The boys were off from school last week – and after deciding that we were definitely, definitely going to stay home and just chill, come Friday Kyle got antsy in his pantsy and quickly planned an overnight excursion to what was supposed to be Medora. If you have read North Dakota Nice for a while you’ll know that “planning” a trip for Kyle consists of packing a suitcase and maybe having a hotel room and/or destination in advance of departing the house; while I, on the other hand, require every single second of the day scheduled and reserved from start to finish. We met in the middle for this particular trip in that I got a handshake agreement that we would drive to Bismarck via Jamestown, sleep in Bismarck so the kids could get a swim in the (reserved) hotel pool, and then wake up early and head to Medora for a day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
I’m not sure you can get from Grand Forks to Bismarck without going through Jamestown, but we specifically planned a stop in the ‘Town so we could visit the National Buffalo Museum. I am sure that this is not geographically accurate but Jamestown is, for me, the dividing line between the lovely, rolling western part of the state and the expansive, flat east. The National Buffalo Museum is set atop of (what I’m going to say is) a hill, tucked within the Frontier Village and overlooking a series of meandering and graduating elevations down to the community below. If that vague description doesn’t do it for you, the Museum is probably best known for its proximity to Dakota Thunder, the World’s Largest Buffalo – Reader’s Digest’s third-best roadside attraction in the U.S, no big deal.
The backside of the Museum faces what is probably grazing land for the buffalo. I say “probably” because there weren’t any actual buffalo there that day – maybe because they move somewhere else in the Fall, or maybe related to the fact that they are…let’s say…a form of subsistence. Despite the fact that my ten-year-old was originally jacked up about the idea of feeding one of said buffalo, he was more excited to take a picture with the large sign at the edge of the field which read, “Do not cross this field unless you can do it in 9.9 seconds. The bull can do it in 10!”
We spent over an hour in the National Buffalo Museum because there is a lot to see and read, and also because it’s very wisely laid out with a big play area for kids so that non-kids can actually take in the content. About half of the museum is dedicated to the near-extinction – the record for a single buffalo hunter was 120 buffalo in 40 minutes back in the late 1800’s – and later preservation of the remaining herds; the other half covers the buffalo itself, including its use as a…you know…form of subsistence.
We also spent over an hour in the Museum because there is a three-room gift shop and the Kosiors never met a gift shop we didn’t like. (Kyle thinks I should review all of the interpretive center-related gift shops in North Dakota and if I did, this one would be near the top but below Fort Abraham Lincoln, which has a separate room entirely dedicated to books.)
Anyways, after spending a million dollars, taking a million pictures with Dakota Thunder, and getting coffee and a snack, we moved on to Bismarck.
The drive into The Biz is distinctive in that you are going up, up, up a slope and then – ta da! – the whole of the city comes into focus in a big, beautiful valley. It’s so distinctive that Ten perked up as soon as he saw it and screeched, “Let’s go to the Mastodon Museum!” – meaning the North Dakota Heritage Center, which features a mastodon skeleton in the lobby and was also closed for the night so that all of the exhibits could come to life and have playful and meaningful adventures.
The next morning, both Ten and our six-year-old had taken to chanting, “Mastodon Museum” and so we decided to pass on Medora and instead go to Fort Lincoln, the Lewis & Clark Museum, and the Heritage Center. We also decided to go to the pumpkin patch, but that never happened because I’m not sure in what world we thought we could cram four stops and three meals in before 7pm.
Many of the North Dakota historical sites shut down their outside interpretive exhibits after Labor Day, which is a little weird since many of their stories are all about preparing for and surviving the winter but understandable because it probably turns into a The Shining-type situation come January for the tour guides. The On-A-Slant Mandan Village was one of said exhibits in that you couldn’t go inside the mounds, but you could still hike around the park and site, which we did. I then spent a million hours making a pretty subpar video to prove that it happened, which you can see here.
We’ve been to the Heritage Center many times (humble brag), but this was the first time that both boys were interested in the actual exhibits and not just toddling around. Since I didn’t have to spend as much time trying to keep anyone from eating a barrier rope, I paid closer attention than usual to all of the written artifacts and displays. Two items of note were 1) the “Dino-Mummy,” a dinosaur discovered with its scales intact, and 2) a rotating series of cards in the exhibit about settlers in North Dakota, in which visitors to the Center could submit their own stories, including this gem: “I moved to North Dakota in 1998. My first job was located in Medora, out in the Badlands. One breezy day, a visitor from New York was passing through and asked, ‘Does the wind always blow like this?’ My reply, ‘No, sometimes it blows harder.’”
The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is located at Fort Mandan near Washburn and, so far, is my favorite North Dakota historic site because we always get really great docents (humble brag) and the Lewis & Clark story is much more about learning about the land and much less about conflict and death. Fort Mandan was also closed for the winter but the center was open and had what I thought was a new – or at least new to me – exhibit on an artist named Karl Bodmer, who was one of the first European artists to document the landscape and people in what would become the Dakotas. Here’s a picture of Six in “Karl Bodmer’s” hat:
We ended the trip with dinner at the Chieftain Sports Bar/Conference Center & Hotel in Carrington where we ate fry bread and roast beef and watched the Wild-Ducks hockey game, and then drove home so that we could have a day to recover and decontaminate the car before the start of the week. Success.
The photo above is of Kyle and Dakota Thunder. My second choice was the photo below, which makes me laugh out loud every time I see it. It’s a bench at Dakota Thunder. My kids decided it was one of those “put your face in it and take a picture” situations, and so the front half of the buffalo is Six, who is using his hand to make the horns, and the back half is Ten, who is growing out his hair right now and thought it would make the perfect buffalo tail. I agree.
This week’s news has competitive meat, drive-thru pancakes, and mobile apples. Read on.
A group of 4-H’ers from Stark-Billings County took second place in a national competition for retail meat. (Dickinson Press)
There are a bunch of shiny domes protecting and serving the Bismarck community in support of Brave the Shave. (KFYR TV)
Grand Forks’ Jody Hodgson and former UND hockey player Brad Miller are hosting a luncheon at this year’s U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game in support of 7Element’s mission of preventing veteran suicide and benefiting mental health. (Grand Forks Herald)
The North Dakota National Guard is celebrating the homecoming of the Bismarck-based 2-285th Aviation Regiment’s recent deployment. (Devils Lake Journal)
Over 400 people rolled through a drive-thru pancake breakfast in support of Trinity Health’s cancer rehab patients. (Minot Daily News)
The Richland-Wilkin Food Pantry is now mobile and delivering fresh produce to 16 families and individuals at 200% of the federal poverty level. (Wahpeton Daily News)