Extreme Solitude — For Now
Several years ago, I was on assignment in eastern Montana and snuck over the border into North Dakota to see the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park was Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch in 1884 — a place of refuge from New York City, a place where Roosevelt could be a cattle rancher.
This morning, NPR ran a story about the ranch, which quotes historian Douglas Brinkley calling the ranch “a place of extreme solitude and historical sanctity, a place where Theodore Roosevelt generated his ideas for his crusade to save wild and special places in the United States.”
I remember it as a peaceful, but lonely and isolated place. Melancholy, yet powerful. I made these pictures at the end of a long day in 2008, working on a story about the coming oil boom in the Bakken oil patch. And sure enough, the oil boom came and is dramatically changing the way of life in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. Economies have exploded and development threatens. There is money to be made in the region and preserving a piece of solitude isn’t resonating very well with some locals. People who want these new jobs that pay so well.
“The whole public would be able to use that place, not just the elitist environmentalists,” Jim Arthaud, chairman of the Billings County Board of Commissioners, is quoted as saying. “That lousy 50, however many acres it is, 200 acres or whatever, where Teddy sat there and rested his head and found himself.”
And there’s pressure on President Obama to declare the area surrounding Roosevelt National Park a national monument. But that won’t happen easily. “That Elkhorn Ranch site is surrounded by people that own mineral rights,” Arthaud is again quoted, “and it’s going to get developed.”