Coming up from Bismarck to Minot, the direct route involves taking Highway 83.
We however, chose an alternate more scenic pass. ND 1804 hugs the Missouri river for several miles, and offers some enjoyable sights. The highlight to me was the site of the Double Ditch Indian Village, a former location for members of the Mandan Indian tribe.
This impressive site is very large, and the sheer scale of the land involved is a vivid reminder of how different these agricultural based communities are from the more commonly thought of nomadic Indians. The North American continent had several native populations that had settled ‘villages’ which could be best categorized as small towns.
Walking the site was enjoyable. While there are no buildings present the dents, bumps and other landmarks clearly identify the former locations of earthen mound lodges, middens, ditches and other fortifications. I did have to be careful strolling around however, as there are many many critters who have dug dangerous holes in the ground – some hidden by long grasses. There is a thriving prairie dog community present, and I suspect some larger animals such as rabbits and foxes also.
Also present at the location – which is on a bluff over the Missouri – was a stone shelter built by the new deal Works Progress Administration. It was unclear to me why they built this, but it was certainly sturdy.
After driving along ND 1804 a while longer, near the town of Washburn is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. While not cheap to access, they have some great displays and provide great context for understanding their Corps of Discovery Expedition. Although the center is undergoing expansion, the display they already have I think were worth paying to see.
Included in admission is an interpretive tour of a replica of Fort Mandan. While not an exact copy of the original fort, it is a fair duplicate based on what is known of the original. As well as describing life in the fort, staff also give presentation on various topics of interest.
We were there for a talk by Jeffery Carlson, who gave a run down on life for new army recruits on the expedition – ‘the Kentucky nine’. A lucky volunteer from the audience was dressed up in a replica of their uniforms, and Jeff fielded question. It was clear he has a great knowledge of the relevant topics, as he was able to provide detailed answers to some relatively complicated questions.
The final stop before arriving at Minot was when we crossed the Garrison Dam, that forms the very large Lake Sakakawea. This impressive edifice is an earth fill dam, it is 60 feet wide at the top and very very wide at the base. Without a lot of concrete visibly involved there is a lot of grass growing on the down river side, and it was thus to me a rather unusual looking dam.
While the trip from Bismarck to Minot is only about 2 hours direct, we managed to spend most of the day with all our detours and stops; they were well worthwhile however, and the day was much more interesting than I anticipated.
We opted to spend two nights in the Marriott in Minot, as we had quite a bit of activity planned. Since it took so long for us to get there taking our scenic drive, we didn’t get to do much more than eat dinner the first night. The next morning however, we were up brighy and early and went down to the local tourist information office at the Minot Scandinavian Heritage Park.
The buildings weren’t open to explore when we were there, but we took a stroll around the grounds and checked out the various items on the grounds. The Gol Stave Church was particularly impressive, and I’d have to say it was both unique and beautiful.
After leaving we drove downtown to explore the old main street. There are quite a few stores there, and while it has to compete with the Dakota Square mall is still seems pretty functional. I spent some time in ‘Bravs Shoe Store’, a shop selling a range of Western goods, and picked up some great gifts. The elderly gentleman running the store told us it was the oldest in town, and was operated by his father before him.
We briefly attempted to locate a rumored river walk in the downtown area, but were unsuccessful. Minot is a very easy town to get lost in! Instead, we headed out of town up Highway 83 in the hopes of seeing some planes taking off or landing at Minot AFB. Unfortunately the weather was pretty overcast, so we couldn’t see much of anything, and the visit was a non-event. Probably unsurprisingly they are not setup to receive tourists.
In the name of following 83 as far as we could – since we have been roughly driving it since Texas – we headed North about an hour until we reached the Canadian border near Westhope in the northern tip of North Dakota. We took some quick photos – probably to the bemusement of the border guards – and then drove back to the hotel in Minot.