How Far to Fargo? A Summertime Drive through North Dakota

In Search of Big Skies, Badlands, and Some North Dakota Nice

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Fargo, North Dakota. Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

Fargo, North Dakota. Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

Around the time the Brawny Sherpa and I decide to get into better shape for an anticipated walk on the Way of Saint James in Spain next winter, I develop a new fascination with roadtrips. I might as well rest my not-yet-weary feet before I break in some new hiking boots, right? And why not do that on an epic summertime trip to a place full of big skies, badlands, and that cultural trait known as North Dakota Nice?

Of course, any couple that is planning to spend some serious quality time in the car knows that good planning can forestall any amount of bickering over which direction to head. In the age of Global Positioning Systems, we are not so worried about pulling together a decent set of maps as we are that we’ll miss something vital about a place we’ve never been before. Truth be told, I don’t know much about North Dakota beyond what I learned from the film “Fargo” and the Youthful Adventurer’s mumblings about dinosaur discoveries in the state.

I’ve been binge-reading about our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, of late, and he managed to get to North Dakota from his home state of New York in an era when the convenience of air travel had not yet been discovered and then lost. If he could find his way to North Dakota back then, surely these New Yorkers can this coming summer!

Like Roosevelt more than a century ago, I’m a New Yorker seeking a bit of outdoorsy freshness. If my visit happens to trigger greater career rigor, as it did Roosevelt’s, all the better. I add Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora to our list of North Dakota destinations. The environmentalist in me is curious about the dry terrain of the Badlands and how life is sustained there. There could be some conservation lessons here for all of us.

The Chateau de Mores in Medora, North Dakota was home to a French marquis in the 1800s. Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

The Chateau de Mores in Medora, North Dakota was home to a French marquis in the 1800s. Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

While we are in Medora, the historic Chateau de Mores beckons. It is hard for me to think of North Dakota as a one-time part of France, so of course I am curious to learn what drew the French Marquis de Mores to the state long after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase had concluded. This historic site offers a glimpse of life as it was in the late 1800s when the marquis was there. The Brawny Sherpa will be persuaded by the promise of a stagecoach ride.

We need to go to Fargo just because we love the movie of the same name and also the accents of the actors speaking in it. Looking into things to do in Fargo, I am immediately excited to learn about the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ at the Fargo Theatre. Played back in the day to accompany silent movies, the organ is still used at weekend screenings. I have to hear this thing play! A trip to the Plains Art Museum will surely provide more inspiration and impart a bit of knowledge as we gaze at contemporary and older pieces, art and historical photographs. Honestly, I can’t wait to get there.

An earlier New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt, was inspired by and inspiring to North Dakotans. Here, the Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Hall of Fame in the State Capitol. Photo by North Dakota Tourism/Jim Gallop

An earlier New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt, was inspired by and inspiring to North Dakotans. Here, the Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Hall of Fame in the State Capitol. Photo by North Dakota Tourism/Jim Gallop

While in North Dakota, we might as well stop in its capital, Bismarck. When I think about North Dakota, homesteaders come to mind, but of course the territory’s history extends much further back than that. At the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck, visitors can learn about indigenous people—who, of course, were maintaining sustainable lifestyles so many of us would do better to emulate—as well as about those dinosaurs. I am beginning to think I am not going to be able to accomplish all that I need to in a single visit to the land of Rough Riders.

—Lori Tripoli

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