Highways and byways
Aug 3, 2009
|We arrived at our campground in Dickinson ND Wednesday mid-day, a few hours ahead of Fred and Jo Wishnie, who had farther to drive. The weather here has been alternately (and sometimes all at once) windy, rainy, sunny, cloudy, thundering and quiet. The first night it was too windy to sit outside, so we had cocktails and dinner at our place and caught up on what we’d each been doing for the last month since we saw them last. Thursday Bill Joyce and his wife Diane Melde pulled in next to us – Fred and Jo have known Bill and Diane for a while through RV groups they both belong to, but this was our first chance to meet them. We had drinks and dinner with them both Thursday and Friday evening before saying good-bye as they left Saturday morning to continue on their drive to spend a short time in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. We had some great conversations and learned lots from Bill and Diane, who are both retired from computer industry jobs, and greatly appreciated Bill’s find of a restaurant for dinner Thursday night. We were all surprised to find a very nice restaurant, with great food, here in tiny Dickinson. Friday night we went to a nearby Perkins to balance out the damage to our wallets!
Saturday morning Fred, Jo, Ian and I went to the local farmers’ market. We had some difficulty locating it, as the directions were undoubtedly clear to the locals (“the old Super-Valu parking lot”) but not helpful to us. When we finally found it, it was less than a mile from our campground! We were a few minutes late and had to hustle to get produce before they sold out. It’s not that large a market, but the produce and baked goods were nice and clearly popular with a fair-sized crowd of locals who snapped up some things before we had a chance. We’ll go back again on Tuesday, since we don’t leave here until Wednesday.
After stowing our purchases we took off again to drive the Enchanted Highway (see the previous post). After we returned, we had a quiet and relaxing evening in our separate rigs, preceded by cocktails on the grass strip between our rigs (the weather being calm and a perfect temperature, for a change) while we watched Boo Boo (the Wishnies' dog) and Max eye each other warily. Boo Boo would dearly love to play with Max and Titus but Titus doesn’t come outside and is very nervous of dogs and Max doesn’t quite know what to make of Boo Boo so mostly ignores her, all of which is very frustrating to Boo Boo. We try to tell her it’s just what girls have to get used to, but she doesn’t understand.
We spent Sunday quietly at home, catching up on various things, and Monday the Wishnies and we went to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We will be spending more time in the park at our next stop, which is very close to what we now know is the South Unit. Until Bill Joyce told us about it when they were here, we didn’t even realize that there is a North Unit. It’s quite a ways away from the South Unit (I think the entrances are something like 80 miles apart) and about as close to Dickinson as to Medora (our next stop), so we decided to go. It was a pleasant, easy drive (with one stop for an abandoned farm building photo op!) until we got to the actual park, where the first mile and a half or so of the 14-mile scenic drive is undergoing serious road construction. We had to wait for a pilot car to lead us through that section, but as we were right at the visitors’ center, it gave us an opportunity to make a pit stop and look at what the visitors’ center had to offer. The scenic drive has a number of overlooks (actually some of them are just slightly wider shoulders next to a sign explaining a feature worthy of note), and we passed a couple of them before getting to a camping and picnic area where we stopped for lunch. We didn’t linger, however, since rain, which had been threatening for a while, began to fall. In fact, although the weather forecasters and we had expected it to rain at least part of the day, the little bit we had at that point was pretty much all we had and there were even partially blue skies at times.
About half the park is “badlands” – rocky bluffs and rock formations with very interesting colors and features caused by erosion or geological movement – and the other half is high meadow. The Little Missouri River runs through the park – it’s not too impressive at this point, having water that’s only about 1 ½ feet deep, but there are some dramatic ox-bow curves and areas that have flooded in the past so are fairly green and lush. There are a couple of areas with unusual features, well marked and explained, and we duly parked the truck and got out to explore, photograph and admire.
We had been promised bison and our first sighting (actually the first “bison” sighting turned out to be cattle, but that’s another story!) was of a herd near the end of the 14-mile drive – there were 20 or so, including a few calves, but they were pretty far away and even with long lenses on our cameras we didn’t think the pictures would be very good. The second herd we saw was even farther away. We reached the end of the road and turned around, re-tracing our steps but seeing things from the opposite direction. All along the road and even in the picnic area there was evidence that the bison did manage to get closer to the road at some times, so we were hopeful. Finally we spotted a herd, again off in the distance. As we were debating whether the road would get closer to them, we looked ahead and saw a small group right next to the road! We pulled up, as quietly as possible, and managed to get close enough to get some reasonably good pictures, but we wanted more. And we got it. Suddenly, on the other side of the road, one handsome bull was meandering in our direction, partially obscured by shrubbery, and it soon became clear he was going to cross the road right in front of us. We all leaned out windows and stood on running boards to get good pictures as he obediently stopped in the middle of the road and turned his head, as if to say “ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille”. Then he lumbered on giving us another couple of decent views as he passed through the shrubs and trees and disappeared in the direction that the small group we had seen earlier had gone. So, satisfied with our “bison fix” we made pretty good time back to the construction area where we just missed the departure of the pilot car, so we had to wait quite a while for it to make its round trip. Jo and Margaret (and Boo Boo) got out and walked around a bit, allowing Boo Boo to add another conquest by shamelessly flirting with the flagman. On the other hand, it’s a dull job he has, so he was probably glad of the diversion! Once we got through the construction again and got on the road, we made very good time back to the campground, having had an interesting and generally rewarding (photographically speaking) day.
Tuesday, our last day in Dickinson, was pretty well taken up with errands and shopping in preparation for our departure the next day for Medora, which has no grocery stores or shopping of any consequence. Since we’ll be there a week we wanted to make sure we had everything we need. In the course of the day Margaret and Jo found a small coffee house housed in an old church. It was really charming, with decent coffee and a good supply of beans that they roast themselves. They also serve a soup, salad and sandwich kind of lunch so we all four went back there for lunch a bit later. That pretty much concluded our activities in Dickinson, outside of visits to various shopping venues, including another trip to the farmers’ market.
One thing we knew about Dickinson before we got there was that they had experienced a level EF-3 tornado on July 8. The part of town where we were staying had experienced little damage but the south section of town, which we drove through on our way back from Regent on Saturday, had been pretty badly hit. There had been a massive clean-up by a group of volunteers who had come in to help out a week or so after the tornado, but we could see many houses with damaged (or completely missing) roofs and broken windows and several buildings that were effectively destroyed and either in the process of being razed or already torn down. Amazingly, the downtown area seemed to be pretty untouched but in a town of something like 12,000 residents, no one is untouched by something like this that hits your friends and neighbors. We liked this interesting and historic town and wish them well.
If you still haven’t had your fill of old farmhouse photos, here are a few more from the Dickinson area.
Wednesday we drive 36 miles to Medora to continue our exploration of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and other historical sites in southwest North Dakota.