We went on a whim of saying “Yes” and left raving fans. If you have not yet read the story of how we choose North Dakota, view here.
We pulled into Bismarck, North Dakota late at night and we were surprised to be greeted by a very chipper, young professional named Connor who assisted us with a huge smile, all at 3am. Great way to start our 36 hours in one of my new favorite cities.
The next morning brought a quick google search that found Bismarck was home to a newly renovated North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum with replicas of T-Rex’s and Triceratops fighting. We had to go.
This glass encased museum sits on the grounds of the state capital, which is a HUGE building that elevates itself across the plains. Fun fact, the North Dakota State Capitol isn’t round like most other capitals! We were pleased to find out that the museum is open 7 days a week and is free to all – written into the North Dakota State Constitution in fact. In addition to the museum, there is an outdoor lawn area for concerts and events, indoor space for events, outdoor pavilion and space for music.
The museum was simply enthralling. You could see the conscientious effort to connect people with place, and it worked. There were exhibits on dinosaurs, sure, but the theme of the entire museum is “History for Everyone” and they honored that message. Room after room honoring the people and traditions of Native Americans, Settlers, Gold Rushers, Farmers, Rodeo Cowboys and Cowgirls, Business Owners, Oil Field Workers. They completed the picture on the past and present of North Dakota for me – and their displays and messaging made me understand and become invested in their State. They asked questions such as: “What does being a North Dakotan mean to you” “Why do people come to North Dakota and what are their expectations” and “Where do you see YOUR future in North Dakota?”
There was a perfect balance of interactive displays where you can answer these questions and provide input into the future of the museum, along with historical displays where you can see original Native American quilts alongside the nuclear bomb deployment area (pictures in video). I thoroughly enjoyed viewing original pottery workings and replica tee-pees. I met Dakota Wind, an on-site curator that was working on a hand-painted umbrella that he could use in his dance. He and I had a eye-opening conversation about the Standing Rock conflict and he showed me position papers he wrote – some of which were picked up by national publications. There was a children’s playspace similar to smaller children’s museums that was North Dakota-centric – mainly focused on ND agriculture.
The effort to create an inclusive place of cultural understanding was omnipresent. History for Everyone. I left full of ideas and hope for what I can bring back to Hilton Head Island using elements found at the facility. It was a pretty intense experience and one that I didn’t think I would find in Bismarck.
View the overview video here.
That night we boarded the Lewis and Clark Riverboat Cruise for a quick trip up and down the Missouri River. While this was fun for Gray, it was a little too confining for the little ones (they obviously couldn’t run around) but the views were beautiful. I was disappointed to not have any presentations or interpretive panels on the cruise, so we couldn’t get a good grasp on the history of the river, what we were looking at, or why it mattered. These guys could easily take a page from the museum to improve their visitor experience. The weather was beautiful.
That night, I was able to spend time with my girlfriend Brooke. We went to a bar downtown where the entire area is getting a splurge of local bars and restaurants popping up. We talked and ate and drank and had a great bartender who gave me recommendations for the best viewing of the Badlands and other insider ND information.
The next morning, we were up and out to the door to head west, past Dickenson, ND to Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt National Park where we could take in a complete view of the Badlands. The bartender the night before had told me about the town of Medora, a western decorated entertainment town where the national park sits. We headed into the Medora (it’s TINY) and we came upon a group of gentlemen that were out riding horses.
We got out of the car to stretch our legs and in conversations with the men, found out they were from Spartanburg, SC. Hysterical! And yes, we knew a number of the same people. They had followed pretty much our direct path out West and had trailered their horses along with them and were staying at a dude ranch about 5 miles outside of town – riding all over Medora and the National Park.
We talked with them for about an hour, covered lots of South Carolina Politics, one was a judge, one was a lawyer, exchanged business cards and went on our way. I’m still laughing about this one. Literally, imaging a throwback 1800’s western town, about 10 people on the street and you have our Motley Crew of babies and these guys on horseback and we’re all from South Carolina. It was awesome.
The Badlands were exhilarating. We loved the scenery and enjoyed the vastness of space. Time stood still. We saw a Bison and the boys had a blast. Joe was enthralled. I was just trying to make sure the kids were not falling off the cliffs :).
After the Badlands, we geared up for the drive to the cabin in Spearfish Canyon, SD. Not quite ready to say goodbye to North Dakota – we had seen a random sign for scrap iron art installations outside of Dickenson on the “Enchanted Highway” – and jumped at the chance to explore this place of randomness! We had said “Yes” to North Dakota and this seemed like the icing on the cake.
Random, HUGE scrap art installations dotted the side of this rural, two-lane highway that cut from the interstate in North Dakota almost all way to the South Dakota state line. Every few miles another one popped up out of the sky. It was totally enchanting. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
If you ever have the chance to visit North Dakota, you must go. Between the energy and education in Bismarck to the vastness of the Badlands to the Enchanted Highway, the experience was a unexpected surprise. I left the state happy, educated and simply more fulfilled. Go visit North Dakota, you won’t be disappointed.
#VisitNorthDakota #Badlands #NPS #TeddyRoosevelt #VisitBismarck