Tag Archives: Bismarck ND

September 15: In which I run into a couple of old friends. Very old friends.

I saw this on my way out of Bismarck.  Made me wonder if there were transplanted Roswell, NM, residents here.
I saw this on my way out of Bismarck. Made me wonder if there were transplanted Roswell, NM, residents here.

It rained a bit during the night, but had cleared up by this morning. The weather prediction was for it to be overcast most of the day, with a few scattered showers, and I believed it. More fool me.

To be fair, it didn’t do much more than spit as I drove north from Bismarck towards Fort Mandan, where Lewis and Clark built their home for the winter of 1804-05. There they stayed from October till April, waiting for the temperatures to warm up from the minus forty it hit several times that winter, and for the ice to melt on the Missouri River before they headed on upriver to the Pacific Coast – eventually.

It was funny how much the reproduction (the original is under the shifted Missouri River somewhere) fort looks like the reproduction Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the Corps of Discovery spent their second winter. Or maybe not. Anyway, it reminded me of home, in an odd way, hence the subject header of today’s post. Not that I’ve ever lived in a hand-built log fort or anything…

I love this quote, for obvious reasons.
I love this quote, for obvious reasons.
The front of Fort Mandan.
The front of Fort Mandan.
One of the pierced tin lanterns, lit up.
One of the pierced tin lanterns, lit up.
Inside Fort Mandan.
Inside Fort Mandan.
A blunderbuss.  I'd read about them, but I'd never seen one in person before.  The guide let me try to lift it -- it's *heavy*!
A blunderbuss. I’d read about them, but I’d never seen one in person before. The guide let me try to lift it — it’s *heavy*!
The obligatory statue of Seaman, Lewis's Newfoundland dog.  I'm pretty sure every L&C site I've ever been to has had one.
The obligatory statue of Seaman, Lewis’s Newfoundland dog. I’m pretty sure every L&C site I’ve ever been to has had one.

It had started raining again by the time I left Fort Mandan, and was coming down fairly well by the time I got to the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center a few miles back down the road. It’s a very nice museum, dealing with both L&C as well as North Dakota agricultural history, which is more interesting than it sounds, especially as the first farmers in what later became North Dakota were the Mandan Indians. Apparently a fair number of our commercial corn and bean varieties are descended from those the Mandans grew, including my favorite dry bean, the Great Northern. I’ll never look at taco soup the same way again [g].

Double life-size statues of L&C and the local Mandan chief in front of the L&C interpretive center, just down the road from Fort Mandan.
Double life-size statues of L&C and the local Mandan chief in front of the L&C interpretive center, just down the road from Fort Mandan.
Nifty bison statues at the interpretive center.
Nifty bison statues at the interpretive center.
The Missouri River near Fort Mandan.
The Missouri River near Fort Mandan.

The rain did not stop. Oh, it slowed down a little, but when I arrived at the Knife River Villages National Historic Site a few miles to the west, it was too wet to go hiking out to see more earth lodges. But there was a fellow in the visitor center who played a wicked Native American flute (I wish I could have recorded him – he was that good), and a very helpful ranger who gave me the phone number of the ranger station at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit.

See, the last time I was in this part of the world, in 2012, the road into the North Unit had been closed because the land underneath it had slumped. Slumping is the primary way the badlands of the western Dakotas are formed, so it’s nothing unusual, but I had been rather disappointed at the time. So I wanted to see if the road was open again before I drove out of my way to go see it. And yes, it is. And the campground is still open this late in the season, too.

The beginning of the Badlands.
The beginning of the Badlands.

So on westward I went, through the rain and about twenty miles of unpaved road construction (dear godlings, was that not fun), and finally made it here to TRNP’s north unit, where I’m ensconced in a campsite, listening to the rain pound down on Merlin’s metal roof (I’m always glad I’m not tent camping, but I’m really glad tonight).

It’s supposed to clear up tomorrow, and it darned well better. I have a drive I want to make [g].

September 14: A Really Big Bison, and more history (are you tired of that yet? I’m not)

I found the World’s Biggest Bison this morning before I left Jamestown. It is a big bison, I’ll give it credit, but I saw the skull of an extinct bison this afternoon that I bet was bigger than that.

The world's biggest bison.  See the picnic table for scale?
The world’s biggest bison. See the picnic table for scale?
That sky looks like a just-rolled-out package of quilt batting.
That sky looks like a just-rolled-out package of quilt batting.
I find it amusingly practical that since they have to mow between the highway and the fence, anyway, why not bale it, too?
I find it amusingly practical that since they have to mow between the highway and the fence, anyway, why not bale it, too?
Another cute rest area, done up as an old-fashioned gas station.
Another cute rest area, done up as an old-fashioned gas station.

This was at the North Dakota Heritage Center, which is another name for state history museum [g]. After driving the hundred miles, give or take, to Bismarck, North Dakota, the cute little state capitol, population a bit over 67,000, so it’s actually bigger than Olympia, my state capitol, which is just under 50,000. The difference, of course, is that Bismarck is the second largest city in North Dakota, and Olympia – isn’t.

Anyway, I think I lost control of my sentence there, and I’m not going to fix it. I’m just going to say that after lunch I spent over two hours at the museum, which was just renovated completely a couple of years ago, and the shiny new is wonderful. There’s a whole huge room on the pre-man history, dinosaurs and glaciers and all, and a whole huge room on the dozen or so tribes of Native Americans, with these neat audios of people speaking in their own languages, and a huge room on the history since the Europeans showed up. Which they did way earlier than I thought – a French explorer made it to what’s now North Dakota in the 1730s, although the story really didn’t pick up till Lewis and Clark in the first decade of the 1800s, and after that didn’t get real steam till after the Civil War.

Interesting stuff, though. Lots of stuff about homesteading and the railroads, among other things, and populism and farmers vs. the big city and so forth.

Woolly mammoth skeleton in the lobby of the North Dakota Heritage Center.
Woolly mammoth skeleton in the lobby of the North Dakota Heritage Center.
That's one nasty looking fish, and the turtle to its right is *fifteen feet* long.
That’s one nasty looking fish, and the turtle to its right is *fifteen feet* long.
These are two extinct bison skulls (center and left) and a Bison bison (the scientific name) to skull to the right.
These are two extinct bison skulls (center and left) and a Bison bison (the scientific name) to skull to the right.
This is a wedding dress from just about the same year that Charley and Eliza got married in Repeating History, and the dress matches the description amazingly well except for the color.  Eliza's was more golden brown.
This is a wedding dress from just about the same year that Charley and Eliza got married in Repeating History, and the dress matches the description amazingly well except for the color. Eliza’s was more golden brown.
It never dawned on me that Montana and the Dakotas all became states the same year Washington did.
It never dawned on me that Montana and the Dakotas all became states the same year Washington did.
A lefse roller and lifter, just like the ones Karin used in True Gold!
A lefse roller and lifter, just like the ones Karin used in True Gold!

After I finally dragged myself out of there, I drove past the strangest-looking state capitol I’ve ever seen. It looks like a condo building from LA or something, and its nickname is the Skyscraper of the Plains (it’s by far the tallest building in Bismarck, I’ll give it credit for that). Then I drove seven miles south of the town of Mandan (sort of Moorhead to Bismarck’s Fargo, except Mandan’s on the west side of the river) to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

The Skyscraper of the Plains, aka why does that state capitol building look like Cockroach Central? (that's a Vorkosigan reference, for those who don't know)
The Skyscraper of the Plains, aka why does that state capitol building look like Cockroach Central? (that’s a Vorkosigan reference, for those who don’t know)

Fort Lincoln was George Armstrong Custer’s last post before he headed off to the Little Bighorn and got himself and a bunch of his troops killed. It’s where his wife was when she found out he was dead, too. They’ve reconstructed his house there, but really, the most interesting part of Fort Lincoln State Park is the partial reconstruction of a 500-year-old Mandan Indian village. Five round houses (as opposed to tipis) on a slope near the Missouri River, two of which have exhibits inside them. The village was abandoned in the 17th century after the first of a number of smallpox epidemics basically wiped out 4/5ths of the population.

The houses are made of the same log and sod construction that the early pioneers built their houses from. Only the shape is different.

Oh, and there’s a wonderful, built-in-the-30s-by-the-CCC visitor center, too, with good exhibits.

The reproduction of Custer's house at Fort Lincoln.
The reproduction of Custer’s house at Fort Lincoln.
A Mandan earth lodge.
A Mandan earth lodge.
Inside a Mandan earth lodge.
Inside a Mandan earth lodge.

By that point it was getting late, and I needed to find a place to sleep and hit a grocery store. I thought about camping at Fort Lincoln, but I hadn’t gone to the grocery store first, and it was awfully windy out there, too.

Maybe tomorrow night at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. If I get that far. I’m going about thirty miles north of here to Fort Mandan and the Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site first, because that’s where Lewis and Clark spent their first winter on the road (so to speak) and I’m curious.

The road inside Fort Lincoln state park, with trees beginning to turn.
The road inside Fort Lincoln state park, with trees beginning to turn.