Travels 2016: Enjoying a ‘Legendary’ trip around North Dakota

North Dakota

Lake Sakakawea north of Minot provides a beautiful view.

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.

North Dakota

Dakota Thunder is the world’s largest buffalo/bison.

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.

North Dakota

“Dinosaurs on the Prairie” in south central North Dakota.

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.

North Dakota

Sandy is the world’s largest Sandhill crane.

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.

North Dakota

Bismarck does an outstanding job in creating public 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.

North Dakota

Lakota Chief Sitting Bull is one of the first murals to appear as part of a downtown Bismarck art project.

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.

North Dakota

Papa’s Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck is 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.

North Dakota

A replica of Lewis and Clark’s Fort Mandan was designed based on the expedition’s drawings and notes.

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.

North Dakota

Native American art is featured as part of the interpretive center.

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.

North Dakota

Triceratops were among the dinosaurs that once roamed North Dakota.

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.

North Dakota

The North Dakota Heritage Center and Museum in Bismarck.

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.

North Dakota

A replica of the Wright brothers’ attempt to fly.

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.

North Dakota

An American P-61 Mustang from World War II.

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).

North Dakota

Statue of Leif Ericson stands prominently at the Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot. In the distance is a Stave church, based on one in Norway.

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.

North Dakota

The Swedish Dala horse stands 30 feet tall.

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.

North Dakota

Traditional folk music was featured at the annual Norsk Hostfest in Minot.

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.

North Dakota

Mystical Horizon is a modern Stonehenge.

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.

North Dakota

Lake Metigoshe.

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.

North Dakota

Ice cream treat at Pride Dairy in Bottineau.

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.

North Dakota

Tommy the Turtle is the world’s largest turtle riding a snowmobile.

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.

North Dakota

The peace towers at the International Peace Garden just north of Dunseth along the US-Canadian border. Due to wear, the towers will be demolished with a new design taking their place.

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!

North Dakota

We’el Turtle – the world’s largest made from tire rims – calls Dunseth home.

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.

North Dakota

Bravo Zero, near Langdon, was once a part of the American strategic force. Now, it sits empty with overgrown grass and weeds as a Cold War relic.

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.

North Dakota

Pembina Gorge.

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.

North Dakota

Grand Forks’ Japanese Garden.

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.

North Dakota

The University of North Dakota has one of the nation’s best flight schools.

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.

North Dakota

A Norwegian flag made from metal by Badman Designs.

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.

North Dakota

The Red River, which separates Grand Forks from East Grand Forks, Minnesota.

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.

North Dakota

A reminder from the tragedy that struck during the 1997 Red River 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.

North Dakota

The world’s largest carp fish statue resides in Wahpeton.

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

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