My wife Jane and I, along with son Bill Jr., his wife Chris, and daughters Isabelle (14), Zoë (12), and Luiza (3 ½) recently set out on a family adventure RV'ing through North Dakota.
This trip had two purposes. First, Bill Jr. and Chris are writing a book - "Beautiful Women of ND" - www.beautifulwomenofAmerica.com - a portrayal of North Dakota women who are beautiful in so many ways.
Their book project requires personal interviews and photos of 28 women across the state. What a great opportunity to interview these women and rediscover North Dakota at the same time. Take for example the 84-year-old lady who lives outside Golva (population 85) in southwestern North Dakota. She has made a quilt for everyone in town for years - hundreds of quilts. She also bakes bread every Sunday morning for the church attendees. What a beautiful woman.
Secondly, we wanted to rediscover the incredible sights and scenery across this great state, rekindle friendships, and pass along some family heritage.
Days 1 and 2
We set out on a Monday morning with two RVs in anticipation of 10 days on the road. First stop was Park River and a county camp area at the Homme Dam, two miles west of town on Highway 17. The northeastern part of the state has many terrific camping areas including Park River, the Icelandic State Park in Cavalier, and the panorama of the Pembina Gorge near Walhalla. This area has many natural resources not seen in other parts of the state.
The next stop was the International Peace Garden north of Dunseith. The Peace Garden facilities have improved since our last visit. The state is investing in the infrastructure of the site, which still needs work. The botanical gardens are not duplicated anywhere I'm aware of.
The park is on the U.S./Canadian border and represents the peace between the two countries. Proof of citizenship is necessary to re-enter the U.S. The famous week-long summer music camp is an experience for high school students to meet others from both countries.
There is much to enjoy at the Peace Garden, after all, we are the Peace Garden State. The RV sites are large and wooded.
Next, we headed for Williston, stopping along the way at Sherwood, my old hometown. We had lunch at the café and not surprisingly, I knew about 90 percent of the folks at lunch. It was fun to renew old acquaintances since my last visit was 4 years ago for the 50th class reunion.
The Engh Ace Hardware Store is thriving. In fact, owner Allen Engh said he sold more than $500,000 in appliances last year. He had built up his business over a large, 75-mile radius with low prices and good service. He's educated three college graduates, but the kids have relocated to bigger towns.
Unfortunately, Engh will probably sell the inventory when it's time to quit and lock the door. It's nice to see an entrepreneur at work in a small town. I wonder how many others are out there. If you know of any other successful businesses in small towns across North Dakota, send us the names and addresses. The Forum could develop some great story ideas from your responses.
We also stopped at the "old" high school. It's a consolidated school district with Landsford, Mohall and Sherwood. All of those towns are still upset about the consolidation mascot. Two of the grandkids were surprised at how young I looked on my graduation picture of 22 classmates. And they couldn't believe the high school had a total of 90 students.
Then, it was on the road again with a must-stop in Stanley for ice cream at its famous old-fashioned soda fountain for "Whirly-Whip" ice cream. It's located at Dakota Drug on Main Street. We arrived in Williston at dinner time and witnessed a spectacular thunder and lightning storm. It's amazing to me how different the storms are out west from the east.
Days 5, 6 and 7
The following day, we visited Fort Buford, which is southwest of town. The Interpretative Center is well-known, and the fort has historical importance in state history, including the surrender of the great Indian Chief Sitting Bull in 1881. Williston, Watford City, and the Oil Patch are booming economically. We gassed up in Watford City and waited in line at the pump. An oil worker was filling up next to us and said last year he was working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. Currently, he's working 12 hour days, 5 days per week. But, he isn't complaining. He thinks work hours will increase when oil hits $75 per barrel.
We arrived at Medora late afternoon and set up camp at the RV Park. There is so much to see in Medora - the musical (best ever), the Pitchfork Fondue, the Chateau de Mores, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Bully Pulpit Golf Course, and the Cowboy Hall of Fame, just a few. Spend at least three days and you'll be busy!
Day 8 and 9
On to Lake Sakakawea State Park at Pick City, with a stop at the Knife River Indian Villages at Stanton. Sakakawea lived here when she met Lewis and Clark at Fort Mandan. A state-of-the-art museum is dedicated to preserving the culture of the Indian tribes who lived there. My grandmother and grandfather are buried in Stanton, so their great, great grandchildren experienced a part of family history. It was touching to have three generations reflect on their heritage standing in a small town cemetery overlooking the prairies of North Dakota.
The Sakakawea campground is beautiful, and overlooks the lake. This was the first day Bill and Chris didn't have interviews, so we "hung-out" for 1 ½ days - grilling, bonfires with smores. It doesn't get any better than that! Be sure to visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Washburn for great artifacts of their journey on the Missouri River.
Next stop - the North dakota state capitol building in Bismarck. The grandkids wanted to see "papa's" portrait along with the other Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award recipients. It's a humbling experience to be part of the Rough Riders. We said hello to Gov. Hoeven and headed for Fargo. What a great experience.
I would encourage you to rediscover the state. Next time, we'll take the southern route to Fort Ransom, Fort Abraham Lincoln, Lewis and Clark Riverboat, Dinosaur Museum in Dickinson, the buffalo statue in Jamestown and on and on and on. Traveling in North Dakota is a family experience everyone should enjoy.
Without a doubt, mission accomplished.
For complete travel information, contact the ND Department of Commerce, Tourism Division: www.ndtourism.com