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Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt
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As we do on several other of our greatest trips, we narrow our lodging recommendation to one. We highly recommend you stay at the Buffalo Gap Ranch five miles west of Medora. We do so for several reasons.

First, because if you're driving two or three days to get to western North Dakota, you ought to find out something about the people and lifestyle here. You're not going to do that staying at a cookie cutter motel in town that looks like every other motel in America with 100 rooms and a pool. Your stay at Buffalo Gap will be a unique experience. This is a 130 year old working cattle ranch, one of America's great hunting camps, and a guest ranch.

Second, because you're probably going to end up driving out here every day anyway. Buffalo Gap has the best restaurant in this corner of North Dakota, far better than anything in Medora. Unless you want to live on pizza and burgers for the week, you'll find yourself forced to drive the five miles from town. So you may as well stay here.

Third, because you get to meet Olie Goldberg (photo, right). Rancher, hunting guide and host, Olie is a classic American character. He's done everything from driving a long distance truck into all 48 contiguous states to salvaging closed restaurants to selling insurance to serving as mayor of Medora for 10 years. But mostly, he's raised cattle; hunted for buffalo, elk, deer and antelope; and run this guest ranch. Olie holds office hours at a corner of the Buffalo Gap Bar every morning, so you can sit there over coffee and a cheese omelette and discuss politics, cattle ranching, and the differences between the rest of America and North Dakota. Notice Olie's Dakotans Against Democrats hat.

Facilities are seen at left. This is the bunkhouse. It consists of 10 rooms, each containing two double beds and a bunk bed and sleeping up to six. The rooms are new, with hewn log construction, modern bathrooms, good reading lights and wireless internet service for your laptop computer. From this back deck you look across rolling grassland into the national park. The large complex to the far left is the restaurant, bar and kitchen.
This is the front entrance. The white doors open into the registration desk and restaurant. To get to Buffalo Gap, you head west out of Medora and turn off at Exit 18, which is Olie's private exit except for a federal campground right along the interstate. One mile on unpaved road brings you past antelope and mule deer grazing and the rodeo grounds to this scene. Olie built this complex himself without a blueprint. He used salvaged lumber and hewn timbers from as far away as St. Louis.
This is the bar, with Olie holding court in his "office." He has a tremendous repeat business, so his clientele has become sort of an extended family. Discussing the issues of the world with Olie, or getting his advice on your day's hike, ride, or other adventure, is the traditional way to start your day at Buffalo Gap. He knows every trail, back road, hill and stream in the park, wilderness, grassland and surrounding ranch country. But Olie isn't the only one holding court at the bar. A local cast of cowboys, ranchers, hunting guides and others drop in daily or at least several times a week, to join whatever debate is going on. You can hear stories about the old days of cattle ranching, how farmers lost their land, national park management, how to handle a belligerent buffalo, or what makes a good steak.
These are the horse corrals, stretching for quite a distance and holding quite a few animals. The main focus of Buffalo Gap is horse owners who come to ride the national park, Ma Da Hey Trail, Buffalo Gap Trail, or the TR Wilderness. These are some of the greatest horse trails in the nation. These guests bring their own horses and Olie and staff house and feed them. Each day, they'll run shuttle service to various trailheads to pick up or drop off riders and their mounts. During June and August, Buffalo Gap is booked up every night. July, due to heat, drops off a bit. September, October and November are hunting months. May is a great time to come and avoid crowds, but many facilities in town do not open until Memorial Day.

On a busy weekend, the barn and corrals will be full of horses. Horse trailers hitched to their owners' trucks line the parking lots. Guests wake to the sound of whinnying from the barn or the corrals.

But on July and August weekends when Olie hosts the rodeos, the property from the bunkhouse to the interstate will be filled with campers and horse trailers. Meanwhile, off on the meadows just East of the central buildings, Olie's own ranch horses graze calmly.

The Buffalo Gap restaurant is outstanding. Thanks to the cooking of Robin and Elvira, guests can wrap up every day's adventures with fine food. The women do a good job with all their items, but their specialty is steaks, particularly the 8 oz. sirloin, 12 oz. rib eye, and buffalo steak. There's also an Elkburger. If you tire of steaks, the Walleye, Bourbon Steamed Salmon, Pork Chop and Chicken are also excellent. There's a salad bar and Olie's specially concocted baked beans.

The kitchen here is quite an achievement. As a salvager of failed restaurants, Olie picked up state of the art equipment for bargain basement pricers. As a result, on this isolated ranch, he has a bigger and better equipped kitchen than many highly ranked big city restaurants.

You can sit at tables and look out over grazing cattle or off to the national park in the distance.

A traditional ride from the ranch is the nine mile Buffalo Gap Trail into Medora. Riders can then explore the town, have lunch, and ride back to the ranch. The Buffalo Gap Trail winds through the national grasslands, but as it approaches the Little Missouri River the scenery gets interesting. Many businesses in town have hitching posts out front.
This is the fire pit. Guests can sit on or at the picnic tables and enjoy a campfire after dark each night. Sometimes there will be special programs, but sometimes guests will just use the opportunity to get acquainted.
If despite all our urging, you are determined to stay in town, we recommend this Americinn Motel. It's right on the edge of the main street, within easy walking distance from the three block business district. The pool is indoors and several rooms have built in Jacuzzis. There's a free continental breakfast.

Campers have some great choices. We think the best is Cottonwoods Campground in the national park. This tent is pitched on a bluff right above the river. There are wide grassy sites with picnic tables, water hookups, cooking grilles, pullouts, and updated bathrooms with showers. There are big Cottonwood trees for shade. This is the busiest campground in the park in June and July.

Juniper campground six miles in from the Visitor Center in the North Unit is also excellent. There are usually far fewer visitors to the North Unit, so even if Cottonwood is full, spaces can be folund at Juniper.

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