Theodore Roosevelt and the Maah Daah Hey

It’s a little out of the way compared to other western national parks, but we highly recommend a trip to Medora, North Dakota to explore the town, its history, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). We spent six days in Medora and loved every minute. The Maah Daah Hey Trail Runs brought us here to begin with but the scenery, the park, and Teddy Roosevelt’s story kept us enthralled.

To continue Steve’s pursuit of running a marathon in all 50 states, we made the Maah Daah Hey (MDH) Trail marathon our first priority.  The MDH trail runs a total of 144 miles from the north unit through the south unit of TRNP. The trail markers for the MDH is a turtle, which symbolizes patience, determination, and steadfastness, all of which are required when you run on this trail.

Steve ran the 27 mile race fast enough to win his age group. Yep, he beat all the other guys aged 50-59! I ran the 10K, which was closer to seven miles, through the beautiful and rugged Badlands. The race itself was enough of a draw but there was so much more!

TRNP, the only national park named after a U.S. president, was established to honor his contribution to conservation, having preserved and protected an estimated 230 million acres of land including 18 national monuments, five national parks, 150 national forests, and dozens of federal reserves. As national park geeks, we really like Teddy!

The park itself includes three units covering over 70 miles. Roosevelt ranched in this area in the 1880s and artifacts from his time are on display at the visitor center, including rifles and ranch clothing. We immersed ourselves in all things Teddy while we were here and enjoyed seeing his original cabin and the land he loved. 

In the park itself we drove the South Unit’s 36-mile scenic drive and took in the park’s numerous prairie dog towns, numerous bison, and the park’s herd of wild horses. In the North Unit, we took the 14-mile scenic drive and learned about the unique rock formations called cannonball concretions, created by erosional forces. The badlands are rugged, desolate, and yet, beautiful in many ways. 

The town of Medora is a living tribute to our 26th president. In fact, much of the neat town and its attractions are run by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. We attended two afternoon shows that paid tribute to T.R. and taught us about his impact on Medora. He came here to find solace after the death of his first wife and his mother on the same day. His ranching days here were short-lived, but his love of North Dakota endured. 

The Medora Gospel Brunch is also worth checking out when you visit Medora. In fact, all of the entertainment in town was top-notch. High quality singers and musicians, polished re-enacters, and New York-level productions. We were really impressed.

The star of the Medora entertainment scene is the Medora Musical which has been running since 1965. Set in a striking outdoor amphitheater with sweeping views of the badlands, the musical pays tribute to Medora’s history and the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.

With a mix of classic country music and original tunes, the company sings, dances, and rides with high energy for a full two hours. In our second row seats, we had a great view of the action.  The Medora Musical is a not-to-miss event in Medora.

Of course we went back out on the Maah Daah Hey trail a bit on our bikes and just enjoyed being in this unique place. Beautiful views, a well-groomed trail, and sunshine always make for a good day.

We hope to return in 2025 once the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is opened. 

Savannah – The Hostess City

Everyone said Savannah was great, but we needed to see it for ourselves. Now we can say from first-hand experience that Savannah is indeed one of America’s great cities, welcoming visitors like the hostess she is.  Our week in the area was filled with history, architecture, and natural beauty that surprised us at every turn.

We based ourselves at the relatively new CreekFire Motor Ranch, which put us about 20 minutes from historic downtown Savannah. Creekfire is truly a resort with a heated pool, kids pool, lazy river, gym, lake, on-site bar and restaurant and more.

We even enjoyed a live band one night while sitting out by the lake. It was so nice that we’ve already booked a return visit next year!

In Savannah, we decided to get oriented with a tour. This time we chose a bike tour, which took us from one side of the city to the other in about two hours. Our guide was well versed in the history of the city, its 22 squares, historic homes, and churches. Many of the places we visited were featured in the popular book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by Berendt, and my book club friends will likely recognize a few of these pictures.

The bike tour gave us a good foundation for exploring the city on other days too. The American Prohibition Museum opened our eyes to the social, economic, and political impacts of restricting people’s choice to imbibe. Of course, Savannah was a mecca for moonshine and bootleggers. 

A stunning place to stroll is the Savannah Riverfront. Originally a bustling port for the cotton industry, now the old port buildings, roads, and ramps are now a focal point for shops, restaurants, and hotels. Even Bob and Mia enjoyed our riverfront walk.

Another must-see stop in Savannah is the hauntingly beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery, where Savannah’s history is buried. We joined noted guide and historian Shannon Scott on a two hour exploration of the cemetery which was first established in 1846.

Originally designed as a Victorian cemetery with winding pathways, lots of trees and grass areas, Bonaventure has been a gathering place for family picnics as well as a place of comfort for the bereaved. Probably the most famous residents are songwriter Johnny Mercer and writer Conrad Aiken.

A trip to Savannah is not complete without a visit to Wormsloe Historic Site, the colonial-era estate of Noble Jones, one of the area’s first settlers. The former plantation is the site of the oldest standing structure in Savannah. The ruins of Jones’ 1745 tabby house still overlook the Savannah River and the property was held by his descendants until the state acquired the land in 1973. Most striking is the mile-long archway of live oaks that usher you into the plantation. It’s what you picture a southern plantation should be. 

One reason we put Savannah on our itinerary was so that Steve could run his first live marathon since the start of the pandemic. On Saturday morning he rose early, drove out to nearby Skidaway Island and ran 26.2 miles in about four hours. He was rewarded with a medal, new sunglasses, a t-shirt, and claim to running a marathon in Georgia. He’s now marathoned in 19 states and counting…

Our time in the Savannah area coincided with the annual St. Patricks Day festivities. While the annual parade was cancelled due to COVID-19, there was still plenty of Irish spirit, especially out on Tybee Island.

On Tybee we learned about the island’s early military history, including the American Revolution, War of 1812, Spanish American War, WWI, and WWII. The Tybee Island Light Station, originally built in 1773, provided guidance to mariners in the past and now gives tourists sweeping views of the Atlantic and Savannah River. We enjoyed the 178 step climb to the top, as well as our tour of the Keeper’s Cottage. 

On our way out of Tybee we also stopped in to take a peak at Fort Pulaski. One of a series of forts along the Georgia coastline, the fort was built after the War of 1812 and was, for a time, under Confederate control. Once taken by the Union army, the fort eventually became a prison for Confederate officers. So much history…

Full exploration of Savannah and the surrounding area takes much more time than we allotted. Next time, we’ll spend more time sitting in the peaceful squares, enjoying the world-famous restaurants, and learning more about this fascinating part of America.

Music City and Beyond

Nashville, known as Music City, is filled with incredible opportunities to listen to live music and learn about the history of one of our favorite genres of music. But it’s so much more!! We just spent the last week exploring this historic city while navigating the increasingly severe pandemic. 

On our first day here we headed towards nearby Franklin, south of Nashville. Our first destination was the legendary Loveless Cafe. Known for melt-in-your mouth biscuits, we started our day with chicken and waffles and a yummy BBQ omelet, along with incredible biscuits and preserves. Where this was once a restaurant and motel for travelers along Highway 100, it’s now a favorite stop for Nashville locals. Yum!

Just past the Loveless Cafe begins the Natchez Trace, the 444 mile-long parkway that links Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi. Originally an Indian footpath, the route has served settlers, slave traders, soldiers, and now modern day travelers. We didn’t get very far along the parkway, but we did capture some cool photos of the double-arched bridge at the beginning of the Trace. 

Steve was planning to run the Nashville Rock and Roll Marathon this week but like many other things this year, it wasn’t meant to be.  Less than a week ago, it was postponed due to the pandemic. Steve had the option to defer his registration or to do the race virtually. He chose the virtual option and ran 26.2 miles through the streets and and parks of Nashville on his own, fully self-supported. He finished this race in just over four hours and placed second in his age group. Here he is as he was heading out the door to run with his water on his back. 

Almost every day we were in Nashville we selected one major activity. Here’s a run-down of our fun:

The Grand Ole Opry– The Opry, the longest running radio broadcast in U.S. history, is recently back open after being closed to live audiences since March. We snagged two of the limited-availability tickets for Saturday night’s performance. The two hour show featured country stars Russell Dickerson and Lady A. 

Cheekwood Holiday Lights and Chihuly Nights – The Cheekwood Estate and Gardens preserves a 1930s mansion and grounds. With incredible views and a deep history, the annual holiday light display coincided with a show of the work of one of our favorite artists, Dale Chihuly. His large-scale glass art installations dotted the gardens of the historic estate and were accented by the twinkling of the holiday lights.

It was a festive, beautiful evening that got us in the holiday spirit. 

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – A visit to Nashville isn’t complete without a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. On a rainy afternoon we explored country music from its early days to the modern era. Highlights for us were references to television shows from our childhood. Minnie Pearl’s dress and hat (complete with price tag) reminded us of all those Hee Haw episodes we watched with our parents. The Bandit’s TransAm was a cool reminder of the classic movie, Smokey and the Bandit. 

Belle Meade – On a nice afternoon we toured the Belle Meade Plantation. Belle Meade began in 1807 with a log cabin and 250 acres.  Over time, and with the dedication of the Harding and Jackson families and the workers who lived there before and after Emancipation, this site became one of the largest thoroughbred horse farms in the South. In fact, all Triple Crown winners can trace their pedigrees back to Belle Meade. 

Between our tours and events we also visited the Nashville Farmers Market, the State Capital area, and Broadway, the downtown street lined with bars featuring live music at all hours of the day. Masks are required and there’s lots of social distancing in light of the pandemic. We are following all of the rules and guidelines and being careful to wash our hands and use our hand sanitizer as much as possible.

We’re now headed south with a few interesting stops planned. Whiskey anyone?