Interstate 94 North Dakota Jamestown Frontier Village Prairie Town - Buffalo museum Fort Totten Historic fort 1867 - Sully's Hill : National Game Preserve Devil's Lake the Wetlands Bismarck Canyonland Medora Theodore Roosevelt NP - the Badlands - Painted Canyon -
Château de Mores - Pitchfork Fondue - Medora City
Articles the American Buffalo | Le Marquis de Mores Other pages other states | articles
This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: North West - Part 1
In the travel series View America, North West - Part 1 covers Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.
My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 90 full-sized photos.
~ ~ ~ ~
NORTH DAKOTA is also called the Sioux State, after its original population, the Peace Garden State, because of the International Garden between the US and Canada, and the Flickertail State, after the abundance of squirrels. The name Dakota comes from the name of the Dakota tribe.
The capital is Bismarck and the largest city is Fargo. In 1889 North Dakota joined the U.S. as the 39th state. The border with Canada is the 49th parallel, which separates the US from Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The main river is the Missouri.
Its surface is approximately 183,000 km2, and the vegetation is mostly prairie grassland, of which only 1.5% is forested. North Dakota has about 630,000 inhabitants, with a density of 3.6 per km2. North Dakota's climate is continental, with hot summers, long cold winters, and temperature extremes of -60°F (-51°C) and 120°F (49°C).
The first European inhabitants were fur traders, but after the wars with the Indians and the arrival of the railroad, agriculture became the main activity. Though North Dakota is located in the Wheat Belt, mining, manufacturing and tourism are equally important. After Texas, the state is the second largest producer of lignite, a type of cheap coal which typically is processed into synthetic gas.
The Badlands have received their name because travelers found it a particularly bad area to travel through. Other points of Interest are Medora, le Château de Mores, and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Fargo, North Dakota's largest city, lies next to the border with Minnesota, and was named after William Fargo. In 1850 Henry Wells and William Fargo founded the group American Express in Albany, NY, for all express services and financial services in the eastern U.S. This group would later become world famous for its financial services. It is mostly known for its credit cards, but American Express also happens to be the largest travel agency in the world!
Describing the landscape is rather uncomplicated; flat, rural, with vast fields and lands, and just here and there a tree-lined farm. Farmers are still able to make a decent living in North Dakota despite the short season, because most farms are at least five thousand acres (2,000 hectares) in size.
Frontier Village is a pioneer town, which in this case appears to be a euphemism for a assortment of old and somewhat dilapidated buildings, usually donated by owners who wanted to get rid of them... The concept certainly has some historical merit, but unfortunately the layout and the decoration have been executed somewhat amateurishly.
Just outside the village stands the statue of the biggest buffalo in the world, a sixty-ton concrete sculpture of the American Buffalo !
Jamestown is also home to the National Buffalo Museum, that presents a historical overview of the history of this remarkable animal. There is quite a collection of paintings and drawings of buffalo, in addition to a really impressive collection of rifles and firearms, with which the animals were slaughtered.
On our way to historic Fort Totten we saw landscapes of simply immense fields, with only here and there a lonely farm. Usually the farm is surrounded by trees, to shield it from the wind. An interesting anecdote is that actually there is no native tree in North Dakota, and that all of the trees were introduced by Europeans !
At present, the fort is no more than a traditional barracks, as there are a dime a dozen. The buildings were converted to a community school, and there is hardly anything of interest to be seen.
In nearby Sully's Hill National Game Preserve a herd of buffalo can be admired, living in the wild on Sioux territory.
As luck would have it, at the time of our visit it was closed. Fortunately our guide had advised us to drive around to the back of the park, if this was the case.
And yes, in the rear of the park we saw a majestic herd of some eighty buffalo's! The entire herd counts some two hundred animals, and obviously our cameras clicked with a vengeance...
Devil's Lake, located around the city with the same name, is a so-called closed lake, meaning that no water either comes in from any river, or flows off to any river. All of the lake's water originates in rainwater from the surrounding area, and its volume decreases only by evaporation or by seeping into the aquifer of the deep groundwater. The water level of this lake is therefore rather volatile, with a difference in height of almost sixty feet (18 meters)!
In 1940, after several dry years, Devil's Lake covered a surface of about nine square miles (2,400 hectares), which in the intervening span of more than sixty years has increased to the current two hundred and seven square miles (53,600 hectares). Many private homes and lands have been flooded, and the panorama looks somewhat unreal, with many trees just standing in the water.
Geologists have calculated, that the current wet weather may persist for years, and that the lake could continue to grow up to 460 square miles (120,000 hectares). By then, millions of trees will have perished, more than twelve hundred houses will be flooded, as will all the roads leading to the city!
In New Salem, the attraction along the Interstate is Salem Sue, the goddess of dairymen, and the largest Holstein Cow in the world! Sue was built in 1974 and her statistics are impressive: 38 feet high, 50 feet long, 6 tons of reinforced fiberglass, and so big that she had to be built in three sections to get her up the hill...
Just before Medora, the landscape again changes completely, as abruptly as if someone had closed one door and opened a new one. This is the region of Canyon land, a virtual lunar landscape of deeply carved canyons with an extraordinary color palette.
Apparently, its soil consists mainly of sandy sediments, which are more or less petrified. The natural erosion of water, frost and wind gradually eroded the softest layers, and what remains is the exceptional panorama of Painted Canyon park!
The Visitor Center of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park presents a most interesting exhibition about Roosevelt's life in North Dakota. We visited the Log Cabin that Roosevelt built on his ranch. It is a rather simple cabin, although it has more windows than usually is the case.
A nice anecdote is that this cabin has traveled more than 5,000 miles since it was built, being regularly exhibited in several states. We watched a movie about the Badlands, nicely documented with texts by none other than Roosevelt, who during his life wrote thirty-six books!
The tour through the Badlands runs along the thirty-six-mile Loop South, whereby visitors can admire stunning views over the eroded canyons. The animal kingdom is abundantly represented with thousands of cute prairie dogs, moose, deer, bighorn sheep (mountain sheep with huge curved horns), and of course buffalos ! The park itself contains some 600 buffalos, and one can also come across small herds of wild horses!
The top of the mountain next to Medora accommodates the Amphitheater and the Pitchfork Fondue. The open Amphitheater was specially built to give presentations about the life and work of the beloved 26th president of the United States, Franklin Theodore Roosevelt.
The Pitchfork Fondue is an additional attraction, a sort of Fondue Bourguignonne party, but shod on American size. Enormous slabs of meat are stuck on pitchforks, and then immersed in equally huge bins of boiling oil. Maybe the presentation is somewhat less culinary than in Europe, but since they were expecting more than 450 guests for that evening, it certainly cannot be bad!
Medora's main street consists for the most part of souvenir shops, a few restaurants and saloons, and other shops. All buildings are made of wood, and deliberately modeled in the Wild West-style. This provides a beautiful and picturesque overall sight. The only building that is out of place is the County Courthouse. It has been built in a contemporary style, and clashes violently with the neighboring houses...