Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Letter 21: North Dakota

Tuesday August 24, trying to leave early we finally left Branerd/Baxter area about 10:00 am. We headed west on Hwy 10, all the way to Fargo, ND. About 10 miles west we stopped to take a picture of the Casselton Can Pile. Reported to be the "World's Largest Tower of Oil Cans", it is regionally known, and was a fun North Dakota roadside attraction with history. Built in 1933 by the owner/operator of a gas station and small lunch counter located at the intersection of Highway 10 and Highway 18. It is here he began stacking empty oil cans into a cone shape - probably for lack of a better place to discard them and, after a while, probably because of the notoriety the "Can Pile" started to attract. So much notoriety, in fact, that the gas station itself came to be known as the "Can Pile", although its original name was the "Brick House". It is rumored to be the "World's Largest Tower of Oil Cans", although it may be the only tower of oil cans in existence.

Several years ago Nancy Fenton gave us a book of unusual sites to see and Olivia had marked the map. Nancy it really wasn’t worth stopping for, but we did think of you.

We were surprised to see the North Dakota landscape of green rolling hills, corn, sunflowers, soy beans, harvested wheat, and yes trees. We later learned in addition ND raises barley, oats, Navy & Pinto beans, Canola, Flaxseed, Peas, Lentils, Honey, Sugarbeets, Potatoes, Safflower and Alfalfa. And are #1 in production of most of these crops compared to other states!

About 40 miles west at Valley City we turned north to one of four Corps of Engineer parks. There were about 30 sites with only a few taken. We had our choice. The wind had blown all day and we really had a fierce head wind. Fred was glad to find a stopping place. The campground had tall cottonwood trees with undergrowth between us and the lake, which provided a nice windbreak. We had no service and planned to stay for two nights resting. We imagined we would be ready to roll after two nights as there was not much entertainment around.

Wednesday, August 25, we awoke to 55 degrees and our blanket wasn’t warm enough. Come on little electric heater! As the sun warmed things up we were very comfortable to tour the little town of Valley City. The visitor center was our first stop and we learned about their seven bridges and a flood in 2009. This Sheyenne River could really swell and the streets runoff kept emptying into it. Only one of the bridges was above water.

This visitor center also had a renovated. An 1881 Northern Pacific Superintendent’s car was the centerpiece and also featured the history of the Valley and the North Dakota Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Early cultures around the world built rock structures which joined the landscape to the sky. Stonehenge is one example. 100 Medicine Wheels constructed by Native Americans have been found in the Great Plains.
Medicine Wheel in Valley City, built by the students in the Dept of Science of the Valley City State University, is a multicultural symbol celebrating the calendar by our intelligent human ancestors around the globe honors the presence of the Native American burial mounds in this city. It uses the positions of the rising and setting sun on the horizon to create a calendar of the type used by Native Americans. By standing at the lettered cairn position on the outer circle and looking directly across the center of the Medicine Wheel to the opposite cairn, the horizon locations of the sunrises and sunsets on the first day of each season can be observed.

In our roaming we noticed a Chautauqua Blvd and followed it to their
Chautauqua park. It is in the bend of the river with only a few structures and a play ground. The view of the
High Bridge was outstanding. Note the railroad cars on the bridge. The original line of the Northern Pacific Railroad descended into Valley City, crossed the Sheyenne River and continued out of the valley. Because of the steep grades, “pusher” engines were required to push heavy trains up and onto the plains above.

In 1908 this steel viaduct across the Sheyenne River Valley allowed the railroad to avoid steep grades. At 3886’ long and 155’ high, it was of vital importance in moving supplies and men during both World Wars and was guarded by State and National Guard troops to prevent sabotage.

Back in downtown we visited the museum and found a picture of their original
Chautauqua building. It was moved in the early ‘60s then somehow destroyed. A few people in the museum knew what it had been. We also learned Valley City is the hometown of Peggy Lee.

Every time we drive or walk down our little campground road, dozens of Monarch butterflies fly around us so Olivia hunted
one out. It wasn’t as easy and she thought.

Here where we thought there wasn’t anything to entertain us we found an interesting day. It’s surprising what you can find along the way if we make the effort to search it out.

Thursday, August 26, we moved west to Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River and Downstream Corps of Engineer park. We were still amazed at how green the country was even though it reminded us of west Texas, especially around Vernon and Childress. We did pass a huge coal mining operation at Falkirk.

We stopped briefly in Jamestown, ND to see where Louis L’Amour grew up. He lived here until 15 years old, attending the First United Methodist Church and the Franklin School. He received all of his formal education in this town and always claimed it as his hometown. After his father, a veterinarian moved the family because of the depression and dust bowl, Louis joined the navy, where he started writing short stories, then he was an elephant handler, skinner of dead cattle, boxer, journalist, literary critic, and lecturer. Of course all his books are on sale at the Walz Pharmacy and take special orders if you are interested. Olivia’s father Cecil read all of his books and at one time owned all 120.

Friday, August 27, it was nearing the end of August but still hot and dry. We drove south to Washburn and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center at a rest area. Lewis & Clark and Chief Sheheke-shote met
Fred at the entrance. We were really interested in the Mandan tribe that lived here at the time of the Corps of Discovery in 1804.
The Chief gave hope and promise that the Corps of Discovery would sustain itself through a long, cold winter yet to come. He proved true to his word, as the Expedition members were nourished by buffalo meat and produce including corns, beans and squash. If it were not for the goodwill and hospitality of the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians, the members of Lewis & Clark Expedition may never have survived that first winter on the Frontier.

The Mandans history and legends are still being
passed down to younger generations even though there are no full blood Mandan’s living.

One theory is the Mandan moved from the area of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa to the plains in South Dakota about 900 AD and slowly migrated north along the Missouri River to North Dakota about 1000Ad. After piecing together to archeological research it is believed that they arrived here around 1300, earlier than once thought. Evidence from village sites provides an unbroken record of more than 500 years of habitation. There has been much speculation that the Mandan had somehow incorporated white DNA, perhaps through the Welsh Prince Madoc from the 13th Century.

Four Bears,
portrait by George Caitlin a few years after Lewis and Clark visited, was a good friend of the white man and his robe telling his life was in the museum. In 1837 the steamboat St Peters had smallpox on board when it docked at Ft Clark. The disease spread through Mih-tutta-hand-kusch like wildfire. By winter 1,500 Mandan men, women and children were dead. Fewer than 100 members of the tribe survived. The Indians said, that was the day Death Came and Stayed. The Mandans saw the whites had brought small pox and thought it was on purpose to kill them.

Olivia hefted
a sample Buffalo Robe and with Fred’s help wrapped it around her. It was very heavy, but she was sure it would be warm.

From the visitor’s center we drove a few miles to the replica of
Fort Mandan where a guide told us all about this fort. About 50 men lived in these quarters for the winter.
Lewis and Clark shared a room. Nearby in Washburn was a
mural of a winter scene at the fort.We decided to brave the area and cut across the fields on a county road all the way to Garrison Dam. It was interesting to see the farms with all the crops.

Lake Sacagawea was constructed from 1947 to 1954 for flood control and hydro power generation. At normal elevation it produces a lake that covers an astonishing 178 miles of the Missouri. It is the third largest man made lake in the USA. We were surprised to see the White Pelican here and learned the Whooping Crane also visit the lake on occasion.

Below the dam we stopped at the National Fish Hatchery for a self-guided tour. We found the native pallid sturgeon in the Missouri is on the endangered specie list. There are multiple reasons for this. One, it seems they prefer river living to lake living. Much of the river has been turned into lakes. The pallid sturgeon can live for 60 years or more and grow to over 80 pounds. The efforts of the hatchery are very encouraging. They are able to restock an ample number of sturgeon. Another interesting product of the hatchery is the native burbot. This nocturnal feeder is a close freshwater relative of the saltwater cod. It can grow to 4 feet in length and weigh as much as 15 pounds.

Saturday, August 28 we stuck out to see the
Knife River Indian Village which would have been where Sakakawea had lived. It was on a bluff overlooking the river. Today all that is left is seen in an
aerial view of the indentions in the earth of their homes.

In the visitor center we saw how they
stored their corn buried in the ground inside the home. The women made
beautiful beaded items and it is so remarkable how they did it with the tiny beads.

Outside we visited a replica earthlodge
where the matriar was the head of the house along with her daughters and their husbands and children. As many as 30 would live in each earthlodge. In a place of honor was
Chief Four Bears’ Buffalo robe painted in honor of his victories. This robe was given to the artist Catlin when he visited just a few years before the small pox epidemic.

The layout was
diagramed as to where the horses were kept, sleeping quarters and food prep.
It was like our trailer. Everything had a place!

We were impressed with the painting on the robe and hope you enjoy the interpretations we read

Center top: Here Four Bears is represented by a single figure wearing his red paint and holding his eagle feather shield and lance. The foot tracks of the enemy are in front of him, the tracks of his own party are behind him and a shower of bullets flying around his head. Several hundred Hidatsa and Mandan are attacked by a party of Assiniboine and all but Four Bears fled holding his ground, Four Bears fired and killed one of the enemy, which put the rest of the enemy into flight. He also drove off 60 horses which is not depicted. Four Bears got his name from this battle as the Assiniboine said he rushed like four bears.

Center bottom, Four bears is shown with two eagle feathers in his hair and the lower half of his face and body is painted red. He uses a lance hung with eagle feathers to strike and kill a Cheyenne chief who had sent word that he wanted to fight.

Lower left a Cheyenne chief (in green) with a long eagle feather headdress and a shield trimmed with eagle feathers are lying on the ground near his horse. During this fight the Cheyenne’s wife bravely rushed forward to help her husband and was also killed.
Bottom right, A Cheyenne chief challenged Four Bears to combat with rifles and horses. When Four Bear’s powder horn was shot away, the two turned to bows and arrows until they were out of arrows. They both dismounted and started in hand-to-hand combat. The Cheyenne chief drew his knife and the struggle to obtain the knife Four Bears was cut across the hand several times. In the end Four Bears used the knife to kill his enemy. This fight took place in front of many Mandan and Cheyenne.

Right; Four Bears is wearing an eagle feather trailer and leggings that are red on the inside and horizontally striped on the outside. After being left by his party, badly wounded and bleeding, Four Bears killed a Cheyenne (Shienne) chief. You can also see the bullets from the Cheyenne's’ guns flying all around.

Top Right: Four Bears is shown with his body painted black, his legs and face striped, and eagle feather in his hair and a red military sash over his shoulder. The round heads shown are a large group of Assiniboines entrenched in a defensive position near a Mandan village. In Four Bears’ left hand is his flintlock which he fired at a fleeing Assiniboine striking him in the shoulder. This Assiniboine had previously fired at Four Bears but his gun burst and is now lying on the ground.

Top Left, Four Bears wears his eagle plume headdress as he leads his war-horse, which carries his large red shield. His horse also wears a crest of eagle plumes. Four Bears remained beside the Ojibwa village for six days without sustenance and then killed two women who had came to the river for water in full view of the tribe to revenge a murder. Four Bears’ successful escape entitled him to the credit of a victory.

Of all the crops we saw in North Dakota the
Flax was the most interesting. From a distance it almost looked like red wheat. Up close it looked like little balls on then end of a stem. It looked ready to harvest and we wondered exactly how they did it and how they processed it to make linen.

Sunday, August 28 we didn’t find a church at the right time for us as we were moving into Mountain Time and it fouled our timing up. We were heading west and south and detoured down the Enchanted Highway. Some paths take us to places we never imagined. This was one of those, “If he builds it...tourists will come. The sculptor decided to build a series of roadside attractions that would lure tourists off the interstate to the town of Regent, ND. (pop 268) He built a
family, then
deer jumping a fence, and a
Giant fishbowl.
We enjoyed thinking up crazy poses as we were
devoured by the giant grasshopper and shooed away the
covey of pheasants, and rode in the
stagecoach in front of Teddy Roosevelt

We had been driving for
miles and miles of farms and grazing land then all of a sudden we stopped at the Badlands Painted Canyon Visitor Center where the plains came alive. We had been driving for
this vista. The Burning hills were caused when sparks by lightning or grass fires, lignite coal veins smolder underground. The fierce heat bakes the surrounding rock into
red clinkers like the hills we were seeing. We learned the stillness of the land is a disguise. Hard infrequent rains attack the loosely cemented clays and sandstones, gouging new gullies and carrying off as much as two to four inches of surface a year from steep, unprotected slopes. We were glad we had seen this with the sun shining on it. So you say you have seen the South Dakota Badlands, aren’t they the same as the North Dakota Badlands? We were told there is a huge difference. The ND ones are vivid with multiple hues of red, gray, tan and black on the hillsides, trees tucked into the draws and grasses reaching out on the slope. They are beautiful in their own way.

We found a new home in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Cottonwood campground on the Little Missouri river. The campground had two loops, one for little rigs and one for larger ones. They were extra long pull throughs so any rig could fit. We were late arriving but did find the last available one for our size. We liked the price. $5 per night with our senior pass. Of course in National Parks there are no hookups, but that’s ok for a few nights.

Several people had told us to be sure and go to the Musical and to eat their
steak fondue. We decided to split the events and eat out this night and the musical on the next night. We do not recommend the steak fondue meal. We watched the steaks on pitchforks being dipped in hot oil and cooked or overcooked. We had thought it would be a neat experience but the quality of the food was not worth the price. The steak was very tough and the baked potatoes, beans, and garlic bread were cold. The fruit and cold slaw was the only edible things on the menu. When Olivia told the supervisor she would be embarrassed if she were serving this, he did give her another steak. We took our meals home and had them hot the next night.

Back in the campground we were just in time for a ranger talk about the park and how the land had evolved.

Monday August 30 we took the 35 mile loop road to see the park. Up one hill and down the other side, over dry creek beds, we did see
two wild horses at a distance. The herds here are rounded up in the spring, sorted out where some are chosen to continue the herd and others are sold at auction. Around another curve a small herd of
buffalo were resting in the grass. On the north end of the park we stopped and walked a short piece to the
Wind Canyon were the soft sandstone deposits, built up by wind and water and then carved into strange and fantastic shapes by the same forces, have fascinated man for at least 5,000 years.

At several points we stopped to watch the
prairie dogs in their towns.

Almost back at the campground we saw the only remaining
farm house now used for the stable headquarters.

In the afternoon we drove into the old but new town of Medora and the National Park headquarters where we heard another ranger program, this time about Teddy Roosevelt’s life. From there we went to the Old Town Theater for a one act play of “Bully” with Theodore Roosevelt the main character. This actor did a “bully” job of portraying the 26th President and giving us a good idea of what the man was like. Did you know that his wife and mother both died on Valentines day the same year? That was when he gave up and went to ND to find himself.

It rained most of the afternoon and we were afraid the musical would not go on, but we went up to the theater, built into the
wall of a canyon with seven stories in two escalators to take down to the middle section where we then found our seats 10 rows up. This is the 50th year of perfomances in this location, but the theater has been improved several times. We had excellent seats. This performance truly was a
musical, very little talking. And almost immediately the sky opened up and started raining for about ten minutes. Then it dried up and the wind started blowing. We had taken rain gear, hoods, gloves and blankets and we watched
most of the show. The highlight for us was
Teddy Roosevelt in short snippets made some great statements. This was the same actor from the afternoon play.

Tuesday, August 31 we packed up and headed south to Deadwood. This drive of 225 miles was 200 miles of flat pasture and very few little towns. We were glad to have a book on tape to entertain us. We found a Passport campground just south of Deadwood and plan to see the area and charge our batteries before meeting Dolores Covington and spouse Mike in Custer for Labor Day weekend. We have been corresponding with them all summer as they planned their travels in a new Airstream. They live in Florida and left home about a month ago.

Next Letter will be South Dakota

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