NORTH DAKOTA ~ June 1999:

69,000 sq. mi, 660,000 people, 69,000,000 ducks and 2 Bogers from NY

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7230.jpg (10556 bytes) Prairie Home, no Companion

We have returned from North Dakota. Although ND is not for everyone, we certainly enjoyed it. Case in point: ND has around 30 wildlife refuges; NY has maybe 3. ND has a total population of around 660,000 (mostly Scandinavians). Note that is the TOTAL population for the ENTIRE state. The Rochester metropolitan area has 600,000 people. ND is big, open country (~69,000 sq. mi.; Pennsylvania is ~44,000 sq. mi.). Because ND farms produce crops rather than meat or dairy, there are few fences, and therefore, no easily identifiable field boundaries. Sure there are rows of windbreak trees, but without fences, you cannot be sure where one field ends and another begins. We also realized that there were few roads with utility poles. That really enhances the wide-open feel of the terrain. You can drive for extended distances without seeing a house or even a road to a house. Most of the big farm houses are way back off the road, which is a dirt county road anyway. These people are isolated. If there are no utility poles, but there are houses, how the hell do they get power? We did see a few of those windmill generator systems, but I expect they were used to power irrigation pumps remotely located in the fields. I really don’t think their own generators power these farmhouses, although they probably have backup systems for when those upper-Midwest blizzards knock out the power. Oh well, just a curiosity that was revealed after we left the state. Guess we will have to go back to get the answer. Darn.

ND has thousands of pothole lakes, each populated with ducks. In fact ND produces half of all the ducklings in the entire continent. That is why we renamed it North DUCKota. We saw more ducks in breeding plumage on this trip than we have seen total in all our travels. Each pothole has a slightly different chemistry, so different types of ducks are found on adjacent lakes: Ruddy ducks and Blue-winged Teal on this pothole, Pintails and Widgeons on the next. You have to be into ducks, wide-open spaces, and wildlife refuges to really enjoy ND. We are, and we did.

Here is our trip log, and a map showing our route through ND, so you can follow along if you wish. If it looks like we were going in circles, well, that is the way we travel.

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Our trip route through ND.

Beth, the kids, and the dog were home, but Mikey was on the train coming home from Ottawa where he was breaking in a new director who is supposed to manage his project. Ha! He finally arrived around 7:30. We had been, well, drinking and "carrying on" so it took him a while to catch up.

Ah, Seney (pronounced See-Knee), a wonderful place. Unlike most wildlife refuges, most of Seney’s pools are not bounded by dikes, and, hence, not rectangular. The pools are situated in a glaciated area with some topography so there are some little ups and downs. The refuge is large. The roads are well maintained. The biking is great. One of the most interesting things is the road boundaries. In OH we call them the road berm, but non-Ahians laughs when I say that, so we will call it the boundary, okay? Anyway, the edges are NOT mown. They are natural and look like they have been landscaped. It reminds me of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Wish our "edges" looked so nice without maintenance. We got up early, and biked Seney. We watched the Canada geese and their little ones. Bog actually let one of the goslings bite his finger. They have little serrations on their bills, useful for nipping juicy blades of grass. Oh, there were goose droppings all over the place. Neat. Then we saw some Trumpeter Swans with cygnets. Swan droppings are very different from goose, in case you were wondering. Papa Swan was not about to let us get close to the little ones, so we don't know about the shape of the inside of their bills. We've heard that an adult swan can break an adult human's arm, and we'd rather believe that than test it.

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7295.jpg (68555 bytes) Papa Swan with his droppings.
7296.jpg (69887 bytes) Mama Swan with his cygnets.

This was a long driving day. We left Seney around noon and just tried to cover some ground to get farther west. We were farther north by a couple degrees of latitude so the days were longer. By the time we were in northern ND, it wasn’t getting dark until around 10:30, which is great for traveling. However, it makes us nervous to go to any state park on a Friday, the beginning of a nice weekend, especially one located near a large city. Strangely enough for a crowded state park on the weekend, it got very quiet after 10 PM. The rumble of not too distant thunder awakened us around 5 AM. Oh my gawd, we are going to get drenched, and it is just the start of the trip. Worse yet, we might get stuck in a tiny tent for several hours in a thunderstorm when we really wanted to be heading west. We packed up and headed for ND without getting wet.

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7229.jpg (32427 bytes) Janie cooks at Jay Cooke SP

Remember Grand Forks and the flooding a year or so ago? The downtown section was flooded and then burned. The entire downtown section was just plain tore up are they are still repairing it. We found a AAA motel for $34.60 with continental breakfast AND a Bev Doolittle print in the breakfast nook. For those of you not familiar with Bev, you should be. Before we left, we read in Time that ND is a cheap vacation ($128/day for a family of 4), which turned out to be true. We actually found good accommodations for as little as $30.52 total, and we ate out for $10-15 tax and tip, both of us. These were not gourmet meals by any stretch, but they were serviceable and the clientele was "interesting." Grand Forks is home to the University of ND, so we drove through the campus on our way to a Mexican restaurant for dinner (Mexican in ND, go figure). Hey, that is one beautiful campus. The beauty of ND always impressed us. I kept thinking, "This would be a great place to live." Then I would think about the winters. "It’s a wicked wind in Fargo," according to Dakota Dave… it’s a song, folks.

Out of Grand Forks and heading to Devil’s Lake toward Sully’s Hill Game Preserve. This was our first experience with "Road Closed" signs. You see, the ND had received a lot of rain this season (El Nino/La Nina; blame whichever you want); much more than its usual 15" per year. So much rain that many roads were under water, hence we saw a lot of Road Closed signs. Okay, we turned around and drove along the other side of Devil’s Lake to Sully’s Hill. No big deal, we get to see more of ND that way. Oh, you may be wondering why it is called Devil’s Lake. Janie looked it up and the story is that the local Indians decided to attack another band of Indians at night. That was against the Indian code, so the spirits of the lake caused the returning Indians to march into the lake and drown. That somehow violates the image we have of Indians who are always in tune with their surroundings. It’s not like they didn’t know the lake was there – it’s a damned large lake!

Sully’s Hill(s) are glacial deposits on the south side of Devil’s Lake. The information at the park says it is "dirt scooped up from the lake by the glacier" but that goes against all of our geologic training. The preserve is located in an Indian Reservation: descendants of those that didn’t drown. Six miles of paved road winds around and up and down through the preserve. NO BIKING. We don’t know if that is because of the terrain or the Elk and Buffalo. We saw 5 or 6 Elk and a small herd of Buffalo. We also watched a flock of Turkeys amble across the grassland, and saw our first live Prairie Dogs (roadkill doesn't count). The drive was so nice, we took it twice and had lunch under an oak on the edge of an open grassland area.

We were off to Minot in the PM. As we drove around on the back roads looking at puddle ducks, we noticed dark clouds on the horizon. We are not used to seeing so far (hey, it’s the Great Plains) so we really didn’t know what to make of it. Then we to noticed the "petticoats" of the thunderhead. Those are the whitish clouds that form from the downdraft of large thunder cells; the ones that spawn tornadoes. We kept thinking the storm was south of us, but, as it turned out, it was moving NW, so we eventually got engulfed. It hit us just E of Minot. The rain was so furious that Bog actually pulled off the road; way off the road, so we wouldn’t be rear-ended. Then the heavy winds and hail came. Once the rain stopped, the sun came out and all was well with the world. We asked the motel person in Minot if it had rained there, and she said, "Yea, for the last 3 weeks." Remember the Road Closed signs.

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