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!

Epic Fail: Three-Mile Ski

Molly enjoying a winter adventure“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” ~Thomas Edison

My personal goal is to never give up until failure is definite. I’m proud to say that I didn’t let a mere nuisance ruin my RV plans. No, we went down in a blaze of glory and dragged our broken remains to the mechanics. If you’re going to fail, you should epic fail.

In that same spirit of epic fail, I recall another adventure that died a glorious death …

A few winters ago, the latest big idea to get in my head was cross country skiing. My mom loaned me an old pair of skis, and after much tripping over my own feet, I finally got into something of a cadence. One of the skis was unbalanced (or maybe it was just me that was unbalanced), and the shoes were slightly too small, but soon my dog Molly and I were each laying our distinctive tracks through the snow in our favorite park.

Nice. What next? Why, long-distance skiing, of course. We knew of a beautiful paved bike path running through the countryside, and I’d seen ski tracks along the shoulder. So we chose a goal about three and a half miles from our start point, which would make for a seven-mile round-trip, and one cloudy but pleasant afternoon we headed out.

About a mile into our ski, I was having trouble with my equipment–namely, the shoes. Just barely too small! They started rubbing the backs of my heels. But I wasn’t a quitter. What the heck, I could nurse blisters later. I wanted to finish my ski.

Then the weather shifted. Suddenly that pearly-gray sky started dropping snowflakes. Within minutes, the snow was so heavy that objects a few yards ahead of me looked like they were draped with a lace veil. When we stopped for a break, Molly’s black and tan coat turned white.

So? What was a little snow? (Okay, I was beginning to entertain visions of hot chocolate.) But we pressed on. Success would taste that much sweeter, knowing everything I’d overcome to finish this ski …

Then a hole appeared out of nowhere.

No, really. A hole. Right in the middle of my path. A giant, rectangular hole surrounded by yellow caution tape. Big enough to bury one of those little eco cars. I couldn’t get around it to the left because the bike trail was cleared of snow. I couldn’t get around it on the right because of a chain link fence. The far shoulder of the bike trail didn’t look any more promising–the snow was wind-blasted hard, offering my skis nothing to dig into.

So I took off my skis and walked around the hole on the hard-surface trail. Put my skis back on. Started again. Several yards later, another giant rectangular hole yawned in front of me. Took my skis off. Walked around it. Put my skis back on. Several yards later … Gee, you’d never believe what I found. Again.

At this point, I had a good vantage of the trail ahead, and the snow cleared enough for me to take in the view. You guessed it–giant rectangular holes all the way down the trail, as far as I could see.

The snow on the far shoulder still didn’t look too friendly, but it was the one option left. So I crossed to the other side. That lasted about two minutes. I skittered all over a sea of frozen waves.

So I gave up.

Mind you, I didn’t give up when my feet started to hurt. And I didn’t give up when it started to snow. And I didn’t give up when a dotted line of car-eating holes blocked my path.

I only gave up when failure was definite.

Oddly, working my way around those holes wasn’t any more fun on the return trip than it had been on the way out. It was slow and awkward, and now I was also grouchy and disappointed in myself.

Molly, on the other hand, was having the time of her life. She plowed through snowbanks muzzle-first and snorted the flakes out of her nose and ate big bites of snow, oblivious that things weren’t going as I’d planned. That’s one of the things I love about having adventures with my dog. It doesn’t matter how badly my plans may be going–she’s still having fun.

I found that inspiring. So once I’d conquered the last hole, I stuck my skis and poles in a snowbank and plopped down next to Molly. The snow turned our heads and backs and shoulders frosty white in a matter of seconds. The quarter-sized flakes swirling all around us were pretty and profoundly silent. A snowstorm is the best place in the world, if you want to be really alone.

It was another mile to the end of the trail, and I pretty much dragged myself over the finish line. I had bruises on my heels for months afterwards, well into summer–a memento of our little adventure, and a reminder that if you’re going to fail, at least you can epic fail. To this day, I have no idea what purpose those giant rectangular holes served, other than to make for a story I can look back on and laugh about–and remember fondly.

Yes, fondly. Just ask Molly. She’ll tell you that ski trip was some of the best fun we ever had.

10 Places I Really Want to See

I always said my dream home would be a little house with a big yard. I didn’t exactly have an RV in mind when I said that, but what d’ya know? My house on wheels is just 23 feet long, and my yard pretty much covers the North American continent.

It’s going to take me a while to explore these extensive grounds. So here are ten places I’d really like to see (in no particular order):

Yosemite National Park

2013-10-20 Illilouette_Fall_08911 Yosemite National Park - Wikimedia Commons (480x640)

Mountains, forests, waterfalls … The pictures remind me of the opening scenes of Disney’s Snow White. According to the Yosemite National Park website, most of the park is operating normally despite the Rim Fire.





New England in the Autumn

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I don’t know if it’s true, but I picture New England as a quiet place time forgot, where the rivers roll lazily and horses’ hooves clop across covered bridges as they haul wagons brimming with maple syrup. (Oh, never mind. Syrup season is in spring.)

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington 

2013-10-20 Cape_Disappointment_and_Cape_Disappointment_Light - Wikimedia Commons (640x428)

I saw the name on a map and knew I wanted to go. One story behind its strange name says that Lewis and Clark, upon reaching the Pacific Ocean, hoped to meet a ship that would take them back home. No such luck. Cape Disappointment also holds the title as one of the foggiest locales in the US.

Fort Jefferson, Florida

2013-10-20 Fort-Jefferson_Dry-Tortugas - Wikimedia Commons (640x425)

I could think of worse places to serve time. This fort in the Florida Keys remained in Union hands during the Civil War and was used as a prison. Not too sure how I’d get the RV there …


Grand Canyon

2013-10-20 Grand Canyon - Wikimedia Commons (640x190)

Okay, sorry, this one’s just obvious.

Kentucky Horse Farms

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Kentucky’s famous blue grass pastures … idyllic farm scenes … and grandiose stables that put the Walt Disney Castle to shame.




Atlantic Coast Lighthouses

2013-10-20 Portland,_Maine_Lighthouse - Wikimedia Commons (640x480)

Any one will do. Particularly if it’s really cute, and if there’s brightly-painted fishing boats on the water, and if there’s 30 different seafood restaurants in town (even though I can’t stand seafood–I’m just there for the ambiance).


Sequoia National Park

2013-10-20 Sequoia_Tunnel_Tree - Wikimedia Commons (516x364)More modern pictures reveal that the park system still hasn’t finished removing this dead tree. (But who’s complaining?)




Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

2013-10-20 400px-Bagpiper_in_Edinburgh_001 - Wikimedia Commons (400x600)As close to Scotland and Ireland as my RV will ever get! Fiddles, pipes, bodhráns, sword dancing, step dancing … even the signs along the highways are written in both English and Gaelic.




Glacier National Park

2013-10-20 Saint_Mary_Lake_and_Wildgoose_Island - Wikimedia Commons (600x399)Okay, I did save the best for last. More than anywhere else in the world, I want to see Glacier National Park. I was in Colorado once and fell in love with the Rockies, but not with the major metropolitan areas nearby. Montana is pretty sparsely populated, and that’s what I call paradise–a place where you can be alone with nature and with God and with your thoughts.

Some of the places I’ve listed are pretty well known, but the ones I’m most excited to find are the places no one’s ever heard of before. The quiet retreats you share with five or six other campers, the off-season locales, or the forgotten nooks you can have all to yourself.

What about you? Where do you most want to go? Leave me a comment, and you might tempt me to alter my “top 10” list!


How to Survive Cold Weather Camping … without a Four Seasons RV

004 (640x427)It’s getting cold these days. As repairs on the ol’ camper drag on, I’m watching the thermometer droop ever downwards. Needless to say, I thought I’d be on the road by now, but Murphy and his law had other plans.

So here I sit, watching the odd snowflake drift by, mockingly, and ask myself: How cold does it have to be before the pipes freeze on your RV?

Winter Camping

Am I completely crazy? Almost, but not quite. According to Google, people search for the term “winter rv camping” about 210 times per month. Not a lot. More surprising—people search for the phrase “winter camping”—meaning tent camping—about 4,400 times per month. So get this: tenting in the winter is about 21 times more popular than RV camping in the winter. Now that is crazy. Better put it on my bucket list.

How Cold Before Your Pipes Freeze?

I paid a little visit to several RV forums, like RV.net and RVForum.net. Imagine my relief when I discovered that RV water lines don’t magically freeze solid the instant the thermometer brushes against 32° F. More than one person noted that if you set a dish of water out on a night that dips below freezing, you won’t find any ice in the morning. Generally speaking, most RVers find their water lines are good down to the upper twenties.

Two important factors come into play:

  • Ice takes time to form–several hours of below-freezing temps
  • The RV itself retains heat, helping to keep the pipes warm

But what if I accidentally get caught in really cold temperatures? I found cool answers to that question, too. RVers are a very creative and determined group of people.

How to Turn a Three Seasons RV into a Four Seasons RV

  • Perform an emergency winterize. Drain the tanks and water pipes and fill with RV antifreeze (usually used for storing your RV over the winter). Then outfit yourself with several gallons of drinking water, park next to a bathroom, and voilà.
  • Perform an emergency semi-winterize. Several people noted that you can still use your own bathroom, so long as you pour RV antifreeze into the holding tank. Flush with bottled water.
  • Invest in heat tape. This stuff looks so cool. It’s like a string of Christmas lights, minus the lights. You wrap the tape around your pipes, cover it with insulation, and plug it in. Tada! Heated pipes.
  • Apply skirting. From the pictures I’ve seen, campers don’t actually look cute in skirts—but it’s the only viable option for severely cold weather. Tarps, plywood, styrofoam, straw bales, and snowbanks have all been used for skirting. For extra coziness, you can park a little heater under the camper. (Does this create heated floors, too?)

Everyone is quick to note that none of these options are fail proof. So you could just …

Buy a Four Seasons RV

I’ve been a very naughty girl. While I’m at the RV stores getting repairs done and picking up supplies, I always succumb to the urge to peek inside the big, fancy new models. Apparently, I’m not the only one who wants to enjoy cold weather camping. Four seasons RVs are the thing now days. They sport such niceties as enclosed and heated water pipes and are guaranteed down to 0° F. Of course, they also come with flat-screen TVs and electric fireplaces. Hey, I wouldn’t complain!

So what do you think? Will I and my camper survive this dare against Jack Frost?