Check out a 90-year-old tribute to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation

Memorial Congregational Church from distance at sunset

The Memorial Congregational Church sits by itself on a December afternoon on a Mountrail County prairie where it was moved in 1953.

Cong church MS sept 09

In the fall of 2009, the prairie grasses surrounded the solid church building that once stood along the Missouri River.

You know there are stories behind those abandoned church buildings — such as this one.  What’s the story there?  Take a trip on Highway 1804 to step back in time.

For me, it was easy to ignore the abandoned prairie church building along Highway 1804 as I headed up north to Parshall, North Dakota. But once I stopped to check it out, I uncovered layers of monumental history.  Now, I stop often to step into the history.

charles hall

Charles L. Hall, born in England in 1847 moved to New York and became an architect, working in a local mission until he moved to the Dakota Territory.

The story goes back to 1871 when the Dakota Territory was organized and an architect from England worked in a New York mission.  Charles Hall felt the call to minister to the same people who had ministered to Lewis and Clark 67 years earlier, the Mandans.

The same year that the 7th Cavalry marched to Little Big Horn, Charles Hall floated the Missouri River for two weeks up river to get to his destination. He got off a steamboat armed not with a rifle but with the “Sword of the Lord.”  He landed at Like-a-Fishhook Village where he met with a community of Mandan and Hidatsa people.  (The village is under Lake Sakakawea, now, southwest of White Shield, ND.)

What Custer couldn’t do with a rifle, Hall did with the Gospel. Hall built a school, a community building, successfully lobbied for a bridge (Four Bears Bridge) to cross the Missouri and eventually built this church building at Elbowoods, North Dakota.  It’s the only physical reminder of a work he began about 140 years ago in western North Dakota. It was a long challenge to get it built– yet it still stands today.

Con church next to missionHall labored among the area’s farmers, ranchers and other residents, both white and Native-American for 10 years before the first man converted to the Christian faith.

Trust was earned slowly, but once earned, it became invaluable.  Later both whites and enrolled tribal members met together to worship and socialize.Susan Webb Hall Memorial Church

After 45 years feeding, teaching, healing whites and Natives, the locals followed the architect-missionary’s plans to build this solid building next to the mission and school he started at Elbowoods.

When the building was dedicated, crowds came from as far as 30 to 50 miles over rugged Badlands trails and barely passable roads to join in the dedication.  Dignitaries from Bismarck, Minot and New York also came to the dedication.Cong church cornerstone

In his years on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, Hall helped the members of the Three Affiliated Tribes rise above the limits placed on them by the dictatorial federal government Indian Agency at Elbowoods.  The Indian Agency was so harsh, Hall later testified, that the Indian Agent required tribal members to stop and bow their head when he walked by.  If they received visitors, the visitor would first have to meet with the Indian Agent before going to meet the family or friends they came to see.

That kind of government attitude that could be part of the reason why local residents living in poverty would pay $10 a month to have their children schooled, fed and cared for by Hall’s mission school instead of going to the free government school.  Wages at that time were about 60 cents a day – if someone could find paying work.  The Mandan were an agricultural people; they tilled the river bottom along the Missouri River and grew corn, squash, pumpkin, sunflower and tobacco.  To afford the school with its training, food, health provisions and social network families took their produce by horse-drawn wagon to sell in towns such as Minot, 60-miles north.  They used their money to support the mission, its school, church and community programs.

The nearby cemetery is still used as a final resting place for tribal members. Until 2014, it was surrounded by a woven wire fence

The nearby cemetery is still used as a final resting place for tribal members. Until 2014, a woven wire fence surrounded the cemetery.

The Elbowoods Congregational Mission church building was dedicated to Charles Hall’s second wife, Susan Webb Hall. He had lost at least two children and his first wife to the tireless work of reaching local people with improved diet, health and education. The church people were both white and native; racial distinctions were erased at the Cross.  Together, they built the building by themselves, by hand. They didn’t borrow a penny to build it. It cost them $5,500, with $3,500 coming from their own donations, and another $2,000 donated by friends of Charles Hall.

When the federal government flooded out the people who lived along the Missouri River and the towns such as Elbowoods, hundreds of families were forced to move out of their homes. A hospital, a school and many businesses were flooded. Locals moved five church buildings out of the valley, including the Susan Webb Hall Memorial Church building.Cong Church MCU looking up in the fall

Starting on a Friday night, as the flood waters moved up in to town, and up on to the foundation of the building, local farmers and ranchers worked non-stop to lift the building from its original footings at Elbowoods. By the time they got it up a bit of a hill, the flood was already taking over the original site.  Their work was not done until they moved the building nine miles north near the communities of Lucky Mound, Parshall and White Shield.

Cong Church I Love YOu Grandpa

Click on the image to see it full screen and to see the love note to Grandpa.

Cong Church stepsToday, the building is more than 90 years old and stands alone on the prairie where it was moved during the man-made flood. When it was moved to its current site, neighbors saw it move in. They said it seemed to them the church was all lit up. A story on the relocated church quoted the neighbors who said “It gave them a queer feeling as they had never lived near a church before.”

No windows or doors remain on the old structure, though it appears to be solid in its old age.  No furnishings remain inside, no furniture or other features, just a love note to a grandfather.

Mem Cong Church steeple and moonIt’s a sacred place and vandals have not left graffiti or other degrading elements.  The bell tower is as empty as the rest of the building, though it once held a donated bell that called people to worship through out the early Missouri River Valley.

Memorial Congregational Church in the autumn of 2009

Autumn of 2009, the church stands isolated and preserved. (Click on the image to see it full screen.)

I don’t know about a queer feeling, but it certainly is inspiring to know the history behind the building, a part of North Dakota history that few know.   Charles Hall left an account of the work in his collection of documents assembled in the book 100 Years at Ft. Berthold, 1876 to 1976.  I’m thankful to one of the tribal elders, Mary Bateman who lent me her copy.  What would you suggest as a way to make the historic landmark more famous?

(you can click on any of the images to see them full screen)


Three happy, hardy, healthy ways to get into the Badlands — The Poco Rio Frio race

Snow tires on a bicycle? You bet.  It’s a “fat bike.”

fat bike rider on the Maah Daah Hey trail

Riding a fat bike, a trail rider in orange heads out for a two to 5 mile loop on the Maah Daah Hey Trail

If you put snow tires on a specially built bicycle you’ve got the way to travel through the Badlands. Your tourism opportunities just took a turn for better health.  South of Watford City at the CCC Campground just off of Highway 85, you’ll find an easily accessed and groomed trail for hiking, xc skiing, snowshoeing or fatbike riding.

Not just the tires, but the entire frame, sprockets, gears and axles of a fat bike are set up to help riders through the snow.

Not just the tires, but the entire frame, sprockets, gears and axles of a fat bike are set up to help riders through the snow.

Explore. Exercise. Get away from the crowds – unless of course, it is the Poco Rio Frio race.  Then you have an additional benefit of getting with like-minded people. Outdoorsy, healthy, happy.

Riders, hikers, snowshoers and cross country skiers could take a break around a camp fire, get a bite to eat before their next loop on the trail

Riders, hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers could take a break around a campfire, get a bite to eat before their next loop on the trail.


“I think the best part is getting with other out here, friends to share this experience with, “said organizer Nick Ybarra.

Ybarra promoted the event across the region. One week before he’d organized a snowshoe trek on the same track.  It packed down the snow that otherwise would be as much a four feet deep.  The afternoon work by Ybarra, his family and friends turned the trails in to perfectly groomed trails for riders, showshoers and cross country skiers.

A cross country skier navigates the Long X trail on a two to five mile loop.

A cross country skier navigates the Long X trail on a two to five-mile loop.

Here’s the story on the fun day of snowshoe packing the trail

So, when riders hit the trail, it was packed and ready for their fat bikes.  Riders from as far as Fargo, Hazen and Bismarck racked up miles on two loops through the upper Badlands, one 2.5 miles, the other 4.5 miles.



A rider starts out on the packed and solid Maah Daah Hey loop that will bring him back around on the Long X trail in the Poco Rio Frio race.

Sean Hatten on one of his many laps to his first place, 54-mile victory!

Around and around the loops they went. The longest ride of the day was 54 miles! Both with their unique challenges such as the portion over the creek that empties in to the Little Missouri River. It’s frozen now, and in the morning, it was glare ice. After snow fell mid-day it became a smooth track easy glide for a short section to break up the heart-racing, deep breathing of the hills riders pedaled up and coasted down.

Riders looped around on the head of the Maah Daah Hey trail. Or they followed the Long X trail, or both.  The goal was to make as many laps as possible in the allotted time.

The Poco Rio Frio race included 19 fatbike riders, 42 snowshoers and two cross country skiers. After each round, they marked their mileage at the relief tent.

The Poco Rio Frio race included 19 fatbike riders, 42 snowshoers, and two cross country skiers. After each round, they marked their mileage at the relief tent.

Click here to see a gallery of photos from the Poco Rio Frio Maah Daah Hey fun day

More than 40 people on showshoes explored the loops in the Badlands in the Poco Rio Frio race.

More than 40 people on snowshoes explored the loops in the Badlands in the Poco Rio Frio race.

The miles added up…30, 40, 50 miles or more logged at the relief station at the head of the trail.  Here’s where riders laughed, ate and powered up for their next set of loops.

A rugged heating system welcomed riders who needed to rest before their next loops

A rugged heating system welcomed riders who needed to rest before their next loops

Collin Kemmesat is the General Manager of fat bike dealer Epic Sports in Bismarck, and he was as pumped as anyone about the Frio race.

His knowledge and experience could help with any mechanical issues, but mostly he was there to rack up fat bike miles.

Collin has a passion for bikes. “Fat biking has not peaked,” he said.  “It’s popular all year around.  Winter riding is best when there’s not a lot of snow. “This winter’s near-record snow depth has curtailed some of the fat bike riding. That’s why the packed trail for the race was a great opportunity.  Kemmesat said trails along Harmon Lake north of Bismarck, and other trails in the capital city are getting more interest.

For the Ybarra family, outdoor adventures involves every one, starting early in life.

For the Ybarra family, outdoor adventures involve everyone, starting early in life. Check out his website

Ybarra has taken on the care and use of the Maah Daah Hey trail, organizing a half-dozen mountain bike rides a year on the trail.  His goal is to bring back the popularity of the trail as it was 10 or 15 years ago. The 130-mile trail that loosely follows the Little Missouri River to southern North Dakota will become increasingly more well-known in 2017 as Ybarra and his happy bike trail friends put out the word.

Click here to read more about events and opportunities on the Maah Daah Hey

What can we do to help you get started riding or hiking the Maah Daah hey?  Name it in the comment section below.



Snowshoe the Maah Daah Hey


A metal post marks the end of the 130-mile Maah Daah Hey trail south of Watford City, along the Little Missouri River at the CCC Campground.

A metal post marks the end of the 130-mile Maah Daah Hey trail south of Watford City, along the Little Missouri River at the CCC Campground.

Nick Ybarra loves the North Dakota Badlands, he invents ways to share it with others: snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, winter camping, and his favorite –fat bike racing. “I’m addicted to the (Maah Daah Hey) trail.  I’m on it at least once a week,” Ybarra said.p1090364little-girl-in-sled-pulled-behind-snowshoes-sig-small


On this day, he’s enjoying the trail with a dozen others on snowshoes – and two dogs without snowshoes.


Using the Maah Daah Hey trail on snowshoes is a family affair — even those who have yet to try it on their own are introduced to the adventure.



First-time snowshoer, Heidi Carns dressed for the weather and donned the snowshoes with her husband Rick. In warmer weather, the pair rides the trail on bikes. She said, “The beauty is unreal. Everyone should enjoy the Badlands.”

Nick Ybarra leads the way for a group of Sunday Afternoon snowshoe hikers.

Nick Ybarra leads the way for a group of Sunday Afternoon snowshoe hikers.

Once the group started out, Ybarra led the way, setting the pace for the short 2-mile loop on the Long X and Maah Daah Hey trails.  For some on the hike, once around was not enough, and they repeated the loop a couple of times.nick-leads-group-sig-small

That’s good for Ybarra because the snowshoeing is packing the trail for the next week’s fat bike race.  The packed snow will give the fat bikes a good surface to race around the course as many times as they can in a day. It’s called the Poco Rio Frio.

Nick Ybarra is committed to utilizing the MDH 100, Maah Daah Hey trail. The summer's Maah Daah Hey 100 is the preeminent mountain bike race of the year.

Nick Ybarra is committed to utilizing the MDH 100, Maah Daah Hey trail. The summer’s Maah Daah Hey 100 is the preeminent mountain bike race of the year. Learn more here:

As advertised, the POCO RÍO FRÍO… FREE, FREE, FREE-OH! Fatbike. Snowshoe. Ski. Sunrise to sunset. 8am – 6pm. Beautiful 3.5 mile groomed single track loop made up of the Maah Daah Hey Trail, Long X Trail & a “POCO RÍO FRÍO” or “COLD LITTLE RIVER.” Do as many laps as you care to. Winner gets bragging rights. BYOE. (Bring Your Own Everything). REQUIRED: everyone must have their own gear, food, drinks, and warmth… start your vehicle, build an igloo, bring an ice-fishing house, bring firewood…. whatever it takes to keep yourself warm & safe is 100% up to you. HQ will have free unlimited water & keep track of your laps.  Story to come next week.

Or if you’re like me…not p1090373up to the challenge…it will be a good day for photos, or to just hike.  Anyone with good hiking boots who dresses warm can hike the region, you don’t need snowshoes.

Click here to see what hiking the region is like.

What would you need to try snowshoeing in the Badlands?  Want to rent snowshoes? You can.  I can steer you to the showshoe rental guy in Watford City.

See more in the Beautiful Bakken gallery.

Mindfulness: Outdoors is Free

Exactly why we layer up and get outside!

Pip in Motion

Last week I finished my notice period at my previous job, and ventured out into the world as a full-time jobseeker. In addition to the challenge of job hunting, Winter is in full swing, and it’s absolutely freezing at the best of times. So how do you make sure you don’t lose your shit?

You go outside. 

Screen Shot 2016-12-08 at 13.30.58.png

My number one priority, first thing in the morning (well…after coffee) has been to get outdoors. If this means getting up half an hour early for a stroll round the park, then so be it. Fresh air and a moment in nature is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Being outdoors in nature is hugely therapeutic to me. It allows me a moment to connect with something outside myself. Even when it’s cold as balls outside, heading out to one of London’s many green spaces is the perfect way to start the day.

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Five reasons to use the Long X to break free of dreaded cabin fever

Explore the Badlands – hike, cross country ski or fat tire bike.

No, it’s not 75 degrees and sunny.

Yes, the air is fresh and the snow is deep, but that does not mean North Dakota tourism season over.   Here’s what we do.

We travel toward Watford City knowing we’d stop at the CCC Campground1.  That’s where adventurers see an unbelievably beautiful, pristine wilderness that few people ever see; and that’s the attraction right there, pristine wilderness that few people see.

There are several reasons The CCC Campground and the Long X trail are the best place to get a little winter outdoor time.

  1. It’s an easy travel distance and route
  2. It’s along the Little Missouri.
  3. The campground and parking area is well maintained.
  4. The trail is well-marked
  5. It’s an easy trail.
1. Easy travel distance.

Highway 85 from Belfield to Williston is a major federal highway, so we have good luck headed up that highway. Alternatively, we’ll head east across the state on Highway 200.

long x bridge spans the Little Missouri River

One of the few remaining through truss bridges in the state, The Long X Bridge marks the end of the Long X trail that begins in Texas. It spans the Little Missouri River which begins in Wyoming.

Up Highway 85, we always like to check out the historic Long X Bridge2 over the Little Missouri River. It’s south of Watford City, north of Grassy Butte.  The closer we get to the Long X bridge the more we perk up.  It’s an impressive landscape, colorful, striated, and beckoning.   That’s just a hint of what’s to come.

The entrance to the CCC Campground (CCC is Civilian Conservation Corps, a 100-year old government works program)  is at the very end of the bridge, just a few feet south.  We head west through a rancher’s rangeland pasture.  So, take it easy on those first couple of bends in the road. That’s where cattle are often milling about.

A herd of Charolais awaits drivers headed to the CCC campground and the Long X Trail. Just drive slowly through the herd an all will be well.

A herd of Charolais awaits drivers headed to the CCC campground and the Long X Trail. Just drive slowly through the herd and all will be well.

2. Along the Little Missouri River

At this section of the river through the Badlands, wildlife officials have stocked and increased the population of big horn sheep.  They’re not easy to see. The river you drive along started near Devils Tower in Wyoming. It snakes across Montana and North Dakota and empties in to the Missouri River about 65 miles east of the CCC Campground.

Mule deer are plentiful in the Little Missouri River valley.

Mule deer are plentiful in the Little Missouri River valley.

Most of the state's big horn sheep population thrives along the Long X Trail

Most of the state’s big horn sheep population thrives along the Long X Trail

The drive west is about a mile on a good gravel road, right along the Little Missouri River. At the Campground, we park on the west end at the literal start of the Maah Daah Hey trail and the Long X Trail.  On the south is the Little Missouri River. Beyond that, across the river is the north Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The area is fairly undisturbed, since ranching blends in well with the environment.

That’s why it’s easy to see a sample of the wildest of North Dakota’s wildlife — deer and big horn sheep.

Winter-ready dogs love the chance to get out for some winter exercise

Winter-ready dogs love the chance to get out for some winter exercise

3. The area is well-maintained

There is plenty of room to park.  After we step out of the truck, we pull on our gloves and hoodies.  It’s cold at first, but once we get going, we warm up so that a lot of winter packing isn’t needed.  Here’s where people unload skis, bike or strap on their day pack.  Vehicles are safe, but we lock it anyway, and make sure we have the key secured in our inside coat pocket so we don’t lose it in the snow.

The parking lot and campground is well maintained for easy access.

The parking lot and campground is well maintained for easy access.

4. The trail is well-marked

If  you decide to hike this trail, you won’t get lost; just follow the tall posts with the angular cut top. Each post is marked with a turtle, the sign of the Maah Daah Hey3 trail. This portion is also the Long X trail, and the posts are marked with a Teddy Roosevelt brand.  At each post you can see the next post.


5. It’s an easy trail.

At first, the slopes rise gradually along the base of the hills.  People who hike or ski, can cut across valley floors between hills and ridges.  It cuts off quite a bit of distance on the trail since it switches back and forth to maintain a relatively easy grade for bikes. Hikers and skiers can cut straight across, at least until you come to a deep ravine.

The slope is easy to navigate even in the snow or on cross country skis.

The slope is easy to navigate even in the snow or on cross country skis.


Here’s the cautionary note:

Don’t go too far. It’s easy to start the jaunt feeling fresh and invigorated by the air, the scenery, the activity. So, it’s easy to think all that initial energy will last. For every step you take along the trail, you have to repeat that step going back.  Turn around or circle back early to save your energy for the return trip.  It’s easy to overextend yourself. ______________________________________________________________

We like these winter hikes because when we get done for the day we are exhilarated by the fresh air, the and exercise.  A hot meal at nearby Watford City is just 15 minutes away – and they know how to feed you there!

Oh yeah…the footnotes:

1In 1934, men from Civilian Conservation Corps companies 2771 and 2772 established camps adjacent to each other on the north bank of the Little Missouri River, not far from the old U.S. 85 bridge in the area that is now part of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt Park.  The CCC Campground at the head of the trail is a third campsite they built. There are other sites in the Badlands built by the CCC. Company 2771 moved out after a year, but 2772 remained here until the fall of 1939 when it transferred to a site in the South Unit, and that’s why it’s called the CCC Campground.

2The trail name, “Maah Daah Hey”, comes from the Mandan Indians. In the Mandan language, one word or phrase can describe a picture, feeling, or situation. In this case, the phrase means “an area that has been or will be around for a long time.” The trail uses a turtle as the trail marker. The turtle was honored because of its firm determination, steadfastness, patience, long life, and fortitude. Here’s where to find more about the CCC Campground and the trail head to the Long X Trail and the Maah Daah Hey trail.

Click here to read more about the new extension to the Maah Daah Hey

The Long X Trail represents stereotypical historical, ranch life, that of driving large herds of cattle across the country from Texas to North Dakota. This achievement was first accomplished in 1884, when, under the leadership of A. N. Jeffries, the manager of the company, a daring band of Texan cowboys piloted a monster herd of cattle from the Rio Grande to the Little Missouri. The herd was guided by means of a compass, and reached North Dakota in September, having left Texas early in the spring. This process was repeated each year until 1897, and in this way the grazing lands of McKenzie county were replenished by new cattle

Click here to read more about the Long X Trail 

                   and here is more, too.

The tale of a doggone rescue

Ever get to a place that wasn’t what you expected and you can’t get out? You can’t go forward? You can’t go back?

That happened to my dog Gunnar on our last hike of the year.

Blue sky over the autumn landscape of the Badlands

Looking up at a distant hill, we start plotting our course. The public lands of the Badlands provide good hiking territory for dogs and their owners — with a few dangers such as porcupines, skunks rattlesnakes and coyotes

Thanksgiving is generally my last day-hike of the year. This year, the destination was the Little Missouri River Valley near where it empties in to Lake Sakakawea between Killdeer and Mandaree.  The bluffs, buttes and hills are fairly rugged, so we picked our route carefully through the valley.

Badlands riparian ridges provide good viewing of the landscape

Typically, we follow hogbacks, or ridges along the tops of valleys to see the landscape and pick our course. Since hunting season was underway, Gunnar wears a hunter’s blaze orange vest.

We found fascinating rock formations, including a wall of rivulet erosions down the hillside.

rivulets, erosion, rocks, hillside make for difficult hiking

Looking down the steep hillside, we pick a course to follow to the bottom


That’s when the dog decided he’d find his own way down.

The dog stops on a ledge looking down

Gunnar picked his own route to the bottom, but discovered it didn’t get him where he wanted to go.

Happily he scampered down…part way. Only part way.  He stopped.


With only a dozen feet to go, he came to an “Oops” moment.


Now what do I do?


He looked left, right, down and above.  He decided to just sit until the photographers did their things. He looked perplexed. He waited for the rescue squad to come in and help.

Dog sits in the rocks.

Recognizing his route to the bottom did not work, and that he could not climb back up, Gunnar stopped to look around


So, I did.


It really didn’t take much. I grabbed his shoulders, firmly, securely so he knew I had him.


The dog sits in his perch waiting for me to climb up and get him.

I climbed up to give him the physical security and guidance he needed to climb down from his perch.

I lowered him a bit down and he was saved!

Once he was coaxed off the rock ledge, he continued to make his own way down

Once he was coaxed off the rock ledge, he continued to make his own way down


You know, I think there’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

When Gunnar got to the bottom of the rock wall, he decided he'd had enough exercise and just wanted to rest.

When Gunnar got to the bottom of the rock wall, he decided he’d had enough exercise and just wanted to rest.

How to silence the noise of the day.

I’m tired of the noise. Aren’t you? The noise of the election. The noise of culture clashes. The noise in my own head.

So, when an assignment to shoot landscape out west, came along, I jumped at it immediately.

hay field, grasslands and in the distance, the Badlands

The Badlands in the distance interrupt the hay fields of the National Grasslands

The assignment was to photograph 20,000 acres of land along the ND/MT border that hadn’t changed much since Theodore Roosevelt ranched and hunted there in the late 1800s.  20,000 acres is about 30 square miles of rugged ranch land; the Beaver Creek Ranch. It was a warmer than normal November day, and weather conditions promised good light and good temperatures for exploring.

The further west we went, the more noise I left behind.

On the North Dakota/Montana border we turned north off of Interstate 94 on to a state highway, (we = Mary, Gunnar the foster dog and me).  Instantly, traffic disappeared; as far as we could see, the two-lane highway was ours.  Our mission was to find the rancher who owned the land designated as PLOTS land – Private Land Open To Sportsmen.

Triangle PLOTS signs mark areas where hunters and others can enter even though it is privately owned.

The sign marks land set aside under a cooperative agreement with the rancher. It is Private Land Open To Sportsmen, or PLOTS.

We saw the triangle signs marking PLOTS land, but it wasn’t what we were looking for.

Oh-oh! The noise in my head started coming back as I searched fruitlessly for the region I was assigned to photography.  I was frustrated, and so was the dog.  He wanted to get out to explore, so did Mary and I.  We kept driving. The old saying about finding your destination in North Dakota is true: If you think you’ve gone too far, you’re halfway there.

We checked out one gravel road to the east.  A herd of antelope grazed in a hay field.  That’s not what we were looking for, but it was a promise of things to come. Things were getting quieter.

Antelope or prarie goats were often spotted by Lewis and Clark when they came through here.

Antelope – or prairie goats as some people call them are wary critters who keep a long distance from people.


Back on the highway, a bit farther north and we found it. The Beaver Creek Ranch.  And wouldn’t ya know it, there it was, right on Beaver Creek.

Beaver Creek Ranch sign, PLOTS sign and map

The Beaver Creek Ranch PLOTS acreage is well-marked and includes a map that designates three parking areas. The area is for foot traffic only.

Earlier, I had called the rancher a couple of times and left voice mails, but got no reply.  I did get hold of one of the sponsors of the PLOTS program who told me to go on in.  He said I’d find at least three parking areas and recommended the one further in, back by the corrals.

The road starts out like a gravel road, and later it becomes a two-track trail. We rumbled and rocked across the basin where Beaver Creek meandered.

The beginning of the road in to the Beaver Creek Ranch is an easy gravel road until it turns in to a two-track trail that leads to a parking area.

The beginning of the road in to the Beaver Creek Ranch is an easy gravel road until it turns in to a two-track trail that leads to a parking area.

The bottom ground is the bottom of a basin that is sliced by Beaver Creek.  The rancher has one bridge but most of the time, he has to cross the creek by fords.

The bridge over Beaver Creek.

The bridge over Beaver Creek.


By the time we got to the corrals, the day was ending, the sun was setting and the moon was rising.  Now that may sound like a bad time to arrive, but it was a good time. It’s called The Golden Hour when shadows show contrast and the landscape is golden. There was no noise, not in my head, not in the surroundings.

While the sun was still illuminating the golden rocks, a nearly-full moon rose.

While the sun was still illuminating the golden rocks, a nearly-full moon rose.

As Mary explored the hills and ridges to the south, I went north.

A two-track trail gives the rancher access to the southern part of his ranch, but it's foot-traffic only at this point. A parking area is at the start of this trail.

A two-track trail gives the rancher access to the southern part of his ranch, but it’s foot-traffic only at this point. A parking area is at the start of this trail.

It wasn’t exactly silent, there is always a bit of a breeze rustling the grass and sweeping around the rocks.  But that’s not noise.  That’s a lullaby.  It’s soothing enough to make a fella breathe easy.   When I got to the top of the ridge and looked below me, the entire basin of Beaver Creek Ranch wandered northward from my perch.  The longer I gazed, the more I could see.  And none of it was noisy.

To the north, the rancher's access road snakes through the hills.

To the north, the rancher’s access road snakes through the hills.

I sat down and traced the distant trails where deer and cattle crossed the basin.  I scouted the hills to the north to trace where water flowed down to the creek, and where the rancher could access further pastures and hills to the north.

The sun was setting, the colors were turning gold and the contrast of shadows on the bluffs slowly covered the landscape.  And there was no noise.corral-rising-moon-sig-small

Once the sun disappeared, wildlife appeared.  Mule deer abound in the region.  mule-deer-pauses-inlight-sig-small young-mule-deer-on-ridge-toward-sun-sig-small mule-deer-doe-with-burrs-sig-smallThe area also includes turkeys, coyotes and elk.  There is evidence that an occasional mountain lion crosses the region.

It’s the absolute contrast to the noise of civilization, a part of North Dakota that many people don’t know about. Does that sound like something you could use in your world? Glad to give you directions if you want.



Wanna ride a grasshopper?

Yes, you can saddle up on an enormous green thing.

You can feel very very small at the enchanting stops along a highway in Western North Dakota. Gargantuan sculptures give travelers and tourists a reason to pull off I-94 at Exit 72 and head south on a gentle rolling blacktop highway called the Enchanted Highway.geese-in-flight-sig-small

I have. More than once. Over several years.

For me, the first enticement came from that eye-catching structure on the north, Geese in Fight.

It’s considered Sculpture #1. Structurally as well artistically, artist Gary Greff’s design is impressive and deceptive.  It’s larger than you think, over 100 feet tall.  Geese that are 5 or 6 feet big pass in front of sun rays, hillsides and a great “eye.”

Like most people, I buzz by it more than I stop.  It’s a good place to stop on my way to or from Dickinson.  There’s a parking lot and room to get out and stretch your legs, so I do — sometimes when the dog is with me to let him get out of the pickup for a while. Or on a summer motorcycle cruise we’ll stop with fellow riders.

Sidehack Mary's rig is dwarfed by the giant sculpture

Sidehack Mary’s rig is dwarfed by the giant sculpture


This is how most drivers cross North Dakota see deer, running across the highway, jumping the fence. TomMN’s blog includes this pic. You can see his blog at

And those grasshoppers…the scourge of the prairie.  Bikers from the old days will tell you how they rode across North Dakota in August and at the end of the day, their shins were bruised from the biggest devils…but they weren’t this big.

mike-mary-grasshoppers-2Still, the rascals look to me like they need a little wrangling and riding.  So, on occasion, that’s what I will do, just to keep them in line, you understand.  I don’t win any buckles or anything.  I make sure they don’t get away and I use my best bronco riding techniques to stay on.

They look fearsome, but a calm head and a steady hand is all it takes to bring one under control and ride it to the sunset.

Ride. Ride the um, grasshopper

Ride. Ride the tiger…er um, grasshopper

Down the road a ways, things get a little fishy.  I couldn’t begin to design something so realistic, but I can sure admire it. I’d hate to be the fisherman in the boat above all these monsters, but he’s up there.  I’m glad it’s him and not me.enchanted-highway-fish

After you've slid out of the boat wreck watch out you'r not swallowed by a walleye -- bikers need not worry.

After you’ve slid out of the boat wreck watch out you’re not swallowed by a walleye — bikers need not worry.



Don’t stand under the back end…the “plop” may be more than you expect












The 32 mile stretch has a stop near the north end at the quaint, protected, sheltered little village of Gladstone, or you can keep going all the way to Regent, at the end of the line. It’s where Gary Greff makes his sculptures and is working on his next one, a knight in not-so-shiny armor.

The last time I visited the Enchanted Highway, fall of 2016, I got to the south end in time for one of North Dakota’s legendary sunsets.  In my mind, I removed the highways, the ranches, the signs of civilization and could imagine how rough it must have been to cross this region in a real stagecoach, not a plywood replica.  In fact, the Mandan to Deadwood stage did pass near here. What a ride!enchanted-highway-stagecoach-sunset-sig-small

At the end of my late-day drive down the highway, Teddy was there to welcome me, the moon at his hand, his gregarious outgoing nature larger-than-life.  And wouldn’t ya know it — as a president, you could say he was “transparent!”tr-on-enchanted-highway-with-moon-sig

The North Dakota Tourism Department does a great job of promoting this loop off of the beaten path. Read about the Enchanted Highway here .  Do you have photos of your enchanted visit?  I bet you have photos of Paul Bunyan, or New Salem Sue, or some other monster replica, right?


Million-dollar farming– will there be a payday?


A $500,000 John Deere combine comes to the end of a 12 rows of sunflower.

They are million dollar crops in million dollar weather using million dollar machines.


Taking advantage of the million-dollar weather, a half-million dollar combine opens a field of corn, making the first pass. The machine “combines” several processes, slicing the corn stalk, removing the ear from the stalk and the kernels from the cob, separating the chaff to blow out the back of the machine.

There’s a lot a farmer can do to produce a profitable crop…and a lot he can’t do — it’s out of his hands.  This fall, North Dakota farmers are reminded as they bring in their crops, they made some good choices on nutrients, timing, crop variety.   They know too, that this wonderful fall weather of no snow and warm temps is helping them get the job done.


Farmers put in long days at harvest, taking advantage of every weather opening provided. If it’s raining or snowing the stalks are too tough and the crop has too much moisture to harvest.

It’s a very expensive job.  One combine, such as the first one above, working a sunflower field, is about a half-million dollars.  That’s just part of the investment.  14992051_10155638816387619_3125389476639882384_nThe immense fields, some a mile-long are too large for a combine to make it across the field and back without emptying. So, the combine operator will empty on the go, continuing to pluck the crop from the stalks while emptying in to a grain cart that carries the crop to a waiting semi truck.


A tractor and grain cart roll along side of a working combine to receive what is in the combine’s hopper, then carry it back to a waiting truck. North Dakota supplies the world with food and fuel, as the wind turbines in the background create electricity for places such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.


A four-wheel drive John Deere tractor with large dual wheels to prevent wheel depressions in the soft earth pulls a grain cart on tracs. It follows the combine to retrieve a load of corn when the combine’s hopper is full.

Even though the work is uplifting, gathering in the fruit of a year’s labor’s, it can be challenging when the weather does not cooperate. In those years, the harvest is completed in the snow — after the cold-blooded diesel engines on the large tractors get started, which is a huge and frustrating task on most mornings.  That’s another reason this year’s million-dollar weather has been helpful — the machinery is not having to work hard with sluggish oil and brittle components.

Not every harvest takes place in accommodating weather. Most years, this is the view from the tractor pulling a grain cart down the road.

Not every harvest takes place in accommodating weather. Most years, this is the view from the tractor pulling a grain cart down the road.

Despite their investment, it’s possible they will have nothing to show for it this year.  Northern plains farmers, such as these in North Dakota, have millions of dollars invested in their harvest equipment, and millions more in their planting equipment. The weather is only one of the factors outside of their control; prices are abysmal.  Crop prices, such as corn, are at or near the break-even point.

That means that for all the work, for all the investment, it’s likely that many farmers will not make a profit this year.  They will go unpaid for their labor, barely earning enough money to pay the bank for the loans they took out to buy their equipment. Hopefully  they will have enough money to plant next year’s crop.

A Depression-era song that Ry Cooder recorded sums it up:

We worked through spring and winter, through summer and through fall
But the mortgage worked the hardest and the steadiest of us all
It worked on nights and Sundays, it worked each holiday
Settled down among us and it never went (away

The farmer comes to town with his wagon broken down
The farmer is the man who feeds us all
If you only look and see I know you will agree
That the farmer is the man who feeds us all


Just like 1885 –Building Teddy Roosevelt’s cabin

It’s 2016 and we are excited to see if we can romanticize and fantasize 1885. After a 30 mile gravel road drive from Interstate 94, we parked at a campsite and walked. We followed the slowly degrading road, from blacktop to gravel to a two-track trail. The grass was not mowed, the site was not lit with powerful overhead street lights.  There were no pop machines,  no shaded picnic benches.


The two-track trail that leads to the Elkhorn Ranch site.  This entire valley was once considered the Elkhorn Ranch.

We had heard Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch site was undeveloped, and that was fine with us.

Teddy Roosevelt in his buckskins as a Badlands rancher

About 20 years before he became the 26th U.S. President, Roosevelt lived the life of a wilderness rancher.

It meant we had a greater chance of seeing  his formative Badlands estate much like the way it was for him.  What was the magic here that took a broken man and transformed him in to a “man’s man,” a bold combat vet, a corruption-fighting politician and a U.S. President?

It takes a bit of imagination to get out of the digital noisy world of the 21st Century to feel, smell, hear and burrow in to the 19th Century.  You can do it at TR’s Elkhorn Ranch site.


“The whole country seems to be one tangle chaos of canyon-like valleys, winding gullies and washouts with abrupt, unbroken sides, isolated peaks of sandstone, marl, or ‘gumbo’ clay, which rain turns in to slippery glue, and hill chains the ridges of which always end in sheer cliffs.” — Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail

Contrasts and contours are hidden most of the day. Once the sun begins to lower the shadows present a great view of the bluffs and buttes.

Contrasts and contours are hidden most of the day. Once the sun begins to lower the shadows present a great view of the bluffs and buttes that Roosevelt was very familiar with.

Roosevelt wrote of the region as having a “melancholy beauty.” “The lives of men in such places are strangely cut off from the outside world,” he wrote in Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail. That is what healed him after losing his wife and his mother in the same day.  Its healing was so thorough and so strengthening he credited his Elkhorn Ranch days as giving him the fortitude to run for President of the United States.

“Nebraska and Dakota, east of the Missouri River, resemble Minnesota and Iowa and the states farther east, but Montana and the Dakota cow country show more kinship with Texas”Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail

ranch elkhorn foundation blocks looking west

What?! No cabin?! Nope. It was here a century ago. Now the same quiet and separated country greeted us as we strolled through the healing slopes of Roosevelt’s ranch. The blocks mark the foundation of his Elkhorn Ranch cabin.


It’s that untamed spirit that prompted us to find our way from our primitive campsite, a mile up the road to the site of where Roosevelt wrote extensively.


“By mid-October Sewall and Dow had moved onto the site of the Elkhorn Ranch and were cutting and collecting cottonwood logs for the ranch house. Working through the winter, they completed the building by the spring of 1885. The house was 30 feet by 60 feet, with seven foot high walls, and contained eight rooms and a piazza (porch) along the east wall. Several other buildings were constructed on the site: a barn consisting of two 16 x 20 stables with a 12 foot roofed space connecting them; a cattle shed; chicken house; and a blacksmith shop.”

National Park Service details on TR's move to ND


In the October friends and family event, hosted by Dickinson State University and the Library/Museum staff, locals got to try their hands at using 1885 tools.

That’s the same sense of rawness that organizers of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library at Dickinson State University (DSU) are duplicating.  They are rebuilding the Elkhorn Ranch cabin exactly as it was — and in exactly the same methods of 1887 – by hand, not power tools.

In October, this year, organizers invited everyone to come in and try their hand at using 19th Century tools on the cottonwood logs that will become the Elkhorn Ranch cabin.   It’s not an easy task to find and handle the tools of 100 years ago.


On hand at the public demonstration, a blacksmith forged hand tools to be used on the building of the Elkhorn Ranch cabin replica.

Thanks to Roosevelt’s diary, work crews know exactly the step-by-step procedure he used to build his 1887 cabin.  dick-bickel
Not just any carpenter can do it, though. That’s why organizers are fortunate to find Dick Bickel. The South Dakota man and his work crew will cut and shape the logs for the walls.

They’ve gone so far as to use cottonwood trees that were cut from along the river and hauled to the work site — and they’re looking for more.  (Excuse their departure from original techniques as they used a modern semi-truck to haul in the logs.)tr-elkhorn-ranch-two-kids-sawing-logs-small

It’s a mighty humble start for what is expected to be a $100 million facility.

Architects propose a building that carries the sweeping curves and lines of the Badlands with the colors and appearance of the natural earth.


The architect’s vision of the Badlands-inspired design of the  presidential library and museum


Constructing the Elkhorn Ranch cabin is the first step in bringing the $100 million Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library closer to reality on the northwest side of the DSU campus. You don’t need to wait for the site to be completed. Even though it is 2016, and the completion date is years away, it is still possible to experience 1885 without the museum.

If you were given the choice, would you rather go to the original site, the planned museum, or both?

See more photos from the region here


learn more here:

TR’s Elkhorn Ranch is easy, but not always.

5 FREE things to do in North Dakota’s Badlands

Free! An amazing history tour #3 is memorable!