Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crossing the Prairie

August 21, 2010

After obsessing for way too long about where to go from Wisconsin Dells, Joe told me we should just go with our original plan and “go west”. So despite online weather projections of 100 degree heat in North Dakota, we decided to head in that direction anyway. As Joe said, “we’ve been hot before”, and our other options seemed either unexciting or too mosquito-y.

We got our usual fairly late start from the Dells, jumping right onto I-94, which was pretty much our route for two days. We did stop after a few hours at a Walmart to refill our cupboards and find a few other odds and ends. We are happily surprised that we managed to go for 6 days without a stop at a Walmart or a similar place for a long list of forgotten, overlooked, or emergency items. Maybe our packing is improving. In any case, we found everything we needed, including a mailbox with daily pickup, so I mailed some postcards while I was at it.

(Above: These Amish farmers were selling baked goods and rugs. Their carriages were right under the Pilot sign; their harnessed horses were tied in the shrubbery across the street.)

Otherwise, it was a very long day of driving. We crossed the St. Croix River into Minnesota (beep beep—another new state sticker!) at about 3:30 pm and stopped at the first rest stop so I could pick up maps and other tourist info, in case we wanted to change our direction at that point (still possible). When I came out of the building, I found Joe lying in a shady spot in the grass with Roxy. From there we made our way through construction and Friday afternoon traffic around Minneapolis-St. Paul. Then we went over the Mississippi (it’s much narrower up here than it is further south! And it goes right through Mpls-SP—am I the only one who didn’t realize this before?) and headed northwest. We stopped sometime around dusk for dinner, and then continued on our way.

At about this point, Joe made a discovery—he could not find his cell phone. After much searching and thought, he realized that it must have fallen out of his pocket when he was lying in the grass earlier in the day. So we added to our agenda for the next day to find an AT&T store in Bismarck, and try to replace it. Meanwhile he turned off the service by using my phone.

At about 10pm we crossed the Red River into Fargo, North Dakota (beep beep!) So this is the truth: it is VERY VERY DARK at night in North Dakota, even on an interstate highway (with a speed limit of 75, btw). There were almost NO cars. There wasn’t even the almost obligatory rest area/tourist info stop within a mile or two of the state line. Two out of three exits say “no services”, and it was extremely eerie in the nighttime. By the light of the moon we could see fog rising in the fields next to us, and from time to time we drove through bands of fog over the highway. I started to freak out a little bit (without the tourist rest stop I didn’t even have a good map) but we had our trusty Next Exit book which told us that in about 50 miles there was a highway rest area. We got there at about 11 pm and that was enough driving, we were both quite tired—we’d travelled 510 miles since morning. And luckily,this rest area also had enough tourist info (and maps) to make me happy.
We hit the road again in the morning and stopped an hour later in Jamestown, the first place of any size we came to. We wanted to find some wifi so we could possibly check online on where we might find an AT&T store. We also figured it was a great opportunity to see the World’s Largest Buffalo. So we went to Frontier Village. While there I asked someone if she had any idea where we might find an AT&T store, and she told me that “probably the nearest one is in Minnesota”, LOL! It seems AT&T doesn’t operate in ND. She was, however, able to point us in the direction of someplace with wifi. Unfortunately that didn’t help, because the AT&T store locator page was completely worthless. So it seems Joe won’t have a replacement phone any time before Nebraska, since I’m guessing SD doesn’t have AT&T either. Meanwhile I updated my Facebook status from Jamestown.
From Jamestown we drove another 100 miles to Bismarck, the capital of ND. The guide book mentioned something about the state capitol being unusual, so we decided we’d get off the highway to see it, and to have some lunch. We didn’t go inside (we were there during the time it was closed, but I doubt we’d have gone in anyway. I think the fact that it is 19 stories, the only such “tower” we’ve seen in the whole state, is what makes it unique around here, although it’s supposed to be beautiful inside. Our visit did coincide with the “Pink Heals Tour” event on the grounds of the Capitol. Their pink fire trucks were so cool and their mission even cooler--check it out! So I took some photos and we had some lunch, and left—crossing the Missouri River before I realized it! So no photo (I’ll try to get it on our way back east.)

Right past Bismarck, we finally got ourselves off the “superslab” by picking up a “scenic byway” which basically paralleled I-94. This was nicer scenery (although actually the views from I-94 are quite lovely), and we really enjoyed the next 100 miles. We passed thousands of acres of sunflowers and “amber waves of grain.” Toward the end of the route, we stopped at the “Flying Geese” sculpture, the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world. It is situated on a hill overlooking the highway and the countryside, and the view was simply gorgeous. As we looked down on the fields, we could see the grasses blowing in the wind, looking absolutely like flowing water (the illusion was increased by the most “flowy” field being the color of spring green). Plus the varying shades of greens, and golds, and the shadows in the distance, and the hills, were simply fabulous. Such a beautiful state with such broad vistas and wide horizons…. We just love it. And then we jumped back on “the slab” for the last 30 or so miles to Medora, ND, the entryway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
So we are now nestled in a campsite in Medora at the foot of the Badlands-we are right by the river under the cottonwood trees, looking at striated rock perhaps 100 yards away from us. It is hot, as advertised, but it seems that North Dakota has a VERY strong “breeze” blowing today, and it has helped hugely. We seem also to have entered Mountain Time, which means we gained an hour to relax this evening. In fact, Joe and I are sitting outside in our lounge chairs with the breeze blowing. He’s reading, and I of course am typing. Roxy is lying nearby, and not embarrassing us too much by barking at the very-close neighbors and their little white dog. Tomorrow, we explore the Badlands!

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