North Dakota Landscape

Another day of drive, drive, drive to reach our goal of Regina, Saskatchewan. Before my first visit to North Dakota I imagined an endless, non-descript landscape. The Badlands in the western portion of the state doesn’t fit that image, making the drive much more interesting.

Lake Sakakawea Bridge

We follow ND22 north from Dickinson to New Town. Frustration sets in when we join a long line of traffic following an incredibly wide load – creeping uphill of course. There is plenty of time to admire the Badlands view.

We cross Lake Sakakawea (formed by the damming of the Missouri River) at New Town to catch ND1804, a 70-mile stretch of hills and  curves to Williston. This the heart of the Bakken oil fields and it seems everyone is on the move – mostly in very large truck in a hurry. We can hardly wait to get further north.

The border crossing was uneventful until I gave a flippant answer to, “Do you have more than $10,000. in cash?” Without a pause, “I wish,” jumps out of my mouth. We had to repeat that question with a no nonsense, “No.”

Oil exploration declines in southern Saskatchewan. We note the frequent small bodies of water – I would call them ponds but later learn here they are called sloughs. By whatever name they attract a large variety of waterfowl.

We make a mid-afternoon stop at McDonalds in Weyland. Bob’s interested in the large number of local seniors gathered for coffee and chit-chat, males on one side, females on another.

With grateful relief we arrive at our Regina Holiday Inn Express, home for the next three nights.

Good Night Kiss

In our room at the Dickinson, North Dakota Holiday Inn Express we found this treat on the nightstand.

“We are sorry that you are away from home tonight,

 so we would like to make things better if we might.

 Before you jump into bed and turn out the lights,

 please enjoy this kiss goodnight!”

A sweet extra touch.

BrickHouse Grille was recommended at our hotel as the best restaurant in Dickinson, North Dakota. I don’t doubt that this may well be true as the choices are few when you get beyond the level of sports bars, pizza joints or Applebee’s.

We enjoyed a pleasant, enthusiastic waiter, although my observation of other wait staff made me believe he was above the norm. The waiter at the table next to us was repeatedly trying to up-sell every drink and course.

My husband ordered a cup of the daily soup special, loaded baked potato. He reported it was very, very good. And, I must say even it’s aroma across the table was very, very pleasant. I admit to being a bit jealous of his choice.

I found the salad disappointing – one slim tomato wedge on a damp assortment of greens, some browned and wilted. I prefer crisp greens to wimpy, limpy field greens and find three inches of spinach stem particularly annoying and difficult to gracefully get into the mouth.

BrikHouse GrilleMy oven-roasted chicken breast proved to be the best dish I tried, the crispy skin added flavor without drying out the white meat. I would have preferred another treatment for the horseradish mashed potatoes, finding the horseradish a bit strong with chicken (I’ll take mine with a piece of prime rib) and the texture reminded me of those made with potato flakes and too much liquid.

Bob found his beef and mushroom penne pasta dish in dire need of seasoning. I guess we should have stuck with the soup and friendly discourse with the waiter.

Wyoming Rest Stop

In eastern-most Wyoming US85 nearly parallels the historic Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Route. At Mule Creek Junction we find a roadside rest stop miles from other facilities. It’s time to flex the legs so we pull into the rest area. 

Rest Stop SignWe discover a modern, well-maintained facility – not only with restrooms but landscaped grounds, a designated pet area, picnic tables and children’s playground. Although this is the crossroads for two US highways, traffic is far less than one finds along Interstates where one would expect such facilities. We’re surprised of the quality we find here.

While not a manned information center the building is well supplied with state maps and travel literature. We spend 20 minutes ambling around the area and reading the exterior signs relating stories of Wyoming wildlife, Native Americans, agriculture and that famed Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Route.

Thanks Wyoming!

Open Rod

The goal for today was a 400+-mile drive north from Torrington, Wyoming to Dickinson, North Dakota – mostly miles and miles of wide open spaces. Heading north from Torrington, Wyoming on US85 I couldn’t help but remember that there was a time when I would have traveled through this country complaining that it was desolate and boring.

Perhaps it is living in the West for more than 50 years, keener observation skills or enhanced appreciation but today I find something of interest or intrigue in every mile traveled. The Southeastern Wyoming landscape is dotted with tiny clusters of ranch buildings – some active, some weathered with only wind-blown memories. What hardships did the first settlers endure? Or even earlier, how did the land appear when tall, native grasses waved across the prairie disturbed only by thundering herds of buffalo.   

Sunflowers wave from the shoulder of the highway as we pass. We crossed the dry bed of Raw Hide Creek more than half-a-dozen times. Our eyes follow it’s course marked by tall aged cottonwoods and edged in flowing, narrow ribbons of green grasses along its banks. At some crossings we note evidence of previous flash floods. Today, I love driving through the land where the deer and the antelope play.

Bridal Veil Falls - Spearfish CanyonNorth of Newcastle the route winds into the western edge of the Black Hills. We see signs for Calamity Gulch, Devil’s Bathtub, Cleopatra Place – what’s the history behind these names? Not long after crossing into South Dakota we enter scenic Spearfish Canyon, a narrow split in the rocky walls bordering Spearfish Creek. The pullout at Bridal Veil Falls is probably the most popular stop along the Scenic Byway.

We leave US85 at Belle Fource to spend the afternoon following state highways to Dickinson. Although sparsely populated there are always signs of man’s habitation: a rusted windmill, a rutted dirt lane, fenced pasture land, a complex of ranch buildings on yonder hill. Except for a slim strip of Custer National Forest, trees are almost non-existant. We wonder how far ranch children have to travel to a school. What must the early settlers have thought of these wide open plains?

Take Turns 3When the road narrows for bridge repair we’re amused that instead of a flagman or temporary light signal there’s simply a sign saying, “Take Turns.” Rarely an issue in these wide open spaces.

After a slightly frantic getaway we spend the first 90 minutes crawling north on I-25 which reminds us of all the reasons we like to exit the Interstates and travel back roads when the opportunity arises. Looking for routes we’ve never traveled we catch US85 north of Greeley heading for the border. We are soon greeted with “Road Work Ahead” and spend time waiting in line and inching forward. 

Across the Wyoming line we’re intrigued by acres of sunflowers. Are they destined for roasted seeds, oil or some use unknown to us? Even in the late afternoon light every plant is facing east to greet tomorrow morning’s sun.

Day 1 - At WorkWhen checking into the Holiday Inn Express we learn they host an evening reception – free beer, wine and munchies. After our afternoon clean-out-the-refrigerator lunch we’re not interested in sitting down to a full dinner. Veggies and dip, cheese and crackers all we need for an evening snack plus an adult beverage to ease the day’s pace; plus, a fresh baked cookie for bedtime. A perfect welcome to Torrington, Wyoming. 

I spend the evening planning our itinerary and making reservations for the next few nights. Above all we’re thrilled to be on the road again.

“We could leave today!” exclaims my husband Bob when I call him to say that I’ve been dismissed from potential jury selection. It’s 10:40am the day after Labor Day. A much anticipated trip has been on hold because of a jury summons. We’ve had no idea whether we will be able to leave in a day or two; or, perhaps a week or more.

Maps & Books

In the first eight months of the year we’ve been submerged in health issues.  There’s only been one week of “freedom” from doctor appointments, tests, procedures and therapy. Both of us are more than eager to take advantage of travel possibilities.

During the 20-minute drive home I consider the possibility of leaving today. Nothing is packed, no reservations made. I’ve been accumulating various “don’t forget” items in a spare bedroom but always assumed I would have at least an evening to prep before leaving. Can we pull everything together in just a few hours?

Our intended itinerary is driving north through Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota to Regina, Saskatchewan. If all is well we’ll head east to Manitoba and Western Ontario to make s circle trip around Lake Superior. It’s an ambitious trip with our health situations and no set plans.

I send Bob off on errands: books back to the library, pick up the cleaning, cash from the bank, top off the gas tank. I scurry to  put in a final load of laundry and start going down my check list. As it appears all is possible I make a reservation at the Holiday Inn Express in Torrington, Wyoming. It will be about a four hour drive and will click 200 miles off the drive the next two days.

One of our final chores is to sit down to a late lunch. No way could we waste the garden fresh tomatoes, the last fresh Palisade peach or some choice leftovers.

With everything packed and stowed and the house locked up tight we back out of the driveway at 2:05. Not bad for a three hour effort. Off we go!

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