Fort Mandan

Washburn, North Dakota

FM - Sign


Fort Manda

 November 3, 1804: “We commence building our cabins.”

From: The Journal of William Clark


Led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark the Corps of Discovery traveled up the Missouri River from St. Louis for nearly six months. Realizing they needed a place to spend the approaching winter they stopped along the river near present day Washburn, North Dakota.


Groves of cottonwoods provided the wood needed for constructing the triangular fort. Bunk rooms, store rooms and work rooms face inward with 16-foot picket exterior. In just three weeks Corps members were moving into the primitive structure, hurrying to finish the roofs before the worst weather arrived. More than 40 men were to spend the harsh winter in tight quarters at Fort Mandan until early April.


FM - Bunks 

November 20, 1804: “Capt Lewis & my Self move into our huts, a very hard wind from the W.”

From: the Journal of William Clark


FM - L&C Quarters


During those months the men hunted bison, established relationships with native tribes, and prepared for the journey westward towards the Rocky Mountains. Trading goods for food with the Mandan Indians living nearby was essential to winter survival. In late February men were assigned the task of carving four dugout canoes; they finished in 22 days.

February 28, 1805: “Sent out 16 men to make four Perogus  those men returned in the evening and informed that they found trees they thought would answer.”

From: the Journal of William Clark


Lewis and Clark compiled their observations, notes and specimens to be sent back to President Jefferson in the spring. It was here that Lewis and Clark hired fur-trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. When the Corps of Discovery left Fort Mandan in April 1805 Charbonneau, his wife Sacagawea and infant son Jean Baptiste served as interpreters and guides.


November 4, 1804: “a french man by Name Chabonah, who Speaks the Big Belley language visit us, he wished to hire & informed us his 2 Squars were Snake Indians, we engau him to go on with us and take one of his wives to interpret the Snake language”

From: the Journal of William Clark


FM - Woodworking FM - Candle


When the Corps returned on their homeward journey in 1806 they found that the fort had burnt to the ground.


The Missouri River has changed course over two centuries, it is believed the original site of the fort is now underwater. Nearby a replica fort has been constructed, furnished much as it would have been during the 1804-05 winter.


Interpreters give guided tours; during our visit our guide was very knowledgable, bringing time at the fort come to life with fascinating details. He noted that several of the doors are hung incorrectly – they swing outward which would have made it impossible to open after the heavy snowfalls. As today’s temperature hovered near 100 degrees it stretched our imagination to feel the -45 degrees the Corps suffered. Many of the men experienced frostbite but all survived.

April 7, 1805: “Sunday, at 4 oClock …we Sout out on our voyage up the river in 2 perigues and 6 canoes, and proceded on to the 1st villg. of Mandans & Camped on the S.”

From: the Journal of William Clark



FM - Guide FM - Kids


A large hands-on activity area in the visitor center attracts youngsters to try on outfits, don hats and climb into a replica dugout canoe.


When You Go: Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, Washburn, North Dakota (38 miles north of Bismarck), 877-462-8535,

Scandinavian Heritage Center

Minot, ND


Gol Stave Church 1

The Scandinavian Heritage Center celebrates the heritage and culture of five Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Located in a peaceful park setting next to the Minot Visitor Center, the site honors immigrant ancestors who settled in the area. The centerpiece is a full-sized replica of the Gol Stave Church built in the early thirteenth century and now located at the Norwegian Cultural Heritage Site in Oslo, Norway. The intricate construction reflects rich symbolism traditional to Norwegian stave churches.













Unfortunately the church was not open when we visited but we met a young local couple who were married in the church four years ago. They return each year on their anniversary for photographs.


Other structures in the park include a Danish windmill, a grass-roofed stabbur (storehouse), a colorful, 30-foot tall Swedish Dala horse, and a 230-year-old log house from Sigdal, Norway. Sculptures represent a famed ski jumper, a Norwegian skier, Leif Eirikssen and Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. A walkway winds through the neatly landscaped grounds, and pass a pond, waterfall, Plaza Scandinavia (granite map) and Eternal Flame.

HansDala Horse Gol Stave Church

When You Go: Scandinavian Heritage Center, 1020 S. Broadway, Minot ND, 701-852-9161,



Cemetery – Fort Buford State Historic Site


North Dakota


Fort Buford Cemetery

We tramped through the old cemetery at Fort Buford State Historic Site (southwest of Williston, North Dakota) today for a look back in Western history. Fort Buford is probably best remember as the site where Sitting Bull surrendered in 1881, bringing an end to the Sioux Indian Wars.

FBC - Brain AbcessAn active military fort from 1866-1895, Buford had hospital facilities. However, it’s interesting to note that the majority of deaths were not due to enemy warfare but disease (brain “abcess”, Bright’s Disease, mumps, acute gastritis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, consumption) or mis-spent life style (murdered, drowned, killed by road agents, inebriation, shot by accident, poisoned, suicide).

Non-military “citizens” and Indians were also laid to rest. For instance, “HE THAT KILLS HIS ENEMIES SCOUT” died of wounds. Today only eight burials remain. The military burials were moved to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Cemetery, Montana, in 1896.

FBC - Killed by Indians

FBC - Brain Abcess












The markers we see today were restored in 1980 by the Fort Buford 6th Infantry Association. Through their efforts we have a better understanding of life – and death – on  the Western frontier.


When You Go: Fort Buford State Historic Site, Williston, ND, 701-572-9034,


Cheese Buttons

Dickinson, North Dakota


Ukrainian Cultural Institute

Last night after dinner we meandered around Dickinson to get a feel for the tidy town in the midst of the Bakken oil boom. Outside the Ukrainian Cultural Institute I noticed a sign offering fresh Cheese Buttons on Wednesdays. What are Cheese Buttons? We guessed, maybe something to do with cheese curds. Later while reading local brochures I saw another reference to Cheese Buttons. My curiosity clicked into gear.


This morning while at the Dickinson Visitors Center I inquired about Cheese buttons, only to find out they are what we know as pierogi. Still curious and since it was Wednesday, we made a stop at the UCI to purchase Cheese Buttonns before leaving town. After sampling, I chose those filled with sauerkraut over the potato or cottage cheese, $6/dozen.




We’re told:

The Czechs call them “vareniki”

The Germans call them “kase knoeph”

The Polish call them “pirogi”

The Ukrainians call them “Varenyky or pyrohy”

The Americans call them “Cheese Buttons or Dumplings”


Now we know, they have nothing to do with cheese curds and indeed sometimes no cheese at all is involved. We’ve been enlightened and have partaken of the local speciality – Cheese Buttons. If you’re ever in Dickinson on a Wednesday stop at the Ukrainian Cultural Institute and try them for yourself.


When You Go: Ukrainian Cultural Institute, 1221 W. Villard, Dickinson, North Dakota, 701-483-1486,

Maltese Cross Cabin

Theodore Roosevelt Nt. Park – Medora, North Dakota


Malitse Cross Cabin - Bob

Appropriately Theodore Roosevelt’s first North Dakota cabin rests beneath cottonwoods  in the National Park bearing his name. Roosevelt first came to the region in 1883 to bag a bison; before returning to New York he acquired interests in the Maltese Cross Ranch on the banks of the Little Missouri River. Two ranch managers were hired and instructed to build a cabin. Our park guide relates that the cabin initially was a single room with a dirt floor. By the following summer three separate rooms were finished with wood floors, an additional 1/2 story provided a sleeping loft for the ranch hands, root cellar and shingled roof. Locals considered the enhanced construction as nearly a mansion.


TR Hutch and Rocking Chair

Several of Roosevelt’s own belongings are included in the Maltese Cross Cabin period furnishings. In the bedroom a leather trunk marked with “TR” on the lid was the one he used when traveling to and from North Dakota, an elaborate hunting outfit costing $1,000. packed inside. A white hutch original to the cabin served as both bookcase and writing desk. Roosevelt spent much time recording impressions of his time in the hills at the writing desk from his second ranch, the Ellkhorn. His favorite piece of furniture was a rocking chair – believing, “What true American does not enjoy a rocking-chair?”


Maltise Cross Cabin - Stove

The cabin has quite a traveling history of it’s own. During Roosevelt’s presidency it was exhibited at the World’s Fair in St. Louis and at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon. The state fair grounds in Fargo and the state capitol grounds in Bismarck also hosted the Maltese Cross Cabin. In 1959 it was loaded onto a flatbed truck for a trip to Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park just seven miles from its original location.


When You Go: The Maltese Cross Cabin is located near the Visitor’s Center of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, North Dakota. Ranger guided tours of the cabin given daily during the summer. More information at 


Maltise Cross Cabin Doorknob

Maltise Cross Cabin Window

Theodore’s Dining Room

Rough Rider Hotel – Medora, North Dakota


I would never have guessed tonight’s dinner in tiny Medora, North Dakota (population 131) would begin with a delicious bowl of lobster bisque. Just about as far from a lobster pound as one can get in the United States. Theodore’s Dining Room in the Rough Rider Hotel came as a savory surprise with cuisine comparable to most any urban upscale restaurant.


Lobster Bisque

Tables are draped with black and white cloths and neatly-folded burgundy napkins. Light sparkles off the crystal-clear wine glasses creating an elegant welcoming ambiance. On this chilly June evening the gas fireplace adds a comforting warmth.


Theodore's Pork Chop

Our waiter, from Argentina, greeted us with a basket of warm bread, butter and goblets of ice water. After indulging in the rich lobster bisque I tackled a thick grilled Sioux City Sarsaparilla Bourbon glazed pork chop served on dirty rice along side fresh asparagus spears. Bob selected the popular Braised Buffalo Osso Bucco accompanied with horseradish cream, green beans, crushed potatoes and caramelized onions. An edible orchard adorned each entree.


To complete our dinner we shared the sticky toffee dessert topped with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. An overall positive meal with attentive, professional service. Quite a pleasant surprise – remote but worldly wise.


When You Go: Theodore’s Dining Room is in the Rough Rider Hotel, Medora, ND, 800-633-6721,


Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway

South Dakota


On sage advice we approached Spearfish, South Dakota via the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, a 22-mile route along ALT US14. A stop at the Natural History and Cultural Center in Savoy gives a good introduction. Englewood limestone, one of three major dominant rock layers found in the canyon, adds color to the walls soaring as much as 1,000 above the road.


Spearfish Canyon


Rushing waterfalls, thick ponderosa forests and towering limestone walls highlight the scenic journey. Roughlock Falls is located west of Savoy a couple of miles up Little Spearfish Canyon. Bridal Veil Falls is probably the most popular stop along the byway. To fully experience the region travelers need to spend some time out of the car, taking time to watch for wildlife, search for wildflowers and breathe in the fresh forest air. Plus, be thankful for the sage advice.


Waterfalls 3

When You Go: The Spearfish Canyon Foundation website,, includes an online self-guided tour with mileage notations and an interactive tour map.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Custer, South Dakota

For those with limited time, short attention span or physical limitations the Discovery Tour at Jewel Cave National Monument offers an introduction to the world’s third longest cave system. The 20 minute, ranger-led tour includes tales of the cave’s discovery and current exploration efforts plus a visit to the Target Room to see the “jewels” of Jewel Cave – two special calcite crystals known as dogtooth and nailhead spar. Descent 240-ft. below the surface and return is via elevator. Even wheelchairs can be accommodated on this tour.


Dogtooth Calcite - Jewel Cave NM


Other tours options are the moderately strenuous 80 minute Scenic Tour, a Historic Lantern Tour, and a 3-4 hour strenuous adventure on the Wild Caving Tour. I highly recommend the Historic Lantern Tour, we did this many years ago and our sons still remember the sense of adventure.


Can You Fit?

To qualify for the Wild Caving Tour one must fit through the space in this concrete block. It’s beyond my imagination to ever want to, not that there is any danger that I would pass the test.


Jewel Cave Nt. Monument – 13 miles west of Custer, SD on US16,

Badger Hole

Custer State Park – South Dakota


Badger Hole

At cowboy poetry gatherings performers frequently recite the works of Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first poet laureate. His writings reflected the American West and were widely published during his lifetime: many have become legendary. Bob Dylan set Clark’s poem “A Border Affair” to music; the resulting “Spanish is The Loving Tongue” has been recorded by numerous artists through the decades.


Badger Hole Fireplace


The cabin Clark built in his beloved South Dakota Black Hills is located within Custer State Park. Visitors find the secluded home, named Badger Hole, where Clark spent the last 30 years of his life a short drive down Badger Lane off US16A. During the summer season volunteers give informal tours of the four room cabin much as Clark left it, complete with many of his furnishings, library and prized processions.

Badger Clark Typewriter


The day we visited the volunteer was very knowledgable about Clark’s history and writings. She played recordings of Clark reciting some of his works just as he did throughout the United States when he spoke on “the circuit”.


The next time I hear a Badger Clark poem recited I’ll picture Badger Hole in my mind, the natural beauty surrounding the cabin in the woods and the quiet solitude.


When You Go: Custer State Park, Custer, SD, 605-255-4464,


Mammoth Site

Hot Springs, South Dakota


Mammoth Site 5

Sixty-One and counting – the number of individual mammoths (58 Columbian and 3 woolly) found at this site in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Covered for 26,000 years the first bones were exposed in 1974 as the the land was being excavated for a housing development. Time for Plan B. Today a climate-controlled building covers the massive collection of Ice Age fossils in-situ (left in place, as they were found).


Mammoth Site 7

A visit to Mammoth Site starts with a 7-minute video explaining how this occurred. A spring-fed sinkhole became a death trap for mammoths, camels, llamas, giant short-faced bear, wolves, coyotes and more. The sinkhole banks would give way as animals fed around the rim, after falling in they were unable to climb up the steep sides.


Mammoth Site 2


Mammoth Site 4


Work continues on the “dig”. Jr. and Advanced Paleontology Programs offer hands-on experiences (advanced registration required). Earthwatch and Road Scholar programs provide more intensive volunteer experiences.


The 30-minute tour around the sinkhole is narrated by guides. After the tour visitors can spend more time observing the site or enter the Exhibit Hall featuring full-sized replicas of mammoths.


Mammoth Site 1

We found the exhibits and explanations wide ranging and well done. A painting of a giant short-face bear hangs behind the assembled skeleton helping us image meeting the long-gone mammal coming down the trail. No thanks!


Mammoth Site 8

I was intrigued with the replica of a mammoth bone house, similar to ones found in the plains of Ukraine, Poland and Czech Republic. Some of the dwellings date to 27,500 years ago, about the same period as activity at the Mammoth Site sinkhole. This replica is constructed of 121 mammoth bone castings including 74 jaws and covered with eight bison hides.


Mammoth Site 11


Video, tour, exhibits – we spent twice the amount of time we expected, finding Mammoth Site worth every minute.


When You Go: Mammoth Site – 1800 US18 Bypass, Hot Springs, SD, 605-745-6017,

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