Welcome to North Dakota! The Greatest Road Trip and the good people here are glad to be able to introduce you to one of the nation’s least-known states. We’re waiting to show you some of the very real wonders found within North Dakota’s border.
People are funny, aren’t they? We’ve learned that over and over on our trip so far, and the story of North Dakota Statehood is another funny story. The people of North Dakota and South Dakota get along fairly well today. There was a day the rivalry between the two was heated! In fact, President Harrison ordered the Statehood signing papers be shuffled so he wouldn’t know which one he signed first. That way neither Dakota could claim “first.” The alphabet, though, isn’t kind to South Dakota. Since North Dakota comes first it is usually listed as the 38th state.
“You have to really want to be here, to be here.” The originator of the phrase is lost to antiquity but no better description of North Dakota can be found. With winters that can freeze an earthworm’s nipple, North Dakota stands at the Lower 48’s northern border. It is bordered on the northwest by Saskatchewan and the northeast by Manitoba. The big skies of Montana provide North Dakota’s western border. Minnesota sits to the east, while South Dakota rests to the south.
North Dakota is the 19th largest state in the Union. Like in the other rural 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.
Like its neighbor to the south North Dakota is a state with a split time zone personality. While the majority of it is Central Time Zone, from just east of Dickinson and west Mountain Time reigns supreme.
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. The original reasons for two Dakotas (the slave debate, and travel distance) no longer seemed to apply. However, the outcry calmed after a hot debate. 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 found, conveniently enough in the town of Center, ND.
Top Airports in North Dakota:
Grand Forks International serves about 150,000 passengers a year. Minot International serves almost a quarter million passengers annually. Bismarck Municipal greets about 240,000 passengers each year. Hector International serves over 400,000 people in the Fargo, ND/Moorhead, Minnesota area. Minneapolis is the favorite destination from all four 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, Kellan Lutz, Josh Duhamel, Phyllis Frelich, Arthur Peterson, Dorothy Stickney, Leslie Bibb, Sam Anderson, Leslie Stefanson, Charlie Korsmo, Christopher Michael Holley, Betty Ross Clarke, Alan Ritchson, and Ann Sothern.
Entertainers: Tommy Tucker, Lynn Anderson, Bobby Vee, Kat Perkins, Wiz Khalifa, Gwen Sebastian, Peggy Lee, Dave Bickler, Andrea Rene, Lawrence Welk, Jonny Lang, and Shadoe Stevens.
Athletes: Phil Jackson, Casper Oimoen, Donny Schatz, Travis Hafner, Jacob Hager, Jocelyne Lamoreaux, Doug McDermott, Carson Wentz, and Cliff Fido Purpur.
Writers: William H. Gass, Louis L’Amour, and Larry Woiwode.
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 town of Turtle Lake boasts a 4,000 pound 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 and let’s go, because our trip will be just two miles less than 600.
Traveling west to east, we start in the prairie outpost of Williston. That’s where we 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. From 1828-1867, Fort Union was the most important fur trading post on the Upper Missouri. Here, seven Northern Plains tribes traded buffalo robes and other fur
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, so we’re off to a good start, aren’t we?
Just 133 miles SXSW from Williston we find the most tourist-visited North Dakota. Medora boasts 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 and 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 loaded with short and easy hiking trails and views the like of which we won’t see at other National Parks. Crowd-free to say the least, the park 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 AmericInn of Medora for $100 a night.
After finishing up at the south section, we’re going to a show at one of the truly unique playhouses in America. The Medora Musical is held at the Burning Rocks Amphitheater. Carved out of the landscape of the badlands, the theater is worth seeing even if no show is present, but 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 The Greatest Road Trip Ever Taken celebrates the offbeat better than any other travel planner in the world. Quirky is the word for a little detour we like to call “Enchanted Highway”. Six sculptures line up beside a 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 (Who else?) Teddy Roosevelt. It adds about 70 miles to our trip, but the laid-back peaceful vibe in North Dakota is leaving us unconcerned about the passing of time. We may never leave!
Next up is a site which takes us out of the bucolic peace of small town life and pioneer America, smack into current events. The Williston Oil Fields are creating an employment boom that hasn’t been seen since the 49ers came West for gold. The oil fields that make up “The Bakken” have turned the United States into one of the major players among oil-producing countries 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 13% in the last ten years.
In the Bakken 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, but it is a troubling side note to our trip through North Dakota.
Eighty-one miles further east on I-94 we come to the capital city of Bismarck. The Greatest Road Trip is fond of capital cities that double as small and smallish towns. That’s why Montpelier, Vermont, and Cheyenne, Wyoming are favorites. Bismarck boasts 61,272 residents. That counts as small, especially when we see the Capitol dome in the middle of town. Add the population in its sister city of Mandan and we’re still far below 85,000 population.
It may be delightfully short on population, but Bismarck is long on North Dakota history. We discover all of that at the North Dakota Heritage Center, located downtown on the Capitol grounds.
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’s 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 other rides, bumper cars, basketball games and arcade-type attractions. This is an old-school amusement park, meaning it is free to enter and pay-per-ride.
We’re spending a restful night at the Comfort Inn and Suites Mandan for $88 a night. Prayers up, mind off, eyes closed, because 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 winter scenes in “Fargo” that were shot in Minnesota because there wasn’t enough snow in town. They will tell you the show’s accents are overblown and exaggerated. However, 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!
The people who live in Fargo 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 here is knowledgeable and there is an open-air feel to the museum even though it is inside.
Our final stop will be at Thunder Road Amusement Park. There we 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 Home2Suites by Hilton Fargo for $98 a night.
It is a good night’s sleep after a good day in the middle of the country. We sincerely hope you enjoyed our trip through the great state of North Dakota.