Mission

MISSION:
To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Flickertail State, The Peace Garden State, The Rough Rider State

I have to admit (and I know that this won't be a huge shock), that my expectations for North Dakota were not that high. Let's be honest, how many of you out there really feel the "I want to travel to North Dakota" bug? In fact, I people constantly questioning my trip here; heck, I even had locals ask me "why?" That is never a good sign. My answer was always the same, that if I was going to see all the states properly, then I had to not just step foot over the line, but I had to explore it, I had to see something(s).

I did what I wanted. I saw stuff. I went to the cities. I went to the small towns. The parks. Saw roadside attractions. Got lost and drove randomly around on new roads being built at the speed of light. And heard "Don't you know" more times then I could count. I gave North Dakota a chance to wow me. I spent the better part of 4 days there. Not sure I would go back, but it was a nice journey.

I loved Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park is located in the western end of the state. It takes its name sake from our 26th president Teddy Roosevelt (that's 26 counting Cleveland 2x). These are the therapeutic lands where he went to heal after the death of his mother and his first wife. These are the lands that helped inspire his vision of a sustainable land, where his future legacy took hold. These lands helped create the legend. And for any National Parks lover, they are a "must see". They are not flashy and iconic like Yellowstone or Yosemite, or as green as the Everglades and Sequoia, or as wondrous as Grand Cannon and Arches... but these lands have a rugged beauty. They are a mix of Badlands and grasslands; a collision of topography. Painted landscapes of the forever changing clay hills of the badlands with the all surprises they release, and the gentle wave of the grass moving with the breeze. And after hiking over the badlands to get to the petrified forest, the solid footing of the grasslands is a wondrous feature. The forest is home to some of the largest stumps I have ever seen - taller than me and much wider than I can put my arms around. And the type of petrification is the kind seen in Florissant Fossil Beds, the kind where the tree looks like it was carved out of stone. It retains all of its wood-like characteristics, it is just cerement-like now. You can see bark, you can see tree slivers, or whole logs. It is like a sci-fi movie where the villain has the power to turn you to stone. But if you look closely enough on the trail, there are jeweled pieces, more like you see in Arizona. These pieces reflect the sun and scream "look at me"... in fact, I walked past one piece that looked like a geode with druzy quartz clumped in the center. It was dazzling and well worth the hike.

The upper unit of the park is slightly different. It is smaller, yes, but it is also the section that the Little Missouri cuts through. And here you see the impacts of the last ice age more... There are erratics in the grasslands (aka random large rocks that don't belong there). There are long-horn cattle roaming the grounds as a homage to the areas grazing past. Wildlife viewing is easier with wide open fields - buffalo roam these parts. The park is fenced off as to not intermix the wildlife with the domesticated cattle. Sight lines are impacted by oil drilling. But the best part is the story ... where Roosevelt hopped on a boat to track down thieves, and he brought them back to Dickinson for processing.

The gateway town to Teddy Roosevelt Park is tiny Medora. Locals kept mentioning the Medora Musical, and sadly it did not start until I left town. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, it looks back at the area's wild west history - and that history is not complete without Teddy... and you can visit his first cabin in Medora. Trust me, It is not White House like!

Small towns that dot the state make its cities look huge by comparison. I couldn't visit North Dakota without a visit to Fargo. Yes, I did ask around about the movie (it turns out that it was filmed in a suburb of Minneapolis). BUT, they do have a woodchipper at the visitor center. You have to embrace what makes you famous, even if its a gross scene in an insane Farley Brothers movie. And to fit that quirky style, I found a fun necklace in Zandbroz Variety (the shop with a little of everything - and an eclectic collection of accessories and housewares.) The shopkeepers loved my traveling story and sent me to dinner at the Blackbird for some fancy ND pizza (be still my NJ heart). I stand by my opinion that it was more like flatbread (no pizza has aioli on it). But hey, do as the Dakotians do, don't you know!

I also spent a night in Minot. I had originally planned for it to be a pass-through area, but something caught my eye - the Scandinavian Heritage Center. More specifically a gorgeous wooden structure. After driving past it for 4 blocks, I turned around and spent the next 1 1/2 hours wandering the grounds and talking to the interpreters. Turns out that wooden structure was a beautiful Norwegian church - a replica of a Gol Stave Church. This intricately-carved structure represents the Christian faith and represents a time where nordic culture moved away from their culture and joined the Catholic Church (forcefully or not). Religion not withstanding, the church is beautiful... and with that and the other fun pieces in the park, including the Dalla Horse, the sauna, the mosaic of the nordic region and the statues of Hans Christian Andersen & Leif Erikson - this was a side trip, well worth it!


The International Peace Gardens were just being planted for the season when I arrived. Never fear, there was still plenty to see in this park. There was the conservatory that housed a huge array of arid landscape plants... I am sure the dry heat in there feels wonderful for visitors in the winter. I loved how the horticulturalists displayed the succulents and cacti in sections of color- just beautiful. Outside, the trees were literally humming with bees. Skipperjacks were dancing around waving their "broken" wings to lead you away from their nesting grounds. And you could walk the border line between the US and Canada. The surrounding forest had a plowed line in the trees to designate the boundry - guess the moose, wolves and eagles need passports too (cuz that is all who would be using that area.) The Peace Garden is a tranquil place with a Peace Tower, Peace Chimes, a memorial and a Peace Chapel. Yep, there is a theme. Its a lovely idea, and one that is needed. The Gardens remind you of that too with the September 11th Memorial, with I-beams from the World Trade Center. After seeing that I needed the Peace Chapel to meditate (and read all the quotes regarding love, peace and harmony.) We can do better as people - we have to!

After my long walk around the Gardens I dipped my toes in the cold cold waters of Lake Metigoshe. It brought me flashes of the freezing cold waters for swimming lessons in NJ. It takes some truly high metabolism to stay in those waters... and as I stood with my feet in the water, talking to some locals about the area and my trip, I watched a few kids turn all sorts of shades of purple while diving into the water. I don't know why we as kids never want to get out, even when we are physically shivering, but I remember by mom calling for us to "get out now", just as these parents did to their blue kids. And I got a final laugh as a watched one "knock" his sister's flip-flop off the deck, so he would have to go back in... oh, the tricks never change!


There was a lot of roadside Americana in North Dakota. When planning my trip, I know I wanted to veer off the highway to see the Enchanted Highway. And if you are in the area, you should too. It is impressive. Gary Greff took it upon himself to create the largest metal art sculptures in the world - no joke... and from Gladstone to Regent, you can get out of your car and explore his creations, from fishing ponds to grouse, and a farming family to a collection of grasshoppers. I was enchanted! In Northern North Dakota, at the foothills, towns were more cheeky with their roadside art... Tommy the Turtle rides the local lakes on his jet ski and the another turtle is made of tire-wells. Don't know what it is, but I have to get out and see this crazy stuff... just like I had to stand in the center of North America in Rugby.

North Dakota, I think those winters are making you a bit crazy. Thanks for the laughs.

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