After leaving Fergus Falls, Minnesota, we spent just a little over a week driving west across North Dakota on I94. We had a notebook full of ideas people had given us on things to do and places to go. I think we did a pretty good job at hitting most of them! The red arrows on the map below show our major stops. In between, we enjoyed the surprisingly pretty and varied landscape. An added bonus to seeing all the sites was learning about Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition; it turned out we were following their same path.
Map courtesy of Maps of US
We stayed at an RV park called Governors Conference Center just west of Fargo that was run by the Day’s Inn. It was actually nothing more than a parking lot with all the regular hookups, but the place did have an indoor pool and restaurant. We didn’t take the time to use the “amenities” since we were more interested in checking out the town. Our first stop was the Fargo Moorhead Visitors Center where we got information on things to see. We wandered downtown and saw the historic Fargo Theater as well as a really nice farmer’s market that is open every Saturday morning from July to October.
The best thing we saw in Fargo was Bonanzaville. It is a museum and a collection of late 19 century era buildings that were moved there. We also saw many vehicles such as an ice wagon, a horse drawn school bus, and a fire department wagon. Bonanza farms were created when the Northern Pacific Railroad went bankrupt during a depression in the 1870’s and was forced to sell off land. It was fascinating to hear the stories of families who settled in the area.
After we left Fargo, we headed toward Bismark, but stopped at the National Bison Museum in Jamestown on the way. I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of Roy next to The World’s Largest Bison to add to our recent collection of World’s largest photos.
We got our first look at a herd of bison. Notice the pale colored one in the top left photo. It’s a descendant from an albino one that reportedly was a big attraction at the museum. We didn’t have the urge to hop the fence and frolic with these big guys, but apparently some people might…
Inside the museum there were other stuffed creatures besides buffalo. I learned everything I ever wanted to know about bison and then some! There is also a collection of buildings that were moved here just like at Bonanzaville, only not quite as many.
After leaving Jamestown, we checked into the Bismarck KOA. It had a pool and the sites were adequate. There was a nice area to walk a dog in as well.
While we were staying in Bismarck, we took a couple of day trips. The first one was the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn. It has a very informative museum building and a separate replica of the fort the expedition built to wait out their first winter of 1805.
The Interpretive Center has actual artifacts that once belonged to members of the exploration party. The fort has a smaller visitor building where guided tours of the replicated fort begin. The fort was built following the specs in original documents and the various rooms were set up to look similar to what they might have looked like.
Our second day trip was to Fort Abraham Lincoln in Mandan. This state park also has a restored Mandan village.
General George Custer was one of the commanding officers at this fort which main purpose was to protect settlers and railroad agents from the Sioux and other tribes. When the fort was no longer needed, it was just abandoned. Since lumber is scarce on the plains, people that lived close by dismantled every building and used the wood to build barns and other buildings on their farms. They also took all the furniture as well. After the house where Custer lived with his wife was replicated, some of the families that lived close by returned things like chairs and side tables that were believed to have been in the original home.
This state park is also the site of On-A-Slant, a restored Mandan village. The Mandan people were an extremely peaceful tribe that helped the Lewis and Clark expedition survive their first winter in North Dakota. The village her dated back to the very late 1500’s to the late 1700’s when most of the people were wiped out by a small pox epidemic.
The women were responsible for building the round structures. The used limbs from cottonwood trees for frames and then covered them with earth and grass. The thick walls kept out the heat or cold. Each home had a fire pit in the middle and a hole on the very top to let out the smoke.
We moved on to Medora which is a cute little town right by the southern entrance of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Red Trail Campground where we stayed is one of two campgrounds in the town. Most of the sites don’t have a sewer hook-up so the place was a bit like Grand Central Station as campers lined up for the dump station and rigs were constantly coming and going. The sites are very close together and instead of grass, the vegetation is mostly weeds with an occasional bit of paper trash. They bring out the karaoke machine every night which was a hoot.
The town of Medora is touristy. My bike got fixed at the town bicycle shop and the owner said just put what you want to in the tip jar for payment. Across the street from the bike shop is Chateau Nuts which was started by a 90 year old local lady when she was 60 and is now run by her granddaughter.
For lunch we went to the Cowboy Cafe and got a bison burger steak. Then we checked out The Court House Museum. Every where we went people kept asking, “Have you been to the Medora Musical yet ???”, so we caved in and went. I’m glad we did – it was an experience!
We took a day to visit Williston, an oil boom and bust town. We saw a oil fields every where, but for the most part, the drilling is over.
Just about 22 miles southwest of Williston is Fort Buford . This is the site where Sitting Bull surrendered to the US Army after Little Big Horn. He had been living in Canada for a few years, but he and his people were starving, so he turned himself in. The building in the photo above is the actual building were the surrender took place.
Fort Union is a short drive away from Fort Buford. It served as a huge market place for Native Americans and fur traders to do business. The Missouri River once was in a few short feet of it, but over the years the river changed course and it is over a quarter of a mile away now. The museum inside has lots of displays and artifacts.
Of course the very best thing about Medora is that it is right by Theodore Roosevelt National Park . Just before we reached Medora, we stoped at the Painted Canyon Visitor’s Center which gave us our first glimpse of the North Dakota bad lands.
Enjoy my campy little slide show above!
Theodore Roosevelt fell in love with the North Dakota badlands after spending time in the region while grieving over the death of his first wife and mother who both passed on within hours of each other. He was so enamored with the area that he became a partner in The Maltese Cross Ranch. Above left is his original cabin and to the right is a Maltese cross he carved in one of the logs.
We loved seeing all the wild life, especially the bison who live side-by-side with the prairie dogs. The bison roll around on top of the prairie dog holes; the dust keeps their skin cool and bug free.
It was so fun to see the prairie dog towns.
After enjoying several days at the park, we knew we had to move on so we could go on to our next adventures in South Dakota!
Just for fun, here are some links to some other Yates social media sites: