North Dakota’s tourism slogan is “Legendary.” That’s how I would describe our visit. We knocked a few things off our travel bucket list, including a stop at the Scandinavian Heritage Park and festival in Minot. We enjoyed a jam-packed trip around North Dakota.
It all started with a visit to our good friend, Dakota Thunder. He’s the world’s largest buffalo and calls Jamestown home. We visited him on last year’s trip, and since we were passing by on a nice sunny day, we felt a return visit was a good idea.
Continuing with our ongoing mission to seek out odd attractions along our travels, we stopped at a farm near Napoleon in central North Dakota to check out “Dinosaurs on the Prairie.” A farmer’s family arranged old wheat threshers in a field along a hill. It resembles a march of animals. It’s referred to as “Dinosaurs,” because they’re old machines.
Steele – a few miles east of Bismarck – is home to the world’s largest Sandhill crane. “Sandy” stands 40 feet tall in a park just off Interstate 94.
Bismarck residents recently launched public art projects that brightens downtown. The first project features painting electrical boxes. Instead of bland green or gray boxes, paintings can feature ballerinas or sunflowers among the art.
The second project features alley art. Oh, how we love alley art. About a dozen murals cover wall panels or columns. They range from recognizing great public school graduates to the famous Lakota Chief Sitting Bull. We loved every piece and can’t wait until we get back to see more alley art.
Our Bismarck visit included a trip to one of the best pumpkin patches in the nation. Papa’s Pumpkin Patch has been recognized by the Travel Channel and other national publications as one of the top pumpkin patches in the United States.
About 30 minutes north of Bismarck is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan. The Corps of Discovery spent their first winter of the two-year expedition (1804-06) at Fort Mandan. The expedition involved exploring the Missouri River area to the Pacific Ocean in an effort to help the young United States develop trade routes and relationships with Native American tribes.
The interpretive center has to be one of the best we’ve seen. The history of the expedition and its North Dakota period is presented well through the use of exhibits and displays. Items from that era are highlighted, as well as things “discovered” by the men along the expedition, including the first prairie dog seen by them as well as buffalo hide.
Did you know that dinosaurs once roamed the state? From prehistoric bison to triceratops, North Dakota has been the site of some interesting archaeological digs. The fossils are one of the main galleries people can visit at the State Heritage Center in Bismarck.
The galleries feature the state’s history involving agriculture, immigration, energy and military. One section focuses on steps the state has taken to become more “green,” or environmentally responsible. It’s located in the Governor’s Gallery.
Minot is home to the Dakota Territory Air Museum. The museum, which opened in 1986, features two buildings highlighting the history of airplanes and the military in the Minot area. The main building features a replica of an early plane from the days of the Wright brothers. Military equipment is also featured in the primary building.
A second hangar features World War II aircraft. The planes actually fly and are hosted by the museum for the Texas Legends flying group. Aircraft in the WWII hangar can be rotated out. We saw a variety of planes, from a British spitfire to a P51 Mustang, used by the Americans.
I was truly excited to visit the Scandinavian Heritage Park and then the Norsk Hostfest (pronounced hoose-fest). The heritage park highlights the history of the five nations that make up Scandinavia – Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden. The park features statues of famous Scandinavians, including Leif Erikson, Hans Christian-Andersen and Sondre Norheim (father of modern skiing).
A replica of a Norwegian Stave church stands at the center of the heritage park. The Stave is based on the one located in Gol.
A 30-foot tall Dala (dawla) horse was one of my favorite stops at the park. My dad was Swedish, and was proud of his heritage. The Dala was designed as a child’s toy, but it has become a national symbol of Sweden. Dalas are brightly colored.
The Hostfest is an annual celebration of Scandinavian culture at the state fairgrounds. Thousands of people from around the world visit the event. We took in music, dances, vendor exhibits and other attractions. People dress in Scandinavian attire and roam the festivities.
We had a great visit to the Bismarck and Minot areas (and places in-between). Our adventure continued with a trip to the International Peace Garden at the US-Canada border, then on to Grand Forks.
Visiting the International Peace Garden has long been on my bucket list. Along the way to the garden, we checked out a few places. Just outside Lake Metigoshe State Park in the Turtle Mountains, we checked out the 11-year-old Mystical Horizon. It’s supposed to represent a modern Stonehenge. Six granite walls of varying size act as a solar calendar. It was an interesting road trip attraction to us.
The state park, which hugs the Canadian border was a beautiful drive. With trees displaying fall color, the drive was breathtaking. At one point, some gray clouds seem to part and let sunlight through, sort of like a higher power wanted to take a closer look.
All the driving and sightseeing had made us hungry, so we thought “What’s better at 10 a.m. than a banana split?” Nothing. So, we drove off to Bottineau and Pride Dairy, home of North Dakota’s best ice cream. We tried the Pig, a banana split featuring your choice of toppings. Marshmallow, strawberry-rhubarb, hot chocolate and chokecherry.
Pride Dairy started in 1930 as a place where farmers could bring excess cream. Pride Dairy is a favorite among tourists and the lone remaining small town creamery in North Dakota.
Bottineau is also home to the world’s largest turtle riding a snowmobile. Tommy the Turtle proudly rides his snowmobile in a city park just off the main highway.
We finally made our way to the border and the home of the International Peace Garden. The place is beautiful. Perennials were the flowers we saw during our visit. The Peace Garden is split between the United States and Canada. Visitors can freely roam on the Manitoba side without a passport (at least for Americans). When we left to head down to Grand Forks, the US border patrol agent checked our drivers’ licenses. However, passports are the preferred method for identification.
After spending about three hours at the garden (you could easily spend an entire day), we were allowed back into the United States and headed on to our eventual destination of Grand Forks. But, we had a couple of stops along the way to make.
We did stop in Dunseth, which is a small town about 14 miles south of the Peace Garden. We enjoyed lunch at a small diner and scored another giant turtle. We’el Turtle is the world’s largest turtle made from tire rims. Amazing!
Once back on the road, we headed down Highway 5 toward Langdon. When I was in the Air Force, I worked the missile security facility near Langdon. I wondered if the old place would be there since the missile field was closed years ago as part of a weapons treaty with Russia. Well, to my surprise (and sadness), Bravo Zero (Bravo-0) was there. It was abandoned and run down. A relic of the old Cold War. I did walk on the property a little. I was tempted to check out the inside of the building. But, we were running up against the clock to make another stop, so we headed back on the road. Cooperstown keeps the history alive with a former launch control facility serving as a museum.
We were encouraged to check out the Pembina Gorge, northwest of Grand Forks, near the Canadian border. It was an impressive area, with colorful trees reaching deep across the hills. We followed a path for a short time and found the perfect spot to take in the scenery.
Once in Grand Forks, we spent a morning checking out some local sights. Grand Forks’ Sertoma Park is home to a Japanese garden. Lanterns are featured around the pond, which was dedicated to the city from its sister city, Awano, Japan.
Our visit to Grand Forks included a self-guided walking tour of the University of North Dakota campus. It combines the beauty and elegance of older buildings with contemporary ones.
We concluded our trip to the Forks with a walking tour of downtown. We visited a couple of unique stores – Widman’s Candy (they produce chocolate-covered potato chips among other treats) and Badman Design, who creates beautiful metalsmith works.
A walk along Red River, which flows north into Lake Winnipeg in Canada, provided a serene way to wrap up our visit. While calm during our walk, the river has been known for its flooding during spring thaws. A marker notes the five major floods of the river, with three of them occurring since 1981. The last two occurred in 1996 and 1997.
One block downtown offers visitors the chance to see images and read about the last flood and the damage it did. The building behind the displays replaced the destruction of the last flood.
As we traveled south toward home, we had to exit Interstate 29 for Wahpeton. The small town is home to the world’s largest catfish statue – The Wahpper.
We enjoyed another grand visit to the “Peace Garden State.” We are already excited to return and check out more attractions and food.
For more information on North Dakota attractions, please visit www.ndtourism.com.