To be frank, the main reason we traveled through North Dakota this summer (2021) was to be able to put the sticker on our travel map. We didn’t really consider North Dakota a “destination” state, but we found one place—the International Peace Garden—that we thought made it worth putting on our route. Surprisingly, however, we had an incredible amount of fun as we traveled through the state!
Our first stop was at the North Dakota Fairgrounds in Minot. We chose this location because our reservations near the International Peace Garden began on July 5, and we needed a place to stay that (1) had electrical hookups because of the massive heatwave hitting the north (near 100 degrees) and (2) would be easy to get into and stay over July 4th weekend. Luckily, the only thing that was occurring at the fairgrounds that weekend was dirt-track speedway racing on Sunday night, with fireworks to follow. Our spot was just across from the entrance to the speedway, which made it convenient to walk to and attend the local races as well as watch an awesome fireworks display and not have to deal with traffic.
A bonus side trip that weekend took us to Towner, just about 30 minutes down the road, for an amateur rodeo. Although Carl attended one a few decades ago, this one would be my first. Rodeos are part of the western landscape, and it seemed like something we should attend at least once. I’m glad we chose an amateur rodeo. In a smaller arena, we had a great view wherever we chose to sit or stand. The horses, cattle, and bulls were well taken care of, and their personalities were evident during their events.
A few days later, we arrived at Lake Metigoshe State Campground, just down the road from the International Peace Garden. This is a popular weekend getaway and fishing destination for North Dakotans. The campground had a beach and a boat ramp, and the weather was perfect.
The International Peace Garden straddles the U.S./Canada border, and, even though the border to Canada has been closed because of covid, the Garden was open. We were officially in Canada while visiting it. Of course, there were many areas of beautiful gardens, a stream representing the border, a bell tower, a peace chapel, and a 9-11 monument. One of the loveliest contributions to the Garden was a statue contributed by the Airstream Club International (previously known as the Wally Byam Caravan Club International).
Another bonus side trip while in North Dakota was to Bismarck. This was backtracking a bit. Instead of moving east, we moved southwest. We found out that Carl’s son, Eric, who lives in Orlando, Florida, was going to be in Bismarck to help an elderly relative move some of his belongings from Bismarck to Orlando. What fun it was to be able to visit with Eric while we were still in North Dakota, and have fun in Bismarck to boot! We boondocked at a relatively new campground next to Lake Harmon, just 15 minutes from town. Lake Harmon is small but popular with kayakers and fishermen. We had some of the most delicious pizza at A&B Pizza in Mandan (Mandan is to Bismarck as Cary is to Raleigh). And we attended a Bismarck Larks baseball game. This team is part of a collegiate-level league, and we were excited to discover that one of the teammates was from NCSU! It wasn’t a winning night for the Larks, but it was so much fun to be a part of the local crowd rooting them on.
Bismarck reminds me of Raleigh in the 1980s, with its rolling landscape, small-town feel, and big city appeal. I could easily see myself living there (not going to happen, but it is a beautiful city!).
While at Lake Harmon, we sojourned to the Knife River Indian Villages, a national historic site where Sacagawea and her husband were most likely living when Lewis & Clark hired them as part of their expedition. North Dakota has a couple of other national parks that we will visit in the future.
Our final stop in North Dakota was at a tiny city park in Michigan (aka Michigan City, but a train delivery to the wrong place in the late 1800s had them shorten it to Michigan). We heard about it from some people we met at the International Peace Garden. This city park had space for about 4-5 RVs, had electrical hookups, and was donation-only. It was next to a 9-hole golf course that was $10 a day to play and included a cart. Don’t let the size fool you! It had some challenging holes and kept Carl entertained that week. In addition, the town was having “Michigan Days” the weekend we were there. Inflatable entertainment for kids, pedal-pushing tractor pulls, hole-in-one competition, and a cornhole (they call it beanbags) tournament brought the townsfolk, as well as people from neighboring towns, to the park for a couple of days.
Michigan is a small town. It has a school and a gas station. John Deere has a location there. The library is open a couple of hours a week, and the grocery store is probably one of the smallest I’ve been in since we began traveling (it is closed on Sundays). The population has stayed level over the past few decades, though, because it is only 45 minutes from Grand Forks where many people commute to work. The golf course is very popular and has turned this little town into a golf cart community. If we ever find our way back into North Dakota, Michigan will definitely be on our route.
While it is mostly flat, mostly farmland, and mostly small towns, North Dakota has nuggets of history and western flavor not to be missed. If you’ve never been to North Dakota, don’t discount its potential entertainment. With a little bit of research and some flexibility, North Dakota is definitely a destination worth visiting (in the summer—unless you like ice fishing, then the winter is good!).