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USA Radio
August 17, 2014

The Great American West

If you look at a map of the United States, you’ll often find that the most interesting natural features fall along state borders. On a trip last month, we visited some of the most telling examples of this phenomenon…starting with one of the centerpieces of the National Park System.

Yellowstone National Park straddles the Wyoming-Montana-Idaho border, though most of its 3,400 square miles lie in Wyoming. It’s the world’s oldest National Park, and one of the most unique places on the continent, if not the planet. The volcanic forces simmering just under its surface give rise to over a thousand geysers and mineral hot springs, including the largest active geyser in the world (Steamboat), and arguably the most famous (Old Faithful). And that’s in addition to acres of forest, dozens of Rocky Mountain peaks, hundreds of monumental waterfalls, and precious plant and animal species—all of which make Yellowstone a premier U.S. destination.

Looking towards the other side of Wyoming, across its border with South Dakota, the landscape is no less striking. Within the Black Hills in western South Dakota, tucked among the craggy peaks and pine and spruce forests, is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, one of the most iconic sites in the U.S. The Black Hills region is an entire microcosm worthy of weeks of exploration, and yet, drive a few miles farther east and you run into an entirely different world: the Badlands National Park. Here, millennia of natural erosion have molded a landscape of buttes and spires, painted with bands of bright sedimentary rock. Set against the surrounding plains, these features are all the more dramatic.

A similar contrast exists to the north, just east of the North Dakota-Montana border. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as the name suggests, preserves part of the public heritage of the 26th President of the United States, whose Elkhorn Ranch lies within park boundaries. Roosevelt came to these North Dakota badlands to hunt bison in the late 19th century, and today, the National Park serves as an important bison habitat as the species is reintroduced to the West. Apart from the wildlife, the park’s main feature is the Little Missouri River, which runs down its center, and the dramatic cliffs it has cut through the earth. If you make it to this corner of the country, expect big skies, big views, and big stories.

Many thanks to the National Park Service for making this trip possible. To learn more about these and other spectacular U.S. National Parks, visit

- Filmmaker, Outdoor Enthusiast and Director of Productions Scott Sporleder

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