I lived in Texas too long. The Lone Star State is all about Big, Biggest, Best.
What’s the first thing that strikes me as I make my way toward Bismarck, North Dakota? A sign touting the smallest county seat in America.
So first stop on my Top 10 Things to Do in North Dakota must be:
10. Visit Amidon. Okay, you won’t find much to do in a town of 26 people, but this is Slope County’s pride and joy. Don’t believe me? Just ask the 140 people who call Marmarth—Slope County’s largest burg—home.
9. See big things on the Enchanted Highway. Just so you don’t think all’s small in North Dakota, get off Interstate 94 at exit 72. Regent native Gary Greff has put up the world’s largest metal sculpture, Geese in Flight, The Tin Family and others, along 32 miles of highway east
8. Kill time at Killdeer Mountain. About 8.5 miles northwest of Killdeer, this state historic site commemorates the July 28, 1864, battle between Gen. Alfred Sully’s troops and Teton, Yanktonai and Dakota Indians. While it doesn’t have the Little Big Horn’s reputation or fan base, the scenery’s pretty.
7. Say howdy to Louis L’Amour. Sure, the man who gave us Hondo and the Sacketts left his hometown at an early age, but Jamestown still remembers this legendary Western novelist. Frontier Village, a town of 26 original buildings moved from other North Dakota villages, is home to the Louis L’Amour Writer’s Shack. Even if you’ve never read a L’Amour novel, Jamestown has plenty to offer, including the “world’s largest buffalo statue” and a live buffalo herd at the National Buffalo Museum.
6. Trade with Antoine Blanc Gingras. Yes, replica fur-trade items are for sale at Gingras Trading Post, which preserves the circa-1840s home and business of the Métis trader near Walhalla. Those colors inside the home, by the way, are historically accurate. Blue walls, yellow floors, pink ceilings, all trimmed in green and brown. Far out, baby, far out.
5. Enter the “Gateway to the Dakotas.” That’s what they called Fort Abercrombie, the Army’s first permanent post in North Dakota. It was also the area’s only post besieged by Dakota warriors during the 1862 war. Abandoned in 1877, the fort south of Fargo now features an interpretive center, reconstructed bastions and palisade, and the original guard house.
4. Get mesmerized in Medora. The Billings County Museum … the 1883 Chateau de Mores … North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame … the 1884 Von Hoffman House … great views and one of the Northern Plains’s best bookstores (Western Edge Books, Artwork, Music). You might find this historic cowtown a hard place to leave.
3. Go “Bully” over Teddy. He was a sickly, skinny, poor-sighted dude from New York when he arrived in Dakota Territory in 1883, but this country sure helped shape Theodore Roosevelt. See what he saw (bison, badlands, wild horses, great views) at Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora. And drop in to hear a ranger’s talk at Teddy’s Maltese Cross Cabin, behind the South Unit Visitor Center.
2. Go back in time in Bismarck. The state’s largest museum, the North Dakota Heritage Center, highlights more than 100 million years of history, from dinosaurs to Lewis and Clark, and into the modern age. The center also houses the State Archives and Historical Research Library.
1. Bid the Boy General a fond farewell. The 1870s lives on at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in Mandan. You can hear stories in the home of Libbie and George Custer, who probably wound up wishing he never left here for Montana in 1876. But don’t overlook the neighboring On-a-Slant Indian Village and its replicas of Mandan earthlodges.
Johnny D. Boggs recommends dining at Bismarck’s Peacock Alley and bringing a life preserver when the Missouri River’s flooding.