Bismarck, North Dakota
Before we left Alaska, a package arrived in the mail from my mother. It was a book titled “Bad Land” by Jonathan Raban, and chronicled a chapter of American history that resonated deeply with her. Born and raised between the various quadrants of North Dakota and Montana, my mother, and her mother and father before her, were products of homesteading families. Even though my mother encouraged me to read books like “Little House on the Prairie” and other, similar books, this was the one she felt important for her adult daughter to read. As we move further toward Montana tomorrow, I’ve been scrambling to read as much of the book as I can before arriving, and today, one line of many stood out as we sailed along the smooth concrete of Interstate 94.
“We’re here on the prairie, with all the prairie’s distance and emptiness.”
Traveling with two children who have never visited a state without mountains within easy reach, the western half of Minnesota and all of North Dakota have brought a few moments of awe coupled with 11 year-old perspective.
(Speaking of the relative flatness of North Dakota, save for a few rolling bluffs and valleys): “It’s like the ocean; you think there’s nothing there then all of a sudden a fish jumps or a bird flies by. It’s flat but it’s alive.” (AK BF, son of a commercial fisherman, who is well-acquainted with oceanic landscapes.)
(Speaking about the distance between houses): “This part is like Alaska, only without the bears and spruce trees. People here need all this room, though, to grow crops. People in Alaska just don’t want to be near anyone else.” (AK Kid)
Today, we left Minneapolis NW KOA after a rousing game of mini-golf won by no one. With a long day of driving ahead, AK Dad and I felt it important the boys had a chance to run about and yell and shout before loading up, and I’m glad we did, since our 6-hour drive turned into a nearly 8-hour drive. A crane truck crash near St. Cloud caused the entire westbound freeway to be closed for a few hours, and reminiscent of Seward Highway closures in the past, we were doubly glad the kids had plenty of activities and snacks to keep busy while we waited.<—- a road trip must no matter where you are.
Once past the accident, however, the RV settled into a comfortable speed and on we went, stopping at a few parks and rest stops to play football and walk about in the shadow of enormous trees and chattering waterfowl. This region of the U.S. is flush with birds, and it is quite a delight to stop anywhere and watch them flitter or soar overhead, depending upon their duties of the day.
Fergus Falls and the Red River Valley are excellent options for stopping and stretching legs, and both areas are full of Americana unlike anything these Alaskans had seen before. Churches and schoolhouses left from the 1800s provided interesting views, and grassy expanses of play space were very welcome.
The boys wanted me to be sure to mention our dinner stop in Fargo, Culvers. A burger chain originating in Wisconsin but present as far west as North Dakota, their butter burgers were so good my son ate two. Oh, and don’t forget the Concrete Mixer, a milkshake so thick you need a scoop to haul it to your mouth. No kidding. That’s custard, folks, not just any ice cream.
It’s 10 p.m. right now, and we’re cozily catching up on journaling, postcards, and photograph editing. The Bismarck KOA is an example of cleanliness and friendliness, and owners Mark and Kaye Roeder did everything they could to make our welcome warm. Those traveling with kids will appreciate the playground, pool, and spotless grounds and facilities. Those not traveling with kids will equally appreciate the way they softly but firmly guide the rules around here. It’s fantastic, and part of me wishes we could stay longer.
Tomorrow, we travel through the state I count as the foundation of who I am and where I came from. Don’t we all yearn to know more about ourselves and the dirt our families have worked and walked upon?
What we learned today:
- Fargo Air Museum would have been a nice stop if the traffic accident hadn’t held us up.
- 11 is the perfect age to road trip across the United States. The questions are excellent and honest, and the observations from those are usually quite unique.
- Farmers across the United States will earn 1/2 of the income they did in 2013. Ironically, Minnesota Public Radio was airing a segment about this fact as we drove through the dust of many tractors and were passed by semi trucks bearing seed for planting.
- The rig is handling our crew, and the road, well. No problems to report at this point, and we discovered it costs $90 to fill up the 50-gallon tank. Gas is currently $1.99/gallon.