We took off from Saint Paul this morning around 8:30 am. The directions to Beulah, ND are as follows: take I-94 West, turn right at the sign for Beulah. I think for a lot of people this drive can be done in 8 hours, however, you have to factor into this that my family LIVES for roadside attractions.
LIVES for them.
We also stop at every single rest stop between here and there, just because. The very first rest stop we came to had a very unusual name:
Despite the name, this was a fine place to use the bathroom. It was also the first time we ran into a group that would follow us much of our trek out west: the Mission Possible people. They were a large group of teenagers, all in matching tee-shirts, and we can only assume they were probably some kind of church group. But, pretty much if we stopped, they were there (or were there shortly after we arrived.)
The next place we stopped was Fergus Falls, MN, at the Continental Divide marker. This is not THE Continental Divide, though it is a point that "separates water that flows into the Mississippi watershed with the one that goes into Hudson's Bay." There's a giant surveyor's telescope statue, a little open-air interpretive center (which happened to be inhabited by a family of barn swallows and their fledglings), and a huge tee-pee type structure:
Oh, as a bonus you can see Mason's new hair color. Yeah, so that happened. Mason wanted to do something radical before the trip, I think precisely because we're headed into Trump Country. I think he wanted to make it absolutely clear that he was One of Those People. Anyway, I think he looks super-cool and was happy to pay for it.
There was a really pretty bush there, though I'm not sure what it was: sweet pea?
The next place we stopped was Rothsay, MN. Why Rothsay, you ask? Well, it's the home of the world's largest booming prairie chicken.
Directly across the park, which you can see a hint of in this picture, is the Rothsay Public School, home of the... Tigers? I mean, I guess I can see why you might not want to name your high school team the "prairie chickens" because 'chicken' has bad connotations, but why not the "Boomers"? Honestly, I could hire myself out to these people.
Once we headed into North Dakota proper, we discovered a few things. The first of which is that there are NO SERVICES off any of the exits. Normally, on these kinds of road trips, one depends on getting gas at some station just off the exit. Wisconsin is great for this. Anytime you see an exit, you're pretty much guaranteed gas, a toilet, possibly a McDonald's, as well. North Dakota? NOTHING. Worse, the roadside rests became fewer and further between. In Minnesota, you'd see a sign at each rest stop saying, "Next Rest Stop in ___ miles" and most of the time, it'd be 30 miles. We crossed the border into North Dakota, and suddenly the signs read, "Next Rest Stop in 69 miles."
Which is how we ended up in Valley City, ND.
Because we pulled into the first rest stop we saw (which was in the center of the highway, so a left exit) and it was closed. All the Mission Possible kids were there eating lunch, but we really, really needed to pee. I did snap off a picture of how FLAT North Dakota is, however:
The very next town was Valley City
, so we pulled in. We thought our best luck for a place to pee was the Visitor's Center, which was quite a distance into to town. It was a very weird little winding road that took us past a John Deere shop and several industrial looking places before we hit main street and this:
Not exactly a friendly entryway to town... and then the signs to the Visitor Center seemed to point us into an empty parking lot next to a gas station. In fact, I drove in and then drove back out again because it didn't seem right, but there was a sign saying "Visitor's Center" on a small little depot-like building off on the other side of the dusty parking lot. Turns out the Center also doubled as the town's Department of Motor Vehicles. The parking lot was also kind of... odd. Someone had spay painted a very rough outline of where you should park with a helpful scrawl of "park here." I should have taken a picture of this because it was very amateur hour meets "Pennywise," if you know what I mean.
But, the actual Visitor's Center was quite pleasant. They had a toilet, so I would have loved them even if they were terrifying. They had a little train history display and the carriage car of the Northern Pacific's superintendent (?), supposedly the only one still intact.They had a gift shop, so I bought a few postcards there to send to my various international friends.
Shawn's back has been hurting, so we decided to a little more walking around. Just across the street was a little walking bridge over the river and so we strolled across that and back again.
Back in the car, we watched a whole lot of nothing and NO SERVICES pass us by.
Shawn confessed to really loving scanning the dial for music. No surprise we found a lot of country music, but then Shawn and I are actually fans of country & western so we were kind of happy when we came across 104.7 DUKE FM
. We heard "Stand By Your Man" and "Vaya Con Dios, My Darling" and just a ton of "wow, I can't believe they're playing THAT." We passed many miles singing cheesy country songs.
The next place of interest we were headed for was Jamestown, ND, home of the world's largest buffalo statue. Shawn had previously only ever driven past the buffalo, which is visible from I-94, but since I accidentally turned into the first exit to Jamestown (in search of a toilet, what else?) we ended up checking out not only the buffalo itself, but also this tourist trap "frontier town."
Shawn is 6'1" for scale.
Also, for reasons known only to its sculptor, the buffalo is anatomically correct:
I guess this is important to some. Also, note the placement of the park bench. How many teenagers do you think take pictures touching the buffalo balls every year? Thousands, I'd bet.
In the field beyond is a buffalo preserve. We never saw the herd, which is a shame because there is (or, apparently, was) a very rare albino buffalo that's part of the herd called "White Cloud.
" It's unclear if her albino offspring or the other spontaneously born white buffalo is still there, but we saw no buffalo at all, so it didn't really matter. Shawn has it on her trip bucket list to see buffalo in the wild. We did see a buffalo farm just outside of the Twin Cities, but Shawn claims that "doesn't count" because they were on a farm.
Then there was more driving. Lots an lots of driving.
The next place we stopped was North Dakota's capitol, Bismarck. Shawn suggested that the capitol building
itself was a must-see. It totally was. Oh, and I forgot to mention that we dubbed this entire trip's motto: "Might Be Worth a Detour" If you can stop, stop! That's what we figure.
We went inside and took a look at the senate chambers.
There were all sorts of cool art deco features, including these little seating nooks:
We hit a traffic jam outside of Bismarck that delayed us, which was frustrating because the next planned stop was OUR HOTEL ROOM in Beulah, ND. We're spending the weekend here for Shawn's family's family reunion/wedding anniversary. We'd hoped to make it in time to eat dinner at "the house," but between that construction and the construction delay we hit coming up the highway to Beulah, there was no way.
Oh, actually, we had to make a stop to see Salem Sue
, the world's largest cow statue:
As we waited for the construction delay, we did get to see the spectacular sight of a rainstorm coming across the great plains:
Heckuva start to the trip, wouldn't you say? From here it's a few days here in Beulah and then ON TO YELLOWSTONE. Expect many, many more photos.