Leaving Montana was a sad thing for us because we just loved Glacier National Park, Great Falls and Fort Peck. The beautiful scenery we had become accustomed to had given way to prairie as we headed east to North Dakota. Time seems to stand still when you are traveling in an area where the scenery changes very little. That drive from Fort Peck to Bismarck seemed to be forever and man, were we grateful when we finally arrived.
We stayed in an absolutely fantastic state park called Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. It was right on the Missouri River, just far enough away from the city that it was quiet, but close enough to Bismarck that we didn't have to spend all day in the car to do sightseeing. This park, by the way, is located where General George Armstrong Custer's cavalry was stationed prior to their march toward Montana and the Battle of Little Big Horn. The park rangers don period dress and take you on a tour of the place and discuss things that happened here using only terms that existed in the 1870's. If you asked a question that involved something beyond the scope of what existed in the 1870's, you were given a response that included a lot of confusion on the part of the tour guide. That was kinda fun.
While in Bismarck, we also visited one of the best state history museums in the country: The North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum. I highly recommend a visit there if you are in the Bismarck area. The museum breaks down North Dakota's history into categories that include geologic times, early peoples, and then "yesterday and today" which discusses farming history and other industries that are important to North Dakota's growth. We could have spent way more time there and wish we would have discovered it on our first day in town.
One of the other things we did while in North Dakota was visit the "On-a-Slant Mandan Village" which is located in the state park. We learned about the Mandan/Hidatsu/Arikara Indian tribes and how they were actually very wealthy farmers. We toured through one of their mud housing structures and learned about the family unit and typical daily life of these Native American tribes. One of the more interesting things was spending some time with two of the park rangers who live in the Standing Rock area (the place where the big pipeline protest took place last year) and learned from them that things happened there quite differently than were reported in the news. No surprise there!!!
We only had a couple of days in North Dakota and headed further east to the 48th and last state of our journey - - Minnesota. Let me tell you, this state is not called "Land of 10,000 Lakes" for no reason! There's water everywhere in the northern and central part of this state. We stayed in a little town called Ashby which has two very sizable lakes around it. We took a couple of drives and visited Battle Lake and Fergus Falls, but our favorite was a little town called Alexandria. What an adorable town and if it didn't have winter, I think Steve and I would happily move there.
Our first stop was visiting the Legacy of the Lakes Museum. This facility housed some of the most beautiful pre-war wooden boats that I have ever seen. Our modern-day boats are all fiberglass and, in my opinion, have very little style compared to the old Chris-Craft and Garwood boats of earlier days. We read stories about the entrepreneurs who developed this region of Minnesota as a tourist destination and enjoyed watching videos of an old speed boat competitions that Gar Wood had won. There was also a temporary exhibit featuring nature photography by National Geographic photographer, Jim Brandenburg.
Next we stopped at the Runestone Museum next door and were pleasantly surprised. What we thought was just a small museum about the history of this part of Minnesota, was actually the story of the Kensington Runestone. What a gem of a museum. The Kensington Runestone was discovered on the farm of Olaf Ohman in 1898. It contains a message written in symbols he didn't understand but spent his life trying to decipher. Scientists and historians got involved to authenticate the stone and it's message which basically indicates that Christopher Columbus was not the first to discover America - - it was the Norseman who arrived in the region we now call Minnesota in 1362. Google it for more of the back story, but wow was that fascinating. We thoroughly enjoyed touring this museum, Fort Alexandria that stands directly behind it, and Big Ole - - a 28-foot viking that serves as the town's mascot.
From Ashby we headed south to Pipestone (pronounced "pippa stone" by our GPS). Again, small town America's charm can be found all over this place. It also is the home to Pipestone National Monument. This beautiful red stone has been mined here by all tribes of Indians for centuries. It is the base stone from which they make their peace pipes and holds very significant religious value to Native Americans. We spoke with a woman named Dancing Flower who was carving turtles out of the stone for sale in the gift shop. She was telling us that the Native Americans have to apply for a permit to quarry the stone and that her niece and nephew were busy quarrying stone that very morning. It is a very labor-intensive job as the stone is buried beneath first layers of prairie grass and dirt, then about 10 feet of limestone. It is a sacred thing for them to quarry and most find the struggle to be a religious experience they would not pass up.
While in the area, we also took in a rodeo at the Pipestone County Fair. What a hoot! We have been to rodeos before where we saw bull riding, calf roping and barrel races. We have never experienced team herding before and it was rather interesting. It goes something like this: there are 9 head of cattle all numbered 1 to 9, stationed at one end of the arena. The goal is for the four cowboys on horses to sort out the cattle one by one, and in numerical order, from one end of the arena to the other. Cows are stubborn animals, as we learned, and seemed to enjoy messing with the cowboys. We had a great time!
We took some time to visit Sioux Falls South Dakota since it was right across the state line from us. Boy did we fall in love with that city. The town, itself, has gone through several different lifetimes and is enjoying a bit of a boom right now. The architecture in the downtown area is absolutely spectacular and we enjoyed taking a trolley ride around town to get some of the history. We also visited the Cathedral of St. Joseph which was absolutely breathtaking. It was built between 1915 and 1918 and is quite a showpiece as the spires of the church literally tower over the city of Sioux Falls. I wish we could have attended services there as I am sure it would have been very special. From there we headed to the Falls Park, which is in the heart of the downtown area. First of all, it was unbelievably beautiful. Rushing water flowing over the pink quartzite boulders - - enjoyable for not only the eyes but the ears as well. What was also unbelievable is that these rocks are not considered a restricted area to visitors of the park. People were crawling all over them getting very close to the falls, etc. without hinderance. If I were about 30 years younger, I would have joined them. Steve and I took a trip up the observation tower to get a better view of the park and the city and absolutely loved it. If you are ever in the area of Sioux Falls, stop in and visit this park. You will find it absolutely delightful.
Our last stop was to one of the most interesting, off-the-beaten path places we have ever been: the United States Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observation and Sciences Center (EROS). This is the location that manages all of the USGS and NASA satellites. The purpose of these satellites is to record and analyze changes in our planet - - from the growth of civilization around major cities to the forest fires that are occurring all over our nation. It records the effects of drought and flood damage and a whole host of other things I cannot even remember. It was really interesting and a little surprise find.
Well, that's it for our travels. From Minnesota we headed east, first through Iowa and then through Indiana to arrive at our Monroe, Michigan home where we will be until September 15. Steve and I hope you have enjoyed reading about our adventure and seeing our beautiful pictures and also hope that we have maybe inspired you to make a visit to one of these places yourself. This country is so big and so beautiful and has so much rich heritage that it is worth taking the time to explore it.
Until next time, take care everyone!