It was the middle of June and I was traveling with a broken heart.

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The Badlands River Bend (Photo Credit: ND Tourism)

I needed to get away from New York–where he seemed to linger everywhere, memories of us stagnant in the air like fog. I needed to get away to a place that would make me forget to think about where he was, what he was doing, who he might be lying next to. I needed to be as far away from home as possible.

“Have ya ever been here before?” The guy, burly and bearded, who had been wedged next to me in the world’s smallest plane (or it felt like it anyway) was quite the talker and spent the entire trip telling me all about his life in Dickinson, North Dakota.

North Dakota. I’d actually never been there before, and honestly knew nothing about it before I got there. I knew that it was square and far away and full of open skies and bison and bars. I also knew Teddy Roosevelt used to be in love with it, which is what brought me there in the first place.

It’s not like I have an affinity for dead presidents, but I do have an affinity for good stories and Roosevelt told a lot of them. If you’ve never read his story about the bar fight he got into in Mingusville– you really should because it was that story that convinced me this was a place that I needed to check out.

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Painted Canyons in Medora (Photo Credit: ND Tourism)

New York City is rife with history, both mine and it’s own, but I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t haunted with memories. North Dakota had fresh air, and open skies, and most importantly– I didn’t know a single soul there.

Here’s the thing about North Dakota that I would have never known had I not gone there: you’re never really alone. I found that out the moment I set foot into the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There was a sense of calm and quiet as I looked out on to the Badlands, the only sound whispers of wind through the grass and the chirping of birds. The air was crisp and smelled like lavender. I had never seen a sky so blue before or been in a world so quiet. I was used to honking cars, grunting busses, screaming people. Here, there was simply nature. No boys. No games. Just me and a park that went on for miles.

Theodore Roosevelt Nat. Park. North Unit, CCC shelter, Watford C

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Photo Credit: ND Tourism)

I was afraid, when I heard the silence, that it would be almost worse for me than being surrounded by New York. That the quiet would consume my thoughts and the open skies would make me feel too isolated. But, there was something about this park. Something about the way it moved me.

The man on the plane had told me to go there, said it would give me “character.” I had no idea at the time what he meant, but I was starting to figure it out. There was so much to do and see: hiking, camping, bird watching, bison rolling in the dust. The more I walked, the more I couldn’t seem to remember what I had come there to escape.  I was alone but I was surrounded by history, by animals, tourists, rugged terrain. It was giving me character because I was seeing nature the way it’s supposed to be seen.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is so pure that it’s hard not to leave it without taking a bit of it with you.

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Bison Grazing (Photo Credit: ND Tourism)

I walked until my feet got tired and the sun hung low in the sky. I had no idea where I was, but didn’t care. I took a moment and sat on a rock nestled somewhere on the side of the trail. There was a herd of bison off in the distance and I watched them basking under what was left of the sun.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Photo Credit: ND Tourism)

I was so full of life in that moment, sweat on my temples, a cloud of prairie dust rising and falling like restless sleep in front of me. I thought of my broken heart, of New York, and the boy I left behind.

Theodore Roosevelt once said about these lands: “It was here that I began the romance of my life.” As I got up, dusted off my legs and looked at the vast terrain that lay ahead of me, I realized that the heart I brought felt whole again.  

This post was brought to you by North Dakota Tourism.

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