Where Time Stands Still

North Dakota’s polychrome spines sink into darkness as the crew chases the evening’s waning sun. Teddy Roosevelt himself most likely witnessed these same stunning views on horseback.

Where Time Stands Still Tuning out on the Maah Daah Hey Trail

Our tires skid to a halt under the piercing North Dakota sun.

As the dust settles, we focus on the steady movements of two dung beetles, carefully rolling their utilitarian balls of goodness down the same ribbon of dirt we’ve come to ride for the next four days. The encounter is the first of many novelties to grace us in the storied Badlands on the Maah Daah Hey Trail, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. I’d heard about this trail for quite some time, but am finally experiencing it with four fellow Montanans, tuning out from our busy lives to enjoy this playground in the dirt without a soul in sight.

We are far from the first to escape to this desolate region. Theodore Roosevelt dropped out of society to move to this spot in the 1880s. Lured initially to hunt buffalo, but later to heal a grieving soul, his cabin life along the banks of the Little Missouri River was straight out of a western. Today, his namesake national park is the area’s primary attraction, with the county seat of Medora (population 130) being the hub. The land outside of the park is managed as national grasslands, with open-range cattle capitalizing on the bounty left from spring rains. We’ll soon see firsthand the delicate nature of the relationship between precipitation and the land upon which it falls—both for beasts and mountain bikers who travel far and wide to ride the classic singletrack.

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