A magical sunset at Painted Canyon in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

It’s early evening by the time I get to the Painted Canyon Overlook. The sun is slowly setting and soon she’ll say goodnight and the world will turn dark. I’d broken my time schedule for this Friday even before I left my room at the Ever Spring Inn & Suites in Bismarck in the morning. I’m still tired even though I got a good nights sleep and the fact that I know I’ll have to spend a few hours behind the wheels today doesn’t help.

I’m supposed to be at the overlook around 4-5 PM but it’s already past 7 PM. And that’s without having lunch and the planned coffee break at  The Brew in Dickinson. I actually planned to go back there another day but completely forgot. I wouldn’t have found the time anyway so it was probably best that way. But if you’re in the area, I’ve only heard good things about that place. It’s where Theodore Roosevelt himself used to spend a lot of time with a coffeecup.

I remember thinking that it’s “only coffee” and I’m not much of a coffee drinker anyway. Well, not when I’m back home anyways. During my roadtrips, and whenever Starbucks is around, I’m known for constantly having a cup of vanilla latte beside me in the car. I can never resist all those drive thru’s that seems to be everywhere.

Painted Canyon is my first look at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I can’t say for sure but I can imaging that the view from there is one of the most photographed views in the park. Why? The overlook is right beside Interstate 94 and it’s so easy to make a quick stop here.

Here you’ll find a Visitor Center, but unfortunately I’ve arrived just a little too late and it’s closed. I walk up to the viewpoints and marvel at the sight before me. It’s incredible. So beautiful and it seems to go on forever and ever. I take a few photographs and then head back to the car. I can’t stay long because I’m on a mission to catch the sunrise at Wind Canyon. Well, that was my plan anyway.

When I arrive in Medora, the gateway to the national park, I realized that I probably won’t make it to Wind Canyon before the sun has set. I’m faced with the decision of either trying to make it, but the fact that I’d be driving in the park where you can’t drive so fast is what makes me change my mind. I decide to go back to Painted Canyon which will only take me about 13 minutes.

For once, I don’t spend an hour trying to weigh the pros and cons and soon I’m standing at the same viewpoint where I was just a little while ago. The sun is low on the horizon and the world is changing colours. Soon everything is a light pastel pink colour and the clouds are magical to look at. I’ve got my tripod ready to do a time lapse and it’s just absolutely gorgeous.

I’m not completely alone, but almost. I don’t speak to anyone but do exchange looks with a few. A knowing look. We’re all here because of the same reason. To watch the sunset. And what a sunset it turns out to be!

There’s a Painted Canyon Nature Trail in the area but I didn’t know that until long after I’d left North Dakota. But if you decide to go on the 1,1 mile long trail you’ll be able to actually go down into the canyon. I’ve read that there’s quite a few steps to get down there, but the trail is also quite short and people say it’s the most beautiful trail in the state. I’ll have to check it out the next time I’m there.

When I’ve gotten all my photographs, my timelapse and even a few videos – I’m ready to go. Well, to be honest, I’m debating whether to stay for the stars but decide against it as I’m supertired. So I leave, once again, and head towards Medora.

After parking my car outside the Rough Riders Hotel in Medora, I grab my stuff and head inside. The world is now pitch dark outside and I get the feeling that I’m out in the wilderness. Even if Medora is anything but wilderness today. But that’s another story.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Fluffy white beautiful clouds on my arrival to Painted Canyon.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Extensive views of North Dakota’s Badlands.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Imagine standing down there, in the middle of that landscape.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
The Badlands is a large area in North Dakota’s southwest corner.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
A long long time ago – this was complete wilderness.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Today the area is dry, but in the past, rivers carved out fantastic rock and rock formations that still exist today.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad” in modern terms. Extreme temperatures, lack of water and the rugged terrain is what led to this name.
French-Canadian fur hunters also called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse” or “poor country to travel through”.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Everything begun more than 80 million years ago when “the Pierre shale”, the lower layer of the Badlands geology, was closed down by a large inland sea.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
About 35 million years ago, rivers and streams began to form. These, in turn, spread sand, clay and gravel from the Black Hills area.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
When volcanoes erupted in the area, their ash landed in the marsh. Erosion from the mountains also filled up the wet places. This means you can actually see old mountains in the Badlands – even though you may not understand it. These layers of ash, sand and clay are called sediments.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Indians once used the area as a hunting area.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Badlands has become famous in Hollywood as a hideout for bandits from the wild west.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Today the Badlands is home to a lot of different animals, including prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep and wild horses.
Teddy Roosevelt originally came to the Dakota Territory in 1883 to hunt bison.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Painted Canyon Visitor Center.
It was the dream of the ranch life that made Teddy invest in the area.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Teddy’s famous Elkhorn Ranch lay beautifully on the edge of the Little Missouri River about  35 miles north of Medora.
Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
It is possible to drive to the place where his cabin once stood – but it requires preparation before heading out into the wilderness.
Painted Canyon Overlook Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
However, his cabin, also called Cross Maltese Cabin, does not remain at Elkhorn Ranch but has been moved to the southern entrance of the national park.
Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Teddy learned a lot during his time in North Dakota.
Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
I drove almost the entire loop – but had to turn around at Badland Overlook due to road closure.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park består av tre delar - South Unit, North Unit och Elkhorn Ranch Unit.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park consists of three parts – the South Unit, the North Unit and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.
Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Teddy dramatically expanded the system of national parks and national forests, which he is still known for today.
On my way back to Medora.
Little Missouri River.
And back towards Painted Canyon.
There’s lots of parking available.
I’m so happy with my decision to go back!
Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
The world is slowly changing colours.
Sunset - Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
I’m really bad at remembering to take photos of myself but this time I remembered.
Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Admiring the view.
Sunset - Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
It’s hard not to take picture after picture – even though the view is basically the same.
Sunset - Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Did I tell you that I love fluffy clouds?
Sunset - Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Clouds in pink and blue colors are even more beautiful.
Sunset - Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
I’m crazy happy with this picture! Perhaps the best self-portrait of the trip!
Sunset - Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
All of a sudden it flashes on the horizon. There’s a thunderstorm far away in the distance.
Sunset - Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Cloudporn?
Sunset - Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
Even though I’m so tired, I’m so so happy that I stayed here for sunset.
Sunset - Painted Canyon Theodore Roosevelt National Park North
But now, when the sun has set and it’s starting to get darker, I’m more than ready to get to my new home for the next two nights.
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