Welcome to North Dakota! The Greatest Road Trip Ever Taken and the good people here are glad to be able to introduce you to one of the nation’s least-known states. We’ve been looking forward for quite some time to showing you some of the very real wonders found within North Dakota’s border.
There are two stories having to do with how North Dakota became a State. The first is a simple fact. The second is more interesting and speaks to the personality of the Dakotas. First, an omnibus bill for Statehood for North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington titled the Enabling Act of 1889, was passed on February 22, 1889.
Which Dakota was to be granted Statehood first? That was the dilemma facing President Benjamin Harrison. The rivalry between the two Dakotas was strong enough that both wanted in first. Harrison solved the problem by having the Statehood papers shuffled so he didn’t know which one he signed first. Therefore North Dakota is considered to have become a State first, but only because “N” comes before “S” in the alphabet.
“You have to really want to be here, to be here.” The owner of the phrase is lost to antiquity but no better description of North Dakota can be found. With winters that can freeze the nipple off an earthworm, North Dakota stands at the United States’ northern border. It is bordered on the northwest by Saskatchewan and the northeast by Manitoba. Montana provides North Dakota’s western border. Minnesota sits to the east. South Dakota rests to the south.
North Dakota is the 19th largest state in the Union. Like in most states west of the Mississippi River, there is more land than people. It holds the fourth fewest people of any state. Fargo, with 105,549 residents, is the only city in North Dakota with over (or even close to), 100,000 people. Bismarck is the state capital.
A decade and a half ago the United States almost lost a star. There was a movement afoot to combine North and South Dakota into one state. There was a sense that the original reasons for two Dakotas (the slave debate, and travel distance) no longer applied. But, after a hot debate in the very early days of this century, the outcry calmed. So for today, and likely our lifetime, two Dakotas it is.
The highest point in North Dakota is atop 3,508 foot White Butte in the southwestern part of the state. The lowest point is 751 feet above sea level on the banks of the Red River of the North at the Manitoba border. The geographic center of North Dakota is five miles west of the town of McClusky.
Top Airports in North Dakota:
Grand Forks International enplanes almost150,000 passengers a year. Over 220,000 people use Minot International each year. Serving about 240,000 customers a year is Bismarck Municipal. Hector International serves about 400,000 people in the Fargo/Moorhead area at the eastern edge of the State. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul is the most frequent destination from all four North Dakota airports.
Top Movies Filmed in North Dakota:
The Messengers (2007)
Jesus Camp (2006)
Famous North Dakotans:
Military/Politics: Gary Johnson and Richard Hieb.
Actors: Angie Dickinson, Sam Anderson, Alan Ritchson, Josh Duhamel, Phyllis Frelich, Ann Sothern, Natalie West, Charlie Korsmo, Leslie Stefanson, Kevin Miller, Leslie Bibb, Arthur Peterson, Kellan Lutz, Betsy Ross Clarke, Christopher Michael Holley, and Dorothy Stickney.
Entertainers: Tommy Tucker, Bobby Vee, Lynn Anderson, Kat Perkins, Wiz Khalifa, Jonny Lang, Gwen Sebastian, Peggy Lee, Dave Bickler, Shadoe Stevens, ELHAE, Andrea Rene, and Lawrence Welk.
Writers: William H. Gass, Louis L’Amour, and Larry Woiwode.
Athletes: Phil Jackson, Donny Schatz, Jacob Hager, Travis Hafner, Jocelyne Lamoreaux, Weston Dressler, Doug McDermott, Carson Wentz, Casper Oimoen, and Cliff Fido Purpur.
Weird and Wonderful Facts About North Dakota:
North America is made up of Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Rugby North Dakota is its geographical center.
In 1933, Max G. Taubert of Casselton built a 50-foot high pyramid of empty oil cans. It is believed to be the tallest oil can structure in the world.
The North Dakota State University research experiment station in Hettinger is the largest state-owned sheep research center in the United States.
North Dakota grows more sunflowers than any other state.
North Dakota is one of the nation’s most affordable states. The average dollar is worth $109.29, according to The Tax Foundation.
In 1982, the town of Rutland formed the world’s largest hamburger. It weighed 3,591 pounds. About 9,000 people had at least one bite.
The entrance to the town of Turtle Lake boasts a two-ton sculpture of its namesake reptile.
Refrigerated railway cars were invented in Medora.
Let’s take a Trip Through North Dakota:
Let’s go! There is more to see and do in this state than you can imagine. We’re going to learn a lot about the way things were before you were born. We will also see the present and the future, for better or for worse. So get dressed! Our trip will be 598 miles long.
Traveling west to east, we start in the prairie outpost of Williston. That’s where we will find the Fort Union Trading Post.
You have read about the Indian wars. The settlers and Native American tribes up here figured out a better way. Fort Union was the most important fur trading post on the upper Missouri from 1828-1867. Here, seven Northern Plains tribes traded buffalo robes and other furs for goods such as cloth, guns, blankets, and beads. This fort was a bastion of peaceful coexistence, annually trading over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 of merchandise.
Today, Fort Union is a place of education for tourists and visitors. The rangers show off the way people lived in the first half of the 19th Century. The site is accessible, walkable and a hidden treasure for the whole family. It is also free! We’re off to a good start, aren’t we?
Just 133 miles SXSW from Williston we find the town of Medora. It’s the most tourist-visited N.D. city, boasting a National Park, live theater, and another “the way we were” museum. We will visit the first two attractions.
North Dakota is the state that made Teddy Roosevelt a man. That isn’t an exaggeration built by the people who live here. T.R. said it himself! President Roosevelt was born in New York. He came to North Dakota as a skinny, frail, asthmatic. After working cattle in the western part of the State, he became the robust roughrider we know him to be. His time in North Dakota was the inspiration for the National Park System that came into being during his administration.
North Dakota celebrates the man, the myth, the legend with the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Separated into north and south sections, TRNP is strewn with short hiking trails and views the like of which we won’t see at other National Parks. Uncrowded to say the least, it will show us prairie dogs, geese by the tens of thousands, and bison that will walk among us. A lovely tribute to the man who gave us the parks, it is an educational experience sewn into some picture-postcard vistas.
We’re going to visit the north section today. Tomorrow we will do the south section. We will stay two nights at the Hawthorn Suites for $93 a night.
After finishing up at the south section of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park, we’re going to a show at one of the unique playhouses in America. The famous Medora Musical is held every year at the Burning Rocks Amphitheater. Carved out of the landscape of the badlands, the theater is worth a visit even if no show is present. We’re in luck. The Musical is family-friendly, talent-laden, funny, and inspiring with just enough “Gee Whiz America” to make you know you’re in a small town. Everyone should see a show like this, at least once.
We’re headed toward mid-state next. But we celebrate quirky better than any other travel planner in the world. And quirky is the word for a little detour we like to call “Enchanted Highway”. Six sculptures line the side of a little-used country road. These aren’t just any sculptures. They are the largest metal sculptures in the world.
Built by local artist Gary Greff, the sculptures depict life on the prairie, wildlife, and (yes, the man again) Teddy Roosevelt. It adds about 70 miles to our trip. Have you noticed, though, that the laid-back vibe in North Dakota is rendering us unconcerned about time? We may never leave!
Except that next up is a site which takes us out of the bucolic peace of small town and pioneer America, and right into current events. The Williston Oil Fields are creating an employment boom that hasn’t been seen since the 49ers came out west for gold. The oil fields that make up “The Bakken” have turned the United States into one of the richest oil-producing nations in the world. It is a series of oil derricks stretching from western North Dakota into northeastern Montana. Because of the production out of The Bakken, the United States’ reliance on foreign oil has dropped from 65% to 52% in the last ten years.
There are, literally, jobs for the asking. At last count, there were five jobs for every applicant. Find that anywhere else.
So that makes the Williston Oil Fields an unqualified boon and blessing to everyone. Correct?
I suppose that depends on what you think about Mother Earth. The reason for the boom is the development of a method of oil and gas extraction known as “fracking.” It is named after a process of fracturing the Earth to draw out the black gold hidden in the crust. Fracking has been blamed for artificial (man-made) earthquakes and poor water quality everywhere the technique has been used. Is it worth the environmental impact? That’s up to the individual to decide. We find it a troubling side note to our trip through the state.
Eighty-one miles further east on I-94 we come to the capital city of Bismarck. We are fond of capital cities that double as small and smallish towns. It was why Montpelier, Vermont, and Cheyenne, Wyoming were favorites of ours on this trip. Bismarck boasts 61,272 residents. That counts as small. Add the population in its sister city of Mandan and still fall well below 85,000 population.
But Bismarck is long in North Dakota history. We discover that at the North Dakota Heritage Center which is located on the capital grounds downtown.
The Heritage Center is free. In it, we will find fully-formed mummified dinosaurs (for those who still deny they existed) as well as some history we wouldn’t expect here. One example would be a first folio of William Shakespeare’s! It takes just under an hour to tour the whole place. That’s a good thing because the kids are excited about…
Superslide is located in a beautiful park-like setting. The main attraction is the slide itself but there are rides, bumper cars, basketball games and other arcade-type attractions. This is an old-school amusement park. By that we mean it is free to enter and pay-per-ride.
We’re spending the night at the My Place Hotel-Bismarck for $98. Tomorrow we are off to Fargo.
The residents of Fargo, North Dakota have a love/hate relationship with the movie and television show named after their fair city. They will quickly tell you about the scenes that were shot in Minnesota because there wasn’t enough snow in Fargo. They will tell you the show’s accents are overblown and exaggerated. But, when they get really excited about telling you the accents are exaggerated…it is in accents similar to the ones in the movie. Yah! For reals! You betcha!
It is the people who live in Fargo that embrace the sentiments spoken by whoever said, “You have to really want to be here, to be here.” They really do, and they will tell you why.
Our first stop is at the Fargo Air Museum. It is a great place to learn some of the history of flight in general and of aircraft in particular. There are a few homemade planes (and you thought you were good with your hands) to see and sit inside. The staff is knowledgeable and there is an open-air feel to the museum even though it is inside.
Our next and final stop will be at Thunder Road Amusement Park. There we will find go-carts, batting cages, and a challenging miniature golf course. Do you think you can beat us? Just try.
We spend our last night at the My Place Hotel-Fargo for $94. You betcha’, there are two of them in this State! It is a good night’s sleep after a good few days in the middle of the country.
We sincerely hope you enjoyed our trip through the great state of North Dakota.
Next up: South Dakota.