NORTH DAKOTA
  Enjoy Interstate 94 As You Drive Across the Prairie
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As an experienced Griswold-style family traveler, I have learned to appreciate all of America's scenic areas. Certainly, North Dakota is populated by good, hard-working Americans, but the state is not known as a destination... But, y'know what? ND has a few attractions that you and your family may want to see.

We left Minneapolis at about 5:00 AM and drove past many farms, ponds and lakes. The morning sun cast beautiful shadows across the scenic landscape.

Our first stop was Fergus Falls, Minnesota, roughly 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis and about 55 miles east of the junction of I-94 and the Minnesota - North Dakota line. At I-94 Exit 55, just south of Fergus Falls, you’ll find a giant transit... a land measuring device. Located at the top of a hill, just across the road from the Citgo station, this 20-foot tall enigmatic monument marks the continental divide. It illustrates the fact that the area of Minnesota north of the marker would actually be a part of Canada if it weren’t for the Treaty of 1818... a result of the War of 1812. And if that’s not enough, Fergus Falls is also home to the world’s largest otter. This 40-foot long steel and concrete critter overlooks a lake in Fergus Falls’ Adams Park. If you can’t find it, just stop by a gas station or a convenience store and ask them where to find "the otter" or "the park". That’s how we found it.

From Fergus Falls, we traveled an hour northwest to Fargo, North Dakota... just across the MN-ND state line. This city of 74,000 is North Dakota’s largest and is located at I-94 Mile Marker (MM) 351. It's a largely uninteresting city to the typical traveler.

After passing through the intersection of I-94 and I-29, the landscape quickly becomes very dull. This 100-mile stretch has virtually nothing to offer the curious motorist. The land is almost completely flat. There’s a giant electricity-generating windmill near mile marker 298. The windmill is visible for several miles as you approach it from the east. The monotonous terrain is briefly broken about 60 miles from Fargo where the terrain suddenly becomes rolling for about a 2-miles stretch as you pass through Valley City. At this point, you are about 45 minutes away from Jamestown. Time to arouse the kids and let them know that they are about to see the world’s biggest buffalo.

With a population of about 15,000, Jamestown is one of the larger communities along I-94 in North Dakota. Jamestown is home to "Frontier Village", a small collection of buildings meant to resemble those of the pioneer era. There’s a general store, jail, barber shop, saloon, etc. The buildings are certainly not dilapidated... but they are not especially fancy or well maintained. There is no cost to explore the village. The village’s main highlight located at the end of the village’s only street. Perched upon a terrace overlooking I-94, the world’s largest buffalo towers majestically above the surrounding prairie. Built in 1960, this concrete anatomically-correct behemoth weighs 60 tons. It’s 46 feet long, 26 feet tall and 14 feet wide. Right next to Frontier Village is the National Buffalo Museum. This tiny museum is dedicated to the history of the American bison (a.k.a."buffalo"). It also has animal mounts and various Native American art and artifacts. The National Buffalo Museum also has a small herd of captive buffalo, which are visible from the concrete buffalo. Frontier Village, the World’s Largest Buffalo, and the National Buffalo Museum are very easily accessible from the highway... maybe two minutes off and on. Just take Exit 258 and follow the signs. We were there for about 45 minutes. It’s not Disney World... but it’s a pleasant and easy little family-friendly stop. And best of all... it's cheap. Frontier Village and the large buffalo are free attractions.

We then traversed another 60 miles of unremarkable scenery towards our next destination... The World’s Largest Sandhill Crane in tiny Steele, ND. Situated in a lot adjacent to a run-down motel, this large bird stands about 50 feet tall. It’s not nearly as impressive as the buffalo, but it’s still worth a look. It’s located right at Exit 205 and is easily visible from the highway if you don’t want to stop.

Another 40 miles to our next stop... Bismarck. Although North Dakota’s capital has several attractions worth seeing (e.g. the 19-story state capitol building, the Dakota Zoo, riverboat cruises), we just stopped there for lunch. I found a fantastic and unusual restaurant in the AAA Tour Book called Space Aliens Grill & Bar. This unique theme restaurant is designed to resemble the interior of a flying saucer. The cavernous round dining room is drenched in bold, primary colors... lots of neon and flashing lights... and tons of sci-fi memorabilia and outer space decor. The center of the dining room is sunken. It’s centerpiece is a life-size model of a spacesuit-clad astronaut planting the American flag on the moon. Even the bathrooms are heavily decorated with otherworldly styling. Space Aliens Bar & Grill is entirely family friendly. The bar area is located off the dining room and is barely visible. They have a good-sized game room where kids can play games while their food is being prepared. Oh yeah... the food... Space Aliens has a large menu offering most of the staples of typical American dining fare... burgers, pizza, wings, salads, etc. Their extensive kids menu features burgers, hot dogs, pizza and chicken strips. Their specialty is BBQ ribs. I had the ribs. My 13 year old daughter had chicken wings and my 11 year old daughter had chicken strips. Even the plate presentation sticks with the outer space theme. The fries are served in a paper cone placed in a holder resembling a wide Seattle Space Needle. The food was very good, but ordinary. The service was prompt and courteous and the prices are quite reasonable. If I remember correctly, the three of us ate for between $25 and $30. The food is certainly OK, but the real star of the show is the unique colorful decor. Space Aliens was a big hit with the kids. I found it to be a curious oasis of civilization and commercialization... breaking the monotony of the long drive. Space Aliens is located three-tenths of a mile north of I-94 Exit 159 on the right side of the road. Just look for the sign.

Time for another "world’s largest". About 20-25 miles west of Bismarck, you’ll see "Salem Sue", the world’s largest holstein cow. Salem Sue is located on a hill near the village of New Salem. Sue is 38 feet tall and is visible for miles as you approach the New Salem exit (Exit 127). We did not drive up the hill, electing instead to snap a few photos from a grocery store parking lot near the exit. ...Back onto the highway to drive another 65 miles to Dickinson.

An attraction worth mentioning... The Enchanted Highway. If you are really into "world’s largest __________" attractions, then you won’t want to miss The Enchanted Highway. It is a 32-mile stretch of paved county road south of I-94 between Regent and Gladstone, ND. This stretch of road contains at least ten giant sculptures with many more planned. Travelers see the world’s largest grasshopper, a family of large "tin people", a group of giant pheasants and a giant leaping deer. More are planned, including a 70-foot tall buffalo. A sculpture called "Geese In Flight" can be seen from the highway at the Gladstone exit (Exit 72). As much as we would have liked to drive the Enchanted Highway, a 70-mile round trip off the highway would have defeated my goal of visiting places requiring little time just off the highway.

In Dickinson, we visited the Dakota Dinosaur Museum. A labor of love by a geology professor and his wife, this small museum greatly exceeded my expectations. Most of the exhibits are contained within one large room. In the center of the room, visitors will see many skeletons and models of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals. Most are casts and models. Some are real. I was especially impressed with the huge mineral and fossil collections. They are beautifully displayed in glass cabinets. The accompanying text provides lots of information about the specimens written in language that all can understand. The Dakota Dinosaur Museum is one of four attractions located within the same complex. The others are Joachim Regional Museum, the Pioneer Machinery Museum, and the Prairie Outpost Park. Admission to the Dakota and Joachim museums is $6 for adults and $3 for kids 3-12. The other two attractions are free. We visited only the dinosaur museum and spent about an hour here. Like the others, this attraction is just off the highway (Exit 61) and is easily reached by following the signs.

Our next stop was the day’s crowning jewel... Theodore Roosevelt National Park. TRNP consists of 3 units. The north unit is located about 70 miles north of I-94. The Elkhorn Ranch unit is located in a remote area and is not easily accessible. We, like most tourists, visited the South Unit only, since it’s adjacent to the highway. The park is primarily notable for its beautiful erosional landscape (badlands), and its herds of buffalo. If you’re heading west, make sure to stop at the rest area about five miles east of the Medora exit. Although it’s an interstate highway rest area, it contains the TRNP Painted Canyon Visitor Center. From here, you’ll see one of the most stunning views in the South Unit... overlooking the expansive Painted Canyon. Even if you don’t plan to visit the park, make sure to take a couple of minutes to take in this awesome view. To enter the South Unit, one must pass through the touristy little village of Medora (westbound Exit 27, eastbound exit 24) where you’ll find chuckwagon suppers, lots of gift shops and the mildly-renowned Medora musical (should you choose to make a day of it). The entrance to TRNP’s South Unit is clearly marked in Medora. Immediately upon entering the park, we stopped at the Medora Visitor Center. This visitor center features a 15 minute film about Teddy Roosevelt’s passion for this area and some of the park’s highlights. From there we began our drive on the 36-mile scenic loop road. Although the road is paved, don’t be in a hurry... The speed limit is 45 mph and the road is quite curvy and hilly in places. On this road, we saw plenty of beautiful scenery. The North Dakota badlands differs from its South Dakota counterpart in that the North Dakota badlands has far more flora and fauna. The eroded landscape is decorated with groves of green trees and grassy areas. We saw two small buffalo herds in the distance and one big solitary male right nest to the road. We also encountered a group of wild horses next to the road. The park has several huge prairie dog communities, including three right next to the road. At each, you will see hundreds of these interesting little creatures scurrying everywhere and standing guard at the entrances to their burrows. Allow at least two hours to drive the loop, but you could easily take much longer if you take some hikes or side trips. Admission to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is $10 per vehicle... good for 7 days. I intend to write a separate, more detailed review of TRNP in the near future.

Now... on to the day’s final destination... Billings, Montana. Believe me when I tell you that this 300-mile stretch of highway between Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Billings is the dullest part of the northern route between the east and the west (although this is more of a commentary on Montana than North Dakota). Yes, there’s some pretty scenery, there’s just no civilization. The largest town on this desolate stretch is Miles City, Montana with a population of 8900. Make sure to fill your tank when you’re there. I can’t say much about Billings, because we arrived there after dark and saw little more than the interior of the Holiday Inn where we slept.

It’s true that the world’s largest cow doesn’t quite stack up to the Seattle Space Needle.... and although Theodore Roosevelt National Park is beautiful, it falls short of the wonders of Yellowstone or Yosemite... but doggonit, we had a good time in North Dakota. Visit some of these places, and you will too.

 

  CLICK ON THUMBNAILS FOR LARGER IMAGE
GIANT TRANSIT - FERGUS FALLS, MN
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WORLD'S LARGEST OTTER - FERGUS FALLS, MN
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BIG WINDMILL - SOMEWHERE IN ND
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WORLD'S LARGEST BUFFALO - JAMESTOWN, ND
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FRONTIER VILLAGE - JAMESTOWN, ND
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WORLD'S LARGEST SANDHILL CRANE - STEELE, ND
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SPACE ALIENS GRILL & BAR - BISMARCK, ND
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SPACE ALIENS GRILL & BAR - BISMARCK, ND
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SPACE ALIENS GRILL & BAR - BISMARCK, ND
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SPACE ALIENS GRILL & BAR - BISMARCK, ND
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SPACE ALIENS GRILL & BAR - BISMARCK, ND
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SPACE ALIENS GRILL & BAR - BISMARCK, ND
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WORLD'S LARGEST HOLSTEIN - NEW SALEM, ND
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"GEESE IN FLIGHT" - GLADSTONE - ND
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DAKOTA DINOSAUR MUSEUM - DICKINSON, ND
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DAKOTA DINOSAUR MUSEUM - DICKINSON, ND
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TRILOBITE - DAKOTA DINOSAUR MUSEUM - DICKINSON, ND
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  DAKOTA DINOSAUR MUSEUM - DICKINSON, ND   THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK   PRAIRIE DOGS - THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
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  THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK   THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK   THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
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Read my reviews from our 2003 travels on epinions.com:

Helena, Montana

The Oregon Coast

The Bend Area - Central Oregon

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

The Mall Of America - Minneapolis

North Dakota (Don't Laugh!... There ARE some things to see here!)

Science Fiction Hall of Fame - Seattle

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

A LIST OF ALL OF MY EPINIONS.COM REVIEWS