We left Minnesota and traveled west into North Dakota, “the geographic center of the North American Continent.” Fargo is right on the state line. It is a place where mercury could drop to -60 ºF in winter, and rise to around 120 ºF in summer. I thought Fargo was a deserted place in the middle of nowhere, but a glimpse of the city totally overturned my image about Fargo. A restaurant with alien theme around the corner made me excited immediately. Then a statue of rainbow colored bison and the Fargo Walk of Fame led us to the nice Fargo-Moorhead Visitor Center. The infamous woodchipper scene from Coen brothers movie Fargo was displayed by the entrance. On the wooden wall of the visitor center, the slogan for Fargo is “Best for last club.” In fact, Fargo is the most populous city in North Dakota with more than 120,000 residents in 2016. People in Fargo must be very gritty to work and live in this northern land that is “north of normal.”
We camped overnight at Eggerts Landing Recreation Area Campground near Valley City. The above ground Northern Pacific High Line Bridge was magnificent. It is 3,886 feet long and 155 feet high. Railroads played an important role in settling North Dakota. The bridge is still in daily use. And we drove under the bridge twice.
I-94 runs through the Great Plains with wide open flat land. Farmlands unfolded by the highway. Yellow soybeans, tall corn were waiting to be harvested. Lots of small lakes sparkled the roadside. Miles and miles of sunflowers held their heavy seeded heads down. It would be a spectacular scenery when the sunflowers hold their heads up to the sun. According to North Dakota Department of Agriculture, agriculture is North Dakota’s largest industry that employed about 24% people. Approximately 90% of its land are farms and ranches. The black fertile soil makes North Dakota a leading state in produce of wheat, peas, beans, barley, canola, flaxseed, and honey. It also ranks the second in sunflowers that make sunflower oil. Bales of hay scattered in the fields, along the road. Hawks like to perch on the bale scrutinizing the fields. What more excited was a bald eagle flew above our truck.
We camped at General Sibley Campground at Bismarck, capital of North Dakota. Drove down the Riverside Road, we were at Missouri River, a river that has profound history. A replica of keelboat used by Lewis and Clark in their expedition sits on the river park. It is a 55 feet long wooden boat. In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark and their crew to explore the Missouri River hoping to find a route to Pacific Ocean. The late afternoon sun cast gold on the river. A Lewis and Clark Riverboat went under the Northern Pacific Railroad Bridge and cruised slowly upstream on Missouri River.
In front of the Heritage Center and State Museum stands the statue of Sakakawea carrying her infant son on her back. Lewis and Clark hired Sakakawea’s husband as an interpreter. She also joined the Corps of Discovery and became a valuable member. Nearby, a cool sculpture of bison used rebar as its material. Its left hoof is raised as if it is going to strike.
The museum has a fine collection of artifacts, specimens and fossils. The best treasure of the museum is Dakota the dino-mummy. It is a fossil Edmontosaurus (a duck-billed dinosaur) with preserved skin. The scale pattern on the fossilized dinosaur was clearly discernible. Another astonishing fossil was mastodon. It was an ancient animal that acted like today’s elephant. There are also full-size replica of T. rex and Triceratops in fight. Another interesting thing I learned is bison evolution. The ancient bison were a lot larger in size than the modern bison, and they had long horns that span 4 to 7 feet. The display of a 50,000 year old Bison latifrons skull showcased a pair of impressive long horns. On the contrary, horses became larger and evolved from dog-sized, multi-toed small horses. North Dakota was once a sea 500 million years ago. The change in geology made this area rich in oil, natural gas and lignite coal.
We have seen the beautiful grassland of Eastern North Dakota. What does it look like in the western part? We will find out.
PS: Pictures of Meals on Wheels.