8 Places I Really Want to See in North Dakota

Just because my camper broke down doesn’t mean all adventures are called off. Some people might call me “stuck in North Dakota.” I’m not one of them. In fact, I’m thrilled to still be in North Dakota. (So is Molly. She loves snow.) I wasn’t leaving my home state for lack of adventure, but because I didn’t think my campering skills were equal to winter camping in the frigid north.

But with the camper retired, and my top ten currently put on hold, I’m casting my eye closer to home. So here are eight destinations I want to see in North Dakota.

Audubon National Wildlife Refuge

Yes, THAT Audubon–the famous bird painter and naturalist. He spent the summer of 1843 right here in what’s now North Dakota, painting our native bird species. He now has a wildlife refuge on the banks of Lake Sakakawea named in his honor, complete with a stunning interpretive center, nature programs, and walking and driving trails.

The Garrison Dam

Garrison Dam, North DakotaShe ain’t no small fry. Two and a half miles long, she’s one of the largest dams in the country. The Garrison Dam controls the flow of the Missouri River and created massive Lake Sakakawea at her back, the third-largest man-made lake in the U.S. President Eisenhower himself dedicated the dam. However, this impressive engineering feat has a tragic history, as well. The creation of Lake Sakakawea flooded the former Fort Berthold Reservation belonging to the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, the Hidatsa, and the Arikara. These people had to evacuate their homes against their will, in a modern-day echo of the U.S. government breaking treaty with Native peoples.

Icelandic State Park

Yes, I’m still talking about North Dakota. Interestingly, in addition to all those Norwegians and Germans from Russia, North Dakota has a population of Icelandic immigrants as well. Icelandic State Park has an interpretive center all about the settlement of northeastern North Dakota–and features forested hiking trails, too. (Forests? Yes, this really is still North Dakota.) Plus it’s near the little town of Walhalla. Any town named after the Viking after world has gotta be worth visiting.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National ParkPresident Theodore Roosevelt established two ranches in this beautiful place. The landscapes are not to be missed! At the drop of a hat, the grassy rolling hills turn into an arid, painted rockscape. The area is famous for buffalo, prairie dogs, and wild horses–all of which ought to be added to Molly’s database of smells. I’ve never been to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in winter, and snow gives me an added advantage when introducing Molly to new wildlife species–I can see their prints in the snow before she smells them, and teach her how we respond to, say, buffalo. (AVOID.) Plus it would just be a real treat to see the Badlands under snow.

Lake Metigoshe State Park

Welcome to the land of French fur trappers. Up here by the Canadian border, you’ll find a lot of French influence. This park is another rare forested area of North Dakota, and with a packed winter activity list, it doesn’t know the meaning of “hibernation.” Of particular interest is Lake Metigoshe State Park‘s Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshops. Their winter activities include programs in cross country skiing, tracking, winter survival, and (get this) dog sledding. I am so tempted.

Cross Ranch State Park

Situated on the banks of the Missouri, this park has walking trails galore. (They also host a smash Bluegrass camp and music festival in the summer.) Like Theodore Roosevelt State Park, I’ve never explored Cross Ranch in winter. Why not scout out their summer camping opportunities while enjoying views of the frozen Missouri?

Gingras Trading Post

Before the pioneers, there were the fur trappers and Indian traders. As one of the oldest extant buildings in the state of North Dakota, the Gingras Trading Post is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built by Antoine Blanc Gingras in the 1840s as part of a string of trading posts across northern North Dakota and southern Manitoba.

Fort Clark

Yet another trading post, this one in central North Dakota. Not much here these days except some walking trails and dents in the ground that were once Mandan and Arikara earth lodges. Mainly I want to go there because I never knew the place existed until I saw a road sign. And I thought I was familiar with all the forts in North Dakota! My pride is hurt. Now I have to go see it.

Can’t Wait to Hit the Trail …

My brother and I have been involved in local history and tourism for many years, so I know first-hand how amazing North Dakota is. It’s the state that the tourist agencies forgot–and it’s their loss. North Dakota has some of the best history, wildlife, and outdoor attractions in the country, and it’s our little secret.

I’m not planning on hibernating this winter. I want to get out and explore! Specifically, I’m thinking about getting into a pair of cross country skis again …

Pawnotes from Molly

I don’t know what “Grand Canyon” is, and I don’t know what “Florida” and “California” are, but I know one thing: snow! I’ll follow my girl anywhere, but I’m so happy we’ll be in North Dakota during snow season. All that cold fluffy stuff is the best. Cross-country skiing? Take me with!

RV Food Storage – Elusive Freezer Space

IMAG0134 (640x480)There’s so much I love about my new (old) motor home. The wood floor in the kitchen. The wood paneling on all the walls. The plaid upholstery. And the super-cool, totally retro tinted sidelight next to the bathroom door.

But I’ll confess, I’m a little worried about my RV food storage space. In particular, the freezer. I have a smallish fridge with a mini freezer compartment on top. That’s it. And that’s gotta cover my needs for both me and my 90-pound dog Molly while we full-time RV.

I cook all my dog’s meals—which translates into 10 pounds of meat every week. I’m used to the deep freezer at home! In addition, I keep frozen veggies, frozen organ meats (again for Molly), frozen chicken broth and beef broth cubes (also for Molly) and the occasional frozen leftovers. And we haven’t even discussed the possibility of ice cream.

Soon after I bought the RV, I tested out a five-pound package of hamburger. Just fit inside the freezer. Not a heck of a lot of room for anything else, though. So I started looking at my options. Here’s what I found.

 

New RV Fridge

Lots of newer RVs have more spacious refrigerators—with more spacious freezer space. (Hmm … testament to popularity of easy frozen dinners?) That would have been my ideal—a brand new, two-door fridge and freezer model.

So I talked to the people at the RV stores. Here’s what I found out:

New Fridge: ………………………………………… $1,560

Cabinet remodel and installation: …………….$1,650

Total: …………. $3,210

Aside from the shocking price tag on the fridge, installation would have involved ripping out the old cabinetry around and above it. And at $110 per hour, that gets expensive. (Never knew RV repair people made such good money. Good for them.)

 

New RV Freezer

Okay, next plan. How about adding just a small RV freezer? The helpful RV guys flipped through their catalogs and found a really sweet unit that could function as either a freezer of a fridge. Best price I found?

Mini RV Freezer ……………………………………….$650

AC adaptor ……………………………………………… $ 70

Total: ……………..$720

The AC adapter was so I could plug the unit into one of my wall outlets … instead of plugging into the cigarette lighter and eating all my engine’s battery juice.

$720 was better. But still not good.

 

Appliance Store Mini Freezer

The ever-helpful RV people suggested I try the appliance stores. So I looked and called around. My ideal would have been a freezer about the size of a microwave that would fit just above my fridge. Otherwise, I had some space for a top-opening floor model.

Unfortunately, the microwave-sized freezer does not appear to exist. The best I found was super-cute and super-compact, but just barely too big. Plus the reviews on Amazon.com warned that it was poorly packaged and likely to arrive damaged. (Sob.)

Mini Front-Opening Freezer …………………………$150 – $250

What about top-opening floor models? By and large, the smallest floor models were still about 36 inches tall—way more storage space than I needed, and the sort of thing that would have dominated my RV living space. I can see my guests walking in: “Wow! Nice … freezer.”

Small Top-Opening Freezer …………………………..$170

 

Cooler and Dry Ice

Okay, I was getting desperate. But I was determined to explore all options. I already had a cooler, so …

Dry Ice ………………………………………………………..$1.00/lb

Variable, depending on the brand and how much you buy. Not bad—until you look at how much dry ice you need. A table at DryIceInfo.com suggested I would need 15 pounds of dry ice to keep 5 pounds of meat frozen for two days. Wow.

The stats at ContinentalCarbonic.com were a little friendlier. They noted that if you store your dry ice in the middle of your package, you can get by with a lot less. With this arrangement, six pounds of food would only require one pound of dry ice. If placing the dry ice in the middle doesn’t work, you can place it on the bottom and use 3 pounds.

And both these calculations assume that you’re merely shipping your frozen food … not that you’re keeping it in an insulated cooler.

 

Conclusion to RV Food Storage Dilemma

Be content with such things as you have … and get creative.

I grabbed a five-pound tray of chicken breasts, an egg carton, and a bunch of my storage containers and carried them all out to the camper. The chicken just fit in the freezer with enough room for two squatty storage containers on top and maybe a couple flattened-out bags of frozen veggies in front. Ideal? No. Workable? Maybe.

My strategy:

  • Re-package bulky items (like meat on Styrofoam trays) into space-fitting plastic zip-top baggies (discard space-eating Styrofoam tray)
  • Cook meat as soon as possible (meat can store in the fridge longer when it’s cooked than when it’s raw)
  • In case of emergency, resort to dry ice

And as to the ice cream … I guess there’s DQ.

Fort Mandan – Lewis and Clark Legacy

IMAG0048 (640x480)At the turn of the 19th century, the good ol’ USA was still a young nation—and suddenly found itself doubled in size with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. President Thomas Jefferson decided it would be in everybody’s best interest to have a look at this huge stretch of land which, up to that point, was largely a blank page to the European newcomers.

Thus began the Lewis and Clark expedition. They set out from St. Louis in 1804, battling the Missouri upriver in their wooden keel boat, hopeful that the waterway would provide an unbroken highway to the Pacific. When winter closed in, the explorers erected a fort on the banks of the river in what is now North Dakota. They named their log home Fort Mandan, after the hospitable native people who had villages nearby.

The expedition left Fort Mandan that spring and spent their next winter at their hard-earned destination, the Pacific Ocean. They made the return journey in a single season, and on the way home discovered that their first winter quarters, Fort Mandan, had been mysteriously burned. Today, a replica stands in the vicinity of the old site and is open to tourists year-round.

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When Molly and I visited last weekend, the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation was celebrating the grand opening of its newly expanded interpretive center, including a brand new conference facility. (Can anyone say, “History symposium”? Oooo …)

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For such a large interpretive center, the fort it interprets is … surprisingly small. Inside the triangular palisade of cottonwood logs, a dozen or so rooms line the wall—of which some are for storage. Gary, the tour guide, informed me that 44 men from the Corps of Discovery spent the winter here. I’m thinking that was close quarters.

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Amongst the many events going on that weekend was a demonstration on how to achieve fire through flint and other early means. “Some of the nicest flint in the world,” Gary said, “comes from right here in North Dakota—Knife River flint.” Knife River flint was a highly valued trade item amongst the native peoples. Cool as this flint was, I was impressed to learn that petrified wood can also strike sparks. (I’m sure that knowledge will save my life someday.) Maybe once I get good at building fire with a grill lighter I’ll move on to the next challenge.

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Between the fort, two interpretive centers, nature trails, and demonstrations, my favorite part of the experience was actually this meager bit of metal:

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It’s a hasp off the journal of Merriweather Lewis. In the late 1800s, a careless 19th-century historian broke it off as a souvenir for a friend.

The two captains of the expedition were charged by President Jefferson to keep a detailed record of their explorations—from the landscape, to the plants and animals, to the native peoples and their customs. This hasp was part of a valuable document—in many ways, the journals were the essence of the expedition. They would have been diligently guarded from the hundreds of mishaps that could have destroyed them.

But more than a technical record, a journal becomes a human’s heart on paper. Yes, the Lewis and Clark journals contain long figures of latitude and longitude, supply lists and data. But they were also a place for the expedition members to express themselves on this incredible journey. Upon first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, William Clark penned in his journal, “Ocean in view! O! The joy!”

What a bit of history. This hasp traveled a continent at Merriweather Lewis’s side, survived the voyage, and eventually arrived in the hands of President Jefferson. And now it has returned to North Dakota, where it spent that first long, memorable winter in a tiny log fort in the middle of America.

Pawnotes from Molly

IMAG0001 (640x469)Let’s not forget the dog! THE most famous member of the expedition was Seaman, Captain Lewis’s Newfoundland. The humans credit Sakakawea with getting Lewis and Clark to the Pacific and back, but we dogs know they would have been lost without Seaman.

This canine is one of my personal heroes. Can you imagine, sniffing two thousand miles of virgin wilderness teeming with deer and bunnies, boldly peeing where no dog has peed before??? I get giddy just thinking about it.

Granted, I was also deeply impressed with the fort—particularly the buffalo skin blankets on the beds. I buried my muzzle in all that fur and filled my nose with the aroma. Animal skins are to a dog what coffee in the morning is to a human.

But my girl kept saying I was as much of an attraction as the fort itself. We kinda lost count how many people—kids and adults alike—asked to meet me. One little girl ran her hands down my coat and said, “She feels like the bear fur.” I consider that a compliment.

See the full album!

Visit Molly and me on our Facebook page to see all the pictures.

Number 1 Biggest Thing to Remember when Traveling with Your Dog

IMAG0040 (640x480)How appropriate: An article on Five Tips for Traveling With Your Dog. I recommend it! Since it’s an airline blog, it also discusses how to make your dog comfortable while hurtling through the sky at impossible speeds.

Wonder what my five pet travel tips would be? I sat down to think about it and got as far as one—the most important one: Give your dog time to sniff his new surroundings.

On our quest for interesting places and activities, Molly and I have been to a few places now, each armed with our own unique equipment to help us remember our visit. I have a small, cheap, not-for-dummies camera. She has a small, irreplaceable, high-tech, user-friendly nose.

We are frequently at odds while trying to use our devises. I could start a collection featuring blurry photos that resulted from Molly tugging on the leash while she was trying to use her device. At the same time, I’m sure she could write a list of things she never got to olfactoraly record, because I was trying to snap my photo. It doesn’t comfort her any that the picture was for the blog.

And neither can I tell her that her need to acquire an olfactory orientation to a new place is unimportant. A dog’s primary sense is her sense of smell. That’s just a fact pet parents traveling with their dogs have to deal with. A dog isn’t just satisfying her curiosity, either. We humans glance a place over to see if it feels safe. A dog smells a place over.

Thus I’ve gotten used to the idea of seeing a site twice. First, I walk around with Molly and let her satisfy her nosy curiosity. It doubles as a great opportunity to show her what places are off-limits to the paws, like a door leading to a restaurant or café. In a small space, like a building she was invited to see, we may circle it twice so she can really get comfortable in her new surroundings.

Only after her need is satisfied do I whip out the camera and the notebook.

Under ideal conditions, that is. If I’m pressed for time, I still try to give her a chance to sniff the smells. I may ask her to sit and stay while I snap my photo, then give her a minute to follow the tantilizing aroma that was taunting her while she sat there.

Humans go places to see the sights. But Molly has made it clear to me that she goes places to sniff the smells. If we’re going to enjoy our travels together at all, we should both have the chance to record our memories in our own unique ways.