I think North Dakota is fairly universally known as the armpit of America so my expectations were really not that high going into it. In fact, prior to going on this road trip I had read this article about the “most scenic drive in each state.” Most scenic in North Dakota? I-90. I thought, “Yep, that makes sense, the quickest possible way through it.”
Having driven through it, though. I’m pretty sure that it’s not even in the top three of most bring states I’ve driven through. So let’s get to the good stuff. What did we do? What did we see? That made it so great? First of all, let’s back the train up. I never said it was “great”, just not as bad as I anticipated.
Our first little stop and get out and stretch/let’s check this place out was the Chautauqua Park. The one in Valley City, NOT the country of Brazil for those navigating by GPS. The draw? A bridge. Bridges kind of fascinate me and this one looked kind of unique so I figured, “Hey, why not?”
So, first of all. Valley City? Larger than I anticipated after a bunch of dinky towns. Chautauqua Park? Also larger than I anticipated. There was a large, fenced in dog park that I didn’t know was there until we pulled in. So that was an added bonus. There weren’t any other dogs there for ours to play with but it was nice being able to let him off the leash to sniff every tree and blade of grass in the place.
There were also picnic tables, playground equipment and a lazy river (NOT the kind you float in a tube on) that wound around the park. And, of course, the most important part: RESTROOMS.
The bridge viewable from the park was the Hi-Line Railroad Bridge. NOTE: Also larger than anticipated. We stood there for quite a while awed by how high and long the bridge was. It’s amazing how building something like that is the most efficient way to get the train from Point A to Point B. But apparently it is. They were working on it when we stopped, so we didn’t see any trains go across (we did see a train on a different set of tracks go UNDER it though). All in all, it was a neat little place to stop for a few minutes and stretch our legs and get some fresh air.
The next place we planned to stop was a state park, but we got sidetracked by the “World’s Largest Buffalo” statue and decided to pull off. We were more curious about the famed “white buffalo” we kept seeing on billboards that was supposed to be in a habitat next to the statue, but we saw zero buffalo (although, I believe they would have actually been bison?) in the enclosure.
We checked out the statue anyway. Took a few pictures and walked along the streets of the full sized replica “old town” while we were there. We didn’t go inside any of the buildings, because: dog, but we did peek inside a few. It didn’t seem like we were really missing much BUT, that’s not really my things and I feel like I have similar-type attractions elsewhere. We did stumble across some goats in a separate enclosure that had no idea what to think about Indy (our dog) and Indy didn’t really know what to think about them. It was kind of a random stop that we probably could have survived without, but it would maybe be more fun if we had a little more time to spend there and could check out the museum that was there. Maybe they would have had some helpful hints on where to find the “white buffalo”? Who knows.
After 10 minutes, we were back on the road. The trick (I think) to traveling with dogs is to make sure they still get some good exercise in. ESPECIALLY on travel days. So I tried to build hikes into each day to wear him out a little bit so he would actually NEED a nap and not just nap out of boredom. State parks have become a staple for me – Minnesota has some beautiful ones (but we’ll save those for another time) so I’ve started digging into other states’ state parks if we’re going to be going through there. Some have been a little lackluster and some have been hidden gems, but that’s really, for another post on another day. For now, we’re here to talk about Cross Ranch State Park in North Dakota. I honestly chose this one because it was the closest one to the “middle” of our route for that day and I wanted the hike to break up our day a little bit.
The park was certainly off the beaten path. I think my husband was beginning to think that maybe I was directing him to a remote location in North Dakota (not hard to find) so I could kill him and feed him to the wolves or something. But after a few miles of gravel backroads, we found that it really did exist! Per the suggestion of the park ranger, we hiked the Cottonwood Trail as we were advised that the “other trail” would likely be muddy to do the recent rains. Muddy dogs and road trips don’t mix well, so the Cottonwood Trail it was. It was a longer trail than we were originally planning on hiking but it was pretty much completely flat – much flatter than we were used to – so we were able to trek along pretty quickly. Of course, Indy LOVED sniffing EVERYTHING. (The only thing he loves more than riding, is hiking, so he was in all is glory that day!). And since we chose to go in the fall, it was VERY scenic for us too. The cottonwoods had started changing color and the weather was perfect – cool, but not cold. We also kept “chasing” a bald eagle down the tree line for a ways. On the loop back through the cottonwoods, we connected up with the trail that hugged the Missouri River. We were both amazed at how WIDE the river was here. I think it was the widest river I had ever really seen before. Scratch that. It’s not. I guess I’ve driven over wider ones. But it’s the widest I’ve ever been able to observe OTHER than from a car window going 60+ miles an hour. Despite how wide it was, it didn’t actually seem that deep and didn’t seem to have much of a current to it (although I know things like that can be deceiving). We stood by the river and watched for a while as it wound its way south before we headed back to the car.
Some other things that I will note: while we were only there for day use, the park looked like an excellent place to camp. They have a decent amount of different trails to hike for variety. There was playground equipment for kids and, of course, campsites and picnic areas. They also had yurts that could be rented to “camp” in and (at least one) tepee. We weren’t able to check out the insides of the yurts, although I was tempted to ask when one of the people staying in on greeted us. I did poke my head inside the (obviously unoccupied) tepee, though. What an experience that would be! Maybe someday!
This was, really, our last stop of the day with the exception of gas and bathrooms, so we kind of pushed on through the rest of the drive. We missed out on some of the more scenic views of western North Dakota because it got dark before we made it to our destination in Glendive, Montana.
We spent the night at the Holiday Inn in Glendive and after we got checked in, carried all of our belongings into the hotel and let our dog walk around and sniff the small strip of grass that was the “dog area”, we loaded up again and headed to Gust Hauf. We found this place via our “Bring Fido” app and it promised amazing pizza and a dog friendly patio. Our arrival at the hotel was later than we had anticipated and by the time we arrived at the restaurant, the patio was closed. We ended up ordering a pizza and taking it back to the hotel with us. Honestly, it was pretty darn good pizza – loaded with toppings so there was plenty of “meat treats” to share with Indy for being SUCH a good traveler. Despite the fact that I am usually kind of a night owl, I was ready for bed, EARLY.
So, random other observations of North Dakota, in general?
- BIG lakes. But no houses or cabins on said lakes. No docks or boats on said lakes. What you doin’ with your water North Dakotans, if not using it for recreation? I feel like there’s missed opportunity here.
- Less oil fields than anticipated. I think we only saw like two oil drills? Maybe we weren’t far enough north…
- Less bison than anticipated for a state that is probably most well-known for NDSU football where the mascot is a bison. I saw zero in all the time I spent there. What gives?
- All in all, not that armpitty.