badlands

I haven't blogged in a little while, and I regret not being able to write about the amazing things we are seeing every day, on foot and out the car window. If there's anything I've learned about storytelling, though, especially when blogging about a long and winding trip, it's that omission is key. That falls under a category of similarly important life rules such as "Your Mom Doesn't Need To Know Everything" and "You Can Put Salt In But You Can't Take Salt Out."

In that spirit, I am going to tell you about one thing we saw in North Dakota, possibly my favorite experience of the entire trip. 

The morning of this magical happening, Will and I both woke up on the wrong side of the air mattress. The night before, Will had said that he was the kind of tired that "doesn't get better from a good night's sleep," and I had to admit I felt the same. We started the trip with a fire in our bellies to see it all, and the fire was finally dwindling.

We had driven an unimaginable amount of miles, moving every two days or so, rarely knowing where we would sleep that night. A couple of events derailed us - I lost my phone and my driver's license, Yellowstone was incredibly crowded and hot.

One night we ended up in a campsite seven miles up a bumpy and deserted road, scattered with bullet casings and one very sinister amputated hoof. It was windy and cold, the soil was too hard to stake our tent down, and when we opened our can of Manwich meat we discovered it was just the sauce. 

Anyway, by the time we got to our campsite in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, we were too tired to pretend we weren't tired anymore. 

That is when the God of Travel sent us some wild horses. 

The landscape in Teddy's park is strange and colorful, the striped rocks decorated with shrubs and munching herds of bison, the flat ground spotted with prairie dog "towns" of mounded holes, hundreds of prairie dogs watching you intently from both sides of the road.

We were driving through the park to get into town and run some errands when the little group of wild horses, supposedly descended from long-ago ranch stock, trotted across our path. They were all different colors, so beautiful and sleek-muscled, with one spindly-legged chestnut pony tagging along at the heels of his chestnut-colored mom, casting glances up at the adults before mimicking their movements. 

The horses picked their way down a rocky slope and we watched from above as they drank from a brown pond. Absorbed in my picture-taking, my heart jumped when I heard a loud neigh behind us. We turned and saw, too close for comfort, a huge broad-chested horse with another multi-colored crew following him. 

I, for one, was scared. We had been watching YouTube videos of bison attacking tourists and this horse seemed entirely capable of tossing me into a tree. We hurried, heads down, back to the car and watched in safety as the pack by the pond trotted single-file up a thin ribbon of trail to join the new recruits.

They made quite a sight, surrounded by that striped landscape, all different colors themselves, munching grass by the road. The little one flopped on his side to nap at his mom's feet, occasionally rearing up his head to gnaw at an itchy spot the way dogs do. We watched them for a long time.

Filled with feeling by their beauty and a desire to run my hand along one smooth, muscled side, I signed us up for a morning horseback ride at the stables in town. The experience was not quite the same - I got the wheeziest, fartiest horse in North Dakota. Embarrassingly, I spent the trail ride laughing cruelly at Will because I thought it was his horse that was making all the noise. 

But our spirits were definitely revived by the run-in with the wild horses and our plodding, rhythmic trail ride in that beautiful place. 

Now we are on our way towards Chicago and then on to Ohio, where I will see my dear friend Kelley Russell! 

May the God of Travel send you a pack of wild horses just when you need them the most. 


The Mary Traveler