Two days of travel and we’ve arrived at our first real destination – Teddy Roosevelt National Park. We’ll spend today there. Yesterday, though, was a day of windshield discovery. Our route took us north on I-29, then a sharp left on I-94 at Fargo. Northeast South Dakota and southern North Dakota (how’s that for multi-directional?) are beautiful. After leaving Sioux Falls, any semblance of urban place slips away. Wyoming claims to be big sky country but the sky is enormous here too. The prairie and fields extend for miles. Exit signs (those that don’t say “no services”) point the way to towns two or three miles away and the towns are clearly visible on the horizon. I was struck by the many ponds and small lakes along the highway. They just appeared as water with no discernible edge other than the reeds lining them. They extend right up to the interstate and in some cases railroad tracks, fences and power poles bisected them. Imagine what this would have looked like without these infrastructure interruptions. The wind was pretty strong and you could tell it was probably a common thing. Farm houses are surounded by heavily planted rows of trees to serve as a wind (and snow?) break. At times there were windbreaks along the highway – those evergreen trees that look like graduated sizes of cookies stacked to make a Christmas tree.
I think North Dakotans have a good sense of humor. Or maybe they’re bored. We stopped in Jamestown for a picnic lunch and to see the World’s Largest Buffalo. Later we drove past Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow, standing sentinel over I-94. There are other “World’s Largest” in North Dakota, including a highway with multiple massive steel structures including the World’s Largest Grasshopper (missed that one). The World’s Largest Buffalo was in Frontier Town, a small city park, flanked on one side by a hill 4-5 stories tall and about a block long. It was covered with prairie grass and the wind hit the west side and the grass danced in crazy patterns. It was a sight I couldn’t capture in a photograph but I’ll remember it longer than the World’s Largest Buffalo.
After hundreds of miles of flat prairie, small bumps start to appear in the North Dakota landscape – like the hill in Jamestown – and the road begins to climb in elevation. It’s subtle, though, and the road is so straight it’s not noticeable at first. Kind of like putting the treadmill on a small incline and slowly increasing it. Then the small hills become more common and then it suddenly becomes much more rugged and Wild West-ish. The first badlands appeared around Dickinson which, unfortunately, is where the first Praying Mantis oil and gas rigs also appeared accompanied by rows of tanks. These are the real interruptions in the landscape. Even though you can argue that the symmetry of the tanks mimics the much larger grain silos and that the rigs are necessary for energy independence, it is such a disturbance in the wide open spaces. The huge flat tanks typically associated with oil and gas distribution as well as a massive building were visible far off on the horizon, probably along the rail line. This all made me very sad. Is this what cattle ranchers felt when the railroad arrived? Obviously, I don’t live here but the change in lifestyle is palpable.
2 thoughts on “North Dakota”
Great writing! We drove the opposite direction last September on our way home but I have some of the same memories you do–the bodies of water that just seemed to be there, no definition, but clearly supporting a wide variety of life, the huge views that when combined with the straight highways invite you to keep looking further out, and the dancing grass that gives you the chance to appreciate the relentless wind. I can imagine the winter is much more harsh, but summers there seem to have a unique and timeless quality to them that most people don’t know is even there.
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Sounds like a good trip.