As a parent, we often find ourselves saying sentences we never expected to say. I was reminded of this once again at Teddy Roosevelt National Park.
As we toured this historic cabin where TR had come to get over the death of his wife and mother (they died on the same day!), we saw the shirt Teddy was wearing when someone shot him, his actual traveling luggage and various other pieces. I suddenly head a familiar sound followed by a familiar smell coming from the little boy I had been escorting through the history.
“Braden! We do NOT toot in Teddy Roosevelt’s cabin!”
Nope. Never expected to say that one.
North Dakota brought us a few more unexpected surprises and they were almost all more pleasant than that one.
Eastern North Dakota
I feel like if you were on Family Feud and the category was “Boring State,” both of the Dakotas would be on the board. As we’d learned from South Dakota last summer, this was not the case. South Dakota was one of our Top 5 favorite states. While I wouldn’t say North Dakota is in the Top 5, we also feel like it was an underrated state.
On our way into the state, we stopped for one night just west of Fargo at an RV park attached to a Days Inn that has an indoor waterpark. “North Dakota Water Park” sounds like a punchline, but Braden really loved it. That is, he loved it until he got pool toe. If you’ve never had this, it’s when you’ve spent to much time walking on a rough concrete pool bottom with soft, raisiney toes. It hurts!
We heard many good things about Fargo, but knew we would be there in few weeks for another conference so we sped onto Bismarck.
My favorite North Dakota joke I heard came from an engineer at one of the telcos I was working with in North Dakota. He said it was so flat there, that when his dog ran away the other week, he could see him running for three days. That may be an old joke out there, but it was new and funny to me.
In Bismarck, we picked up our romance with Lewis and Clark. As you may remember, Braden was introduced to the explorers in Saint Louis early in the trip and we’ve hit several related stops like Sacagawea’s grave along the way. We were excited to be back in Lewis and Clark territory on the Missouri River around Bismarck. Our second night in ND, we stayed at Cross Ranch State Park north of town and camped very close to where The Corps of Discovery (the name Thomas Jefferson gave Lewis and Clark’s group) had camped.
It was an odd mix of cold enough for Braden and I to make snow balls from the fading snow drifts, but also warm enough for us all to pick up ticks. North Dakota was also living up to it’s reputation as one of the windiest states in the Union.
We camped at Cross Ranch in park because it was close to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the Fort Mandan replica. The interpretive center does a nice job of telling the explorers’ story. The fort, while interesting to look at, is a replica built about 8 miles from where the site of the actual Fort Mandan where the corps spent a winter. “A” for effort, “D” for authenticity. Still a worthy stop.
We were impressed with Bismarck itself. It feels like a comfortable size for us. We’re a big fan of the mid-sized cities like Chattanooga and that’s about the way Bismarck felt.
Bismarck has a nice park on the banks of the Missouri River with cool eagle statues and a replica of the keelboat Lewis and Clark used to travel up the river. It is also home to the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum. The museum had a nice collection of exhibits on the natural history of the state, native Indian tribes and farming history. The star of the show, however, was Dakota the Edmontosaurus, which isn’t just fossilized bones, but actual fossilized dinosaur skin! We didn’t even know that was a thing, but apparently it is and Dakota’s discovery in North Dakota was a big deal for scientists all over the world.
The North Dakota Capitol building is different than most others we’ve seen. Officially, it’s “art deco,” but it looks mostly like a utilitarian office building. The middle part of it is an impressive 14 stories high and it towers over everything else around. I have since learned that the governor’s office is on one of the bottom floors and the top floors are mostly used for storage. This is disappointing because I really pictured the governor at the top floor, looking out and surveying most of the state.
We stayed at a KOA on the east side of town and I used this location to work with a new client in Steele, ND. Steele, as you may have heard, is home of the “World’s Largest Sandhill Crane.” Don’t confuse it with Jamestown a few miles east on I-94, which is home of the “World’s Largest Buffalo.”
While in Bismarck, I learned a little bit about just how rural things can get in North Dakota. I visited a school was kindergarten to 7th grade. Next year, as the kids get older, it will be 1st grade to 8th grade, because there are only nine kids in the school. I attended a school board meeting where one of the things discussed was which zoo the children would visit on an upcoming field trip: Bismarck or Minot. That is what I’d call an involved school board!
Based on a recommendation from Jess’s new sister-in-law Rachel (you may remember the long drive from Myrtle Beach to get to their wedding in Georgia from earlier in the blog), we ate at a restaurant called Space Aliens, which was unlike anything we’d seen before. It’s got a heavy UFO/extraterrestrial theme that includes spaceships on the outside walls of the restaurant. Jess enjoyed a chicken quesadilla and Braden has not stopped talking about this place or the pizza. I broke my own rule and ordered barbecue at a place where I couldn’t smell a smoker and was disappointed in the brisket. My fault.
We had Wi-Fi at the KOA and several other parks that was strong enough to stream music, so our soundtrack for this part of the trip has been music from Moana, Trolls and Hamilton. We ordered the CDs for Hamilton for offline listening and had it shipped to the campground and we’ve gone through it plenty of times. We can’t wait to get tickets when it comes to the Fox Theater in Atlanta in Spring of 2018.
We also used the wi-fi to file our income taxes right before the deadline. Whew!
One of the roadside attractions in North Dakota is the Enchanted Highway. Though it was slightly out of the way, between Bismarck and Medora, it was worth the short drive to see the statues and other artwork.
Medora, N.D. and Teddy Roosevelt National Park
After the brief enchanted detour, we headed west to check out another National Park: Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Ever since Mount Rushmore last summer, Theodore Roosevelt had become an icon for us and I was honestly as interested in learning a little TR history as I was about seeing the pretty scenery.
Jess and I started a audio book biography on Roosevelt while at the park in April. I didn’t realize when we started it that it was 40 hours long. Despite listening to it almost every night and on many long drives, we’re only just now starting part 4 of 5 on June 20. Teddy is an interesting guy. Not sure he’s 40 hours worth of interesting, but who are we to argue.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is in Medora, ND. Medora is absolutely a ghost town before late May. How dead was it? So dead that the only two protestant churches in town didn’t even open for Easter Sunday service. We streamed our church’s service over the park’s Wi-Fi. We missed being home with family for Easter, or at least going to our church.
But a beautiful national park will certainly help minimize any loneliness. We took a nice long hike through the petrified forrest at the park, and though we got lost a couple of times both driving and hiking, it was a beautiful place. The area where the trail had a fence and gate on one side to keep the local farm cows and the National Park bison from mixing. As we went back to the car, there was a big bull buffalo standing right next to the trail at the gate. I know they are plant-eaters, but they are also huge and scary so we waited for him to move far enough away where we felt is was safe to nervously skirt by.
In addition to bison, Roosevelt National Park is also famous for feral horses and prairie dogs. The horses were beautiful, but the prairie dogs stole our attention. We’d never seen that many. The wonderful park rangers (one was named Ben) told us they have so many, they measure them by the acres instead of a number of individuals.
The rangers told us where to find a great horned owl nest and we found it on very windy and cold canyon. They also pointed us toward a badger den, and though we didn’t see the badger, we did spot our first porcupine we’d ever seen. They are much bigger than expected and have a very funny waddle. Luckily, the dogs were inside the camper and we were 20+ feet away when we saw it.
As far as the history goes, they had a nice collection of original articles from where TR visited North Dakota. He spent a good deal of time there getting over the death of his wife and mother, both of whom died on Feb. 14, 1884. They had some of TR’s actual luggage from his trips, but to me, the coolest thing was the under shirt he was wearing when a would-be assassin shot him during a speech. He famously finished his speech and the bloodstained undershirt is there for visitors to see.
Braden and Jess visited the Dickinson Museum Center. In addition to dinosaurs, it had the coolest sand box they had ever seen with a projection over top that responded to changes in the sand.
Unfortunately, while we were in Medora, Braden got croup. Remarkably, he hadn’t needed to visit the doctor at all on the trip, but when he started making some scary, wheezing noises, we knew it was time to find one. His little voice disappeared to a whisper for about three days and he was pretty pitiful. We lucked up by finding an awesome doctor, Dr. White, in Dickinson. He and the staff were great, and the exam room had a giant US map where we played guessing games about the cities listed.
Medora was close to the Montana state line, so we headed a little farther west into Big Sky Country.