As I set out on my quest to visit all fifty states, I realized that certain states would be harder to visit than others. North Dakota is one of those. There are not many tourist attractions and because of its location, I felt that I needed a reason to go. As a history buff and admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, a symposium is held every year at Dickinson State University in Dickinson and I saw this as my reason for visiting North Dakota. Because North Dakota is the 3rd least populous state, there are not many major airports to fly into, especially near Dickinson. Most of them are regional airports and those that have international in its title is because of Canada. Airline tickets into any of the regional airports were so expensive that I decided to fly into Fargo, the state’s largest city, and drive to Dickinson. It’s a four hour drive on Interstate 94. To break up the monotony of a boring drive, I decided to stop at any city or unusual roadside attraction that I could find.
I found my first roadside attraction an hour and a half away in Jamestown. Sitting directly off of the interstate was a large sculpture of a buffalo. I took the next exit so I could visit this enormous buffalo and I ended up in Frontier Village. This village consists of twenty-four original buildings which were moved from around the state to recreate a prairie town. Each building is open to visitors and is filled with original and time period artifacts. Visit a post office, jail, general store, saloon, and many others. At the very end of the boardwalk, is Louis L’Amour Writer’s Shack. This shack celebrates Jamestown’s most famous son and has a collection of all his works on display.
I walked my way through Frontier Village and as I looked up, I was greeted by a 26 foot, 60 ton buffalo nicknamed Dakota Thunder. It is the world’s largest buffalo monument and has been a popular roadside attraction for over 50 years. Dakota Thunder symbolizes Jamestown’s nickname, The Buffalo City. Just around the corner from the large buffalo is the National Buffalo Museum which tells the story of these animals from prehistoric times to the present. Adjacent to the museum and Frontier Village is 250 acres where a herd of buffalo roam on the open prairie. Be sure to look for the three rare albino buffalo, which are the prize of the herd.
Another hour and an half drive on Interstate 94 brought me to Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. I wanted to get a bird eye’s view of Bismarck, so I went to the largest building in the state of North Dakota to do it, the State Capitol building. This 19 story building in no way resembles the traditional dome in most other states, but then again North Dakota is not like most other states. The Capitol sits at the heart of a 160 acre campus surrounded by other government buildings such as the State Library, Transportation Department, North Dakota Heritage Center, and many other buildings. Just around the corner of the campus is the Governor’s Residence.
Inside the Capitol building, I was given a free guided tour and since I was the only one on the tour, I could take my time and ask all of the questions that I wanted. Before we went upstairs, she was quick to point out the North Dakota Hall of Fame with pictures of Theodore Roosevelt and Phil Jackson. Pictures adorned the walls with famous people that have had some connection with North Dakota. We went to the legislative floor where there was a swarm of people buying and selling goods along the massive corridor. She told me certain times of the year people come here to sell and buy products which are made in North Dakota. I took a moment to sample some Kuchen, a German word for cake.
After I was done sampling desserts, we stopped in for a few minutes to see the House and Senate chambers. The legislative session was over so I didn’t get to see progress in action. The North Dakota Supreme Court is housed in the judicial wing of the Capitol building. Because of a trial, it was closed to the public. We then proceeded up to the 18th floor, which is used as an observation deck. The tour officially ends here and you can spend as much time up here as you want. This vantage point gives a 360 degree view of Bismarck and the surrounding area. Bismarck sits on the Missouri River and you can see for miles in any direction which gives the Capitol building its nickname, Skyscraper on the Prairie.
Before I left the Capitol grounds, I stopped in at the North Dakota Heritage Museum. It is the state’s official history museum documenting the state’s history dating back to prehistoric times. It is home to a rare mummified dinosaur as well as other prehistoric animals and birds. It also tells the story of the Indians in North Dakota and the European migration in the late 1800’s. Outside of the Heritage Center is a statue of Sacagawea, an important person in North Dakota. There are numerous other statues surrounding the Capitol Campus.
I decided to make one more stop before heading to Dickinson. I wanted to visit the Knife River Indian Village, one of only three National Park sites in the state. The park preserves the history of the Northern Plains Indians and has a recreation of an earth lodge. The site is an hour and a half northwest of Bismarck, near the town of Stanton. The drive is pretty desolate and boring with occasional rolling hills and farmlands. However, my drive was not without its excitement. As I was taking in the drive and the surrounding landscape, I failed to notice that I was exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph. I always assumed the unwritten rule was that 10 or under and you were okay. Not according to the North Dakota State Trooper that pulled me over. He admonished me with a speeding ticket that only cost $20. By far the cheapest speeding ticket I ever received, but my insurance still had something to say about it. After all of that, he was nice to give me directions to the NPS site, a mere one mile away.
After a few picture taking opportunities, a roadside attraction, and a speeding ticket, it was about time to head to Dickinson, still two hours away. I left Stanton with my wallet a little thinner and headed to back to the interstate on ND Route 31. As I was about to merge onto I-94, what did I see? It was another roadside attraction, this time in the shape of a cow. I was drawn to it as if by some sort of animal magnetism. Sitting high above the interstate at Exit 127 is Salem Sue, the world’s largest Holstein Cow. Salem Sue is 38 feet tall and 50 feet long and made entirely of fiberglass. It was built to honor the local dairy farming industry.
A buffalo, a cow, what’s next? I figured that there wasn’t much to see in North Dakota, but I was wrong. My four hour drive turned into ten hours. Twenty miles outside of Dickinson, I noticed a large metal sculpture of geese. I knew from a little previous research that this was the beginning of the Enchanted Highway. But after ten hours and starving, I left the Enchanted Highway for another day, ready to get to Dickinson to eat and pass out.