Posts in category Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wendy Ross: Naturally, An Outdoor Woman

Wendy Ross

By Stephanie Fong | Photos by Rachael Neva Photo | Published in Inspired Woman Magazine, July 2019

The American naturalist and author Enos Mills wrote, “Within National Parks is room — glorious room — room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve.” His words seem to be written for Wendy Ross, a woman whose entire life is virtually woven into the fabric of our national parks.

Wendy, the superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park since 2015, regularly immerses herself into the glorious room that is the North Dakota Badlands to recharge her batteries, ponder her challenges, and grow her dreams for the national park under her care.


Wendy has been surrounded by the beauty of our national parks her entire life — her father was a climbing ranger at Mount Rainier National Park near Tacoma, Washington, when she was born. From there, her father’s career took the family to Grand Teton, Yosemite, and eventually Cape Cod National Seashore. When her parents relocated to the Great Smoky Mountains toward the end of her high school career, she was allowed to stay with family friends at Cape Cod through graduation. Whatever park she and her family were living at, volunteering within the parks was a big part of her youth.

“I volunteered through all of my high school years,” Wendy shares.

She participated in such projects as beach grass revegetation and fish studies for anoxic conditions.

“Anything that was a scientific research paper or project, I was involved in,” Wendy says.

In a time when national park employees were more often male than female, two strong female mentors, both resource management specialists, helped spark her interests and inspire career goals.

“They really showed me how cool it was to get outside and get dirty and do things like trap mosquitoes for different disease testing or look at Lyme disease on Cape Cod,” Wendy says.

Her natural scientific tendencies and childhood experiences led her to major in arctic and alpine biology at Middlebury College in Vermont. After graduation, she began a lifelong career in government service. First, with a two-year commitment to the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka followed by 25 years (and counting) with the national park service.

Starting at the entrance station at Yellowstone National Park, she grew her experience and responsibilities at each new park she was assigned — from Shiloh National Military Park to North Cascades National Park, from Glacier National Park to Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and eventually Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

She smiles at the thought of her work out in the field in her earlier assignments.

“I’d do so much hiking. I love to be outside. At North Cascades, I was doing grazing studies out on backcountry trails, flood studies, and large-scale landform mapping.”

Even her memories of national events are shaped by where the parks have taken her.

“I was actually in the wilderness of North Cascades for a week, and 9/11 happened. We were in the flyway between Seattle and Minneapolis, and you would see contrails constantly when we’d be out camping, and all of a sudden, no airplanes. It was the most surreal thing. Silent. We came out of the back country a week later, and my husband met us at the trailhead and told us what happened. We had no clue.”


During her college years, Wendy’s father became the superintendent at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). From 1990-1995, he lived and worked in Medora, North Dakota.

After her junior year of college, raw from a breakup with a boyfriend, Wendy spent the summer in Medora hiking and biking the Badlands.

“I healed my broken heart, volunteered in the park, and had a great time,” she recalls with a chuckle.

Life moved on, and so did she — growing her career and moving up in levels of responsibility. Some 25 years later, she was thrilled to be named superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a place she sees as a true treasure and a source of endless possibilities.

Having lived and worked in so many of our national parks, TRNP still stands out to Wendy as uniquely wonderful.

She points out one of her favorite wonders as the sudden change from grassland to Badlands near the Painted Canyon Visitor Center along Interstate 94.

“That drive from Dickinson into the Badlands — for me, every time, ‘falling off the edge of the earth’ there into the Badlands — is one of the experiences that never fails to surprise me.

“Here, the landscape is constantly in motion. It is constantly changing. You never know what you’re going to encounter,” Wendy adds.

She also knows how valuable and unique the lack of crowding is for TRNP and its visitors. While many of the park’s 700,000+ annual visitors traditionally drive the paved loop, Wendy recommends a different route.

“I would encourage people to get off the beaten path, either on a trail or off a trail, because this is one of the few parks in which you can actually go off trail. You can go with horses; you can hike,” Wendy says. “You come over horizons and you encounter scenery and you wonder when the last time people last saw that.”

She describes winter as an incredible time to visit the park.

“People think we’re closed in the wintertime, but we’re open all year, 24/7. One of my favorite things to do is to ski on the river with two inches of snow on the (frozen) river — that’s all you need on the river to ski.”

Asked if she has a favorite spot to visit in TRNP, her eyes light up as she declares, “I really don’t! Every day, every condition, every different kind of light — it’s all magical. And it extends for me to the larger Badlands area outside the park. There’s a lot of country to get lost in, and there’s so much history here.”


There is something about Wendy that shows she is completely comfortable in her own skin. As she approaches her 50th birthday this fall, she says she loves the place she is in her life.

“When I was in grade school, maybe 8 or 9 years old, I had these goals in my life: to go to Middlebury College, become a resource management specialist in the national park system, go to Alaska, and go into the Peace Corps, and I did all of those things before I was 30. It was really goal-oriented up until then.

“I’ve definitely evolved. I’m dream-oriented,” Wendy says. “I love to think about the big picture. I’ve come into this place in my life where I love to move to new places and look at huge-scale — I’m talking ecosystem-scale — possibilities. ‘What can be done in this place that has never been done before and what is something that is so universally huge that nobody else would even think about going there?’ Those are the kinds of challenges that move me now.”

Wendy didn’t always dream of being a park superintendent, but her excitement for relationship-building, the art of listening, and showing respect to everyone has naturally led her into a leadership role.

As superintendent, Wendy is tasked with taking care of the park’s resources, taking care of her staff, and leveraging the park’s partnerships.

She considers herself a seed-planter of ideas, giving the framework and encouragement to the many entities at play in Western North Dakota to create a future that benefits everyone.

“Western North Dakota is an ecosystem of recreation and resource protection,” Wendy says. “With the energy industry poised to produce two million gallons per day, and the communities having grown the way they have grown — Dickinson, Williston, Watford City, even Medora — I feel that Western North Dakota is in this place where we can rethink our relationship with the earth and how we recreate with the earth, how we use the earth, how we live in communities and how we expand our values to the larger ecosystem. TRNP is right at the core of that, as a core protected area.”

Wendy recognizes the value each cultural and economic group brings to our region.

“There are various different uses outside of our core protected area that are all relevant, all necessary, all exciting. And there’s so much collaboration potential there that if we all worked in different ways, I think we could have a model in Western North Dakota that’s not been seen anywhere else in the world.”


With three distinct units and 70,000 acres, challenges facing Wendy and other park leadership today range from the practical to the big-picture. They plan long-term solutions for issues like managing genetic diversity within their bison population, proactively anticipating what chronic wasting disease could do to the elk herd and park resources, and working with an erosive landscape (an example just this year is having to close off a portion of the park loop drive due to the massive slumping that destroyed a stretch of road.)

But, from Wendy’s big-picture mindset, the biggest challenge today is successfully reconciling the dual mission of the national park service.

“The National Park Service was created to protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources for this and future generations,” Wendy explains, “So, there’s a resource protection mandate, and it’s for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Part of her role at TRNP, then, is constantly assessing and analyzing what the public wants, whether that means more hikeable trails, more ranger-led programs, or more collaborations with community organizations and educational institutions.

And beyond what people say they want in surveys, Wendy also reflects on what people deeply need that our national parks can offer.

“Fundamentally, whether they know it or not, people are looking for the same exact same thing. They’re looking for a beautiful place. They’re looking for an experience they’ve never had before in a place that’s a little outside of their comfort zone, whether that’s going on a mile hike when you don’t usually hike, or going on a really strenuous backpacking trip.

“But I think people are also looking for solace — a place to lose oneself.”

Stephanie (Tinjum) Fong is a North Dakota native. She worked in Medora for a decade, first during her college summer breaks, and then on a year-round basis for seven years. She now lives in Dickinson with her husband and children, and they love to visit Medora several times a year.

This article has been re-published from

7 Photogenic Locations & Photography Tips in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Everyone who makes the trip to the Badlands of North Dakota have their own reason for visiting Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Yours might be different than the next but everyone will all have one thing in common, everyone comments about the beautiful sights and sounds.

Whether you’re an expert photographer with all the gear or out to capture the pics to make your Instagram followers jealous, this is your guide!

Zak Zeinert, nature photographer and National Park lover, let us share his favorite Theodore Roosevelt National Park photography locations and some little-known photographer hideouts that he enjoys just outside of Medora.

As originally published at Zak Zeinert Photography Blog



Wind Canyon is the most photographed spot in the park, and with good reason. In the evening, the short footpath leads viewers to a stunning display as the sun sets over the Little Missouri River. The river makes for natural leading lines that photograph well and help guide the viewer’s eye to some of the best sunsets in the United States. I try not to shoot at the same spot too often, but I can’t help but find myself returning to Wind Canyon.

Get this print!



The 36-mile loop and numerous trails offer plenty of great sights, but don’t forget about the opportunities back at camp! On my first visit to the Medora area in 2016, I was often greeted back at camp by a bison wandering by. That same evening, I photographed wild horses on the southern end of the campground. Not to mention the great selfies you can get for your Facebook and Instagram as you gaze out upon the badlands from camp!

 – – THE 36-MILE PARK LOOP – –

Many of the park’s visitors only ever see it from the safety of their vehicle along the 36-mile loop. Fortunately, there are many great photo opportunities along the whole stretch. I recommend driving the loop in the early morning or late afternoon. Not only will the warm golden hour light make your photos look stunning but the cooler temperatures will also draw the wildlife out. When you feel like getting out and stretching your legs, check out some of the incredible overlooks along the loop such as Boicourt or Scoria Point.

Boicourt Overlook provides a grand view of the park from the loop – 2016

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The Petrified Forest Loop has quickly become my favorite trail in the park. Inaccessible via the 36-mile park loop, to reach the trailhead one must take exit 23 off of I-94w then continue up West River Road for roughly 6.5 miles. Don’t let the bit of extra effort discourage you though, visitors to this trail are well rewarded. Besides being well maintained, the trail offers grand canyon views, peaceful sections of grassland, and of course the main attraction: petrified wood! The loop is about 10-miles long, but one only has to travel a short distance to find the fossilized remains of the ancient forest.

Get this Print!

 – – BUCK HILL – –

Buck Hill is the highest point in the park and provides the million-dollar panoramic views of the badlands. Lone trees are scattered among the hilltop and make for great silhouette shots as well as interesting subjects against the grassy terrain. The well-defined trail winding its way down the southern slope provides an excellent backdrop for portraits while also being an interesting subject on its own.



The Lower Talkington Trail will truly make you feel as if you’ve stumbled into another world. The painted hills seem to surround you as you descend into the eastern end of the park. Last time, I hiked it I found myself caught between a cranky bison and a band of wild horses. I managed to get a some great shots while I waited them out from the safety of a hilltop.

See More of Lower Talkington Trail


Don’t forget to visit the North Unit of the park just south of Watford City. Not only is it just as stunning, but you’ll deal with a fraction of the crowds that you get in the South Unit. While you won’t find prairie dogs or wild horses in the North Unit, you will find smooth, rolling grasslands more akin to what you’d see in Badlands National Park. The buffalo are bountiful and the overlooks just as scenic. The in-and-out road, rightfully called ‘Scenic Drive’ offers many stunning views as it winds its way through the park.

These photography secrets are just across the North Dakota border and with Mother Nature as the ultimate artist, each day could give you a new view. Plan for a few extra days and of course see what else Medora has to offer.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park truly is one-of-a-kind and is well deserving of its name. Just don’t forget to put down the camera every once in a while to take in the beautiful landscape around you.

Get a Printable Theodore Roosevelt National Park Map 

Helpful Hiking Information for Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Check out more of Zak’s work: 

Purchase a print seen in this blog: North Dakota Collection

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Annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival to Be Held at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Historic Medora

MEDORA, ND: Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the town of Historic Medora invite inquiring minds of all ages to attend the fifth annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival Friday, September 15 through Sunday, September 17. Join park rangers, astronomers, and space enthusiasts of all types to celebrate North Dakota’s beautiful night skies.


“People have been marveling at the night skies for millennia,” said Chief of Interpretation Eileen Andes. “Dakota Nights celebrates the beauty and fragility of this awe-inspiring resource and makes it accessible and fun for people of all ages. READ MORE »

Where to watch the eclipse on August 21 in Medora!

Where to watch the eclipse on August 21 in Medora!

This is the first time a total solar eclipse will go over the contiguous United States.

Make the most of this can’t miss event by viewing in from these spots in Medora!

PS: Catch The Highwaymen Live after the eclipse at the Burning Hills Amphitheatre at 7:30pm.


The Burning Hills Amphitheatre. READ MORE »

Endless Exploration

TR National Park: Ranger Programs

If you’ve ever spent any time in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’ll know there is way too much to see in just one day. In fact, there might be way too much to see in a week, or a year, or even a life time!


Even so, the Rangers at TR National Park want to help you discover as much as you possibly can about the park and the wildlife that call it home while you’re here in Medora, and this is why they have a plethora of actives lined up every week! READ MORE »

Bison Roundup Set to Begin at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

MEDORA, ND – A bison roundup is scheduled for the week of October 16 at the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

For safety reasons, this operation will be closed ot the public, but media are invited to cover the story. Most of the roundup will take place October 17 through 19. The best photographic opportunities will likely be on October 18 and 19. In order to ensure human and animal safety, media representatives must be escorted while at the site. It is recommended that you call the park at 701-623-4466 after 8:00 a.m. MDT on the day you plan to attend the roundup before leaving your office to ensure the operation has not been postponed or changed due to weather or other issues. READ MORE »

Theodore Roosevelt National Park to Welcome Terry Tempest Williams

Theodore Roosevelt National Park to Welcome Terry Tempest Williams

A National Park Service Centennial Event

MEDORA, ND: The Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association and Theodore Roosevelt National Park invite the public to a special book reading and signing by renowned author Terry Tempest Williams on Sunday, July 24. Tempest Williams will read from her newest book, The Hour of Land. The reading will begin at 6:30 p.m. MDT in the park’s South Unit Visitor Center; a book signing will follow.


Bison Abound in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

President Obama just named the bison as America’s National Mammal! Now bison aren’t nearly as prevalent today as they used to be during Theodore Roosevelt’s time in Dakota Territory, but you can still see plenty of them in his namesake national park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park — the backyard of Medora, North Dakota and the New York Times’ #5 place to visit in 2016!

Here’s a few photos from our many bison encounters over the years! READ MORE »

It’s a National Park Week

Come explore North Dakota’s only National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park FOR FREE!

Get off the beaten path and get dirty in TRNP for FREE until April 24!

Your kids can become Junior Rangers and the whole family can take guided ranger hikes!

Remember, this year we celebrate the Centennial Celebration of the National Parks System. Get out and explore our Nation’s parks — and start with North Dakota’s only National Park.

Want to create your own TR National Park adventure?

Start by hiking these 5 great trails and snap away at these great photo locations!

5 Reasons to Stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park on your way to Yellowstone

Hike in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

On your way to Yellowstone National Park huh? Well, coming west of the Mississippi has gotten a lot easier since Lewis and Clark’s time, but you and the family will still need to stretch those legs sometime before you get to Old Faithful. And Medora, North Dakota is the perfect place to do just that! Here’s why…


You’re a National Park fanatic!

Be inspired by the Badlands that inspired a President. Theodore Roosevelt National Park has wild horses — and so much more. Set in the heart of the rugged North Dakota Badlands, TRNP is chalk-full of bison, elk, prairie dogs, and more. And it’s not just wildlife! The “Teddy” has numerous hiking trials and is laden with scenic overlooks, which make for great photo opportunities. It’s North Dakotas only National Park — and you need to see it!

Find your Park and share your story here!

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