Enjoy the cold that keeps out riff raff — healthy people do

It’s not easy keeping up your spirits when winter and polar vortexes catapult the thermometer in to a region well below zero.  What do you do to keep out the invading winter blues?  Some people fall prey to the knighthood of long dark nights when the kingdom of cold invades.

It is possible not to fall to the avenging onslaught of relentless waves of killer cold fronts, but you have to work at it. You have to look for it.  You have to venture out to see the beauty of the season.  That may mean adjusting your schedule a bit. The Golden Hour is mid-afternoon, that last hour when the landscape turns gold.  On a holiday, such as New Years Day, the first sunset of the year is mid-afternoon, about 4:30.  That is when I forced myself to break free from the clutches of the cold to get out with my camera to capture the day.

The first sunset of 2014

The first sunset of 2014

One of the things I’ve come to discover about North Dakotans is they accept the things they cannot change and change the things they can.  So, when record-breaking cold weather sets in, they know they can do nothing about the weather, but they can do something about their own comfort or their own activity.  Of course it’s easier to do nothing and fall prey to the demons of darkness.  Taking a step to fight back is what many healthy people of the cold north such as North Dakotans do every winter.

965859_719882948021983_1441034643_oskis point to the clearing other side of woods wtrmrk     Some will go cross-country skiing.  Cross Ranch, a quiet state park where groomed cross-country ski trails weave through a cottonwood forest that stood here when Lewis and Clark tugged their boats up the Missouri River.

For some of us, it means layering up.  I’ve spent the coldest days of the winter working in my anti-starvation work. Outside.  Attempting to stay warm while keeping the bills paid.I wear as many as 7 layers of clothing when I know I’ll be working outside. I caught this image of myself in the mirror of the tractor I was driving.

The John Deere way to view the winter.

The John Deere way to view the winter.

  • Short underwear
  • Long underwear
  • Jeans
  • sleeveless T-shirt
  • Long Sleeve T-shirt
  • Flannel shirt
  • Bib overalls
  • Hooded sweatshirt
  • Coveralls
  • Parka and
  • Hoodie face and neck protection

Camera and me in tractor cab

Not everyone has to work outside. And not everyone can resign themselves to the fact there are some things (like cold weather) that you just can’t do much about.  Sure, North Dakotans could sit at home and complain, and wait for spring, or they could get out and do something about it.  The North Dakotans I know choose to enjoy it.  For some, that means racing up a hill in to town.02-24-10 snowmobiles

Or for some who know they can’t change the weather, but they can change their activities, it means diving in to those winter hobbies.  I’m fortunate to have a wood shop where I teach myself how to build wood frames for my prints.

open door to wood burning stove logs inside

Wood burning stove keeps things warm and friendly on a cold winter night.

wood and the table saw  The wood stove sits quiet, unused and neglected much of the year.  However, this time of the year, it’s actually a rewarding way to get out of the cold.  I love burning wood to stay warm.

It’s all about attitude, isn’t it.  I think that’s one of the healthiest things about North Dakotans.  They work at keeping up their spirits when the cold keeps out the riff raff.  What’s a good way to enjoy winter and beat the winter blues?

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 http://www.experienceland.org

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. http://www.mykuhls.com/Landscapes/Beautiful-Bakken/i-jthmcjM/A

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: http://www.experienceland.org/

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. http://www.mykuhls.com/Landscapes/Beautiful-Bakken

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.

Bakken Boom Birth Pangs Abated

(note: I wrote this article for the news site called Bakken.com where it appeared Christmas week.  Check Bakken.com for more news and information from the Bakken region.)

Early morning steam rises from an oil rig site near New Town

Early morning steam rises from an oil rig site near New Town

The Bakken Boom is not what it used to be – it appears the region is moving past the pressure of Bakken birth pangs, the extreme pain caused by  the birth of the region’s latest oil boom.

Blue Buttes near Mandaree, ND

Blue Buttes near Mandaree, ND

After a three-day business tour of the Bakken region for Bakken.com, it’s apparent that Western North Dakota is not the peaceful wilderness ranch country of legend.  It has a buzz, it is busy, but it is business and business is great.  We found several categories in which reality falls short of the fearsome fantasies foisted on folks farther east.


Andrew Lutz, Business Development Manager for Bakken.com

Andrew Lutz, the Bakken.com Business Development Manager and I met up in the heart of the oil country – downtown Watford City.  It’s a region I’m familiar with having lived and worked here a few years ago. Now I make regular, even monthly visits to Western North Dakota.

Dakota West Credit Union's 3-story building on the north end of Watford City's Main Street

Dakota West Credit Union’s 3-story building on the north end of Watford City’s Main Street

The center of the region’s most productive oil county is McKenzie County.  Combined with Mountrail County it represents one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world.

McKenzie County courthouse work

Workers are adding a large addition to the front of the McKenzie County Courthouse.

 Changes continue to alter Watford City. Even the Courthouse is a construction zone.

The county’s skillful and wise business leadership is steering the city in to the next era. Bakken.com will tell you about those changes in a story with Economic Development Director Gene Veeder.

On this trip, I rode with Andrew, and that gave me a rare opportunity to see the sights instead of the pilot. Though we had spoken by phone and by email, our first face-to-face meeting was at one of the most outstanding steakhouses outside of a major city, Outlaws Bar and Grille.

Outlaws Bar and Grill, Watford City is a family-oriented eatery.

Outlaws Bar and Grill, Watford City is a family oriented eatery.

It’s clean, comfortable and the cost is reasonable, just what you would expect to pay in Fargo or Bismarck.  Our first meal there was good enough the first night to bring us back the second night.  The wait staff was busy with a full dining room. By the time Andrew and I left, a line of customers waited for our table, ready to add even more urgency to the scurrying troop of table-servers.  Our young waitress the second night, appeared inexperienced and uncertain; she stumbled her way through the serving, but no fouls and no strikes.

Breakfast both days was at the long-time local landmark the Little Missouri Grille on Highway 85 on the western edge of Watford City.  Its customers for years has been area ranchers, families, travelers and tourists. These days, according to the manager, the restaurant floods with hungry men beginning the moment the doors open at 6 a.m.

One of the reasons it’s popular is its serving portions. I like a restaurant that uses the entire plate  instead of little separated and compartmentalized servings.  The Little Missouri’s portions are man-sized, and that’s what other customers we talked to said they liked about the restaurant.  Plates are full and stacked. Work crews who eat at the Little Missouri get their days started on a full stomach – and messages from home via smart phones.

A second reason for popularity is its wait staff.  Our servers on both days were busy, fast and efficient, but very personable and took time for a little small talk while taking our order, filling our coffee cups and clearing our plates.Brittany moves like a blur

Our waitress the second morning told us she moved to Watford City from Idaho to be a waitress because she heard the pay was good.

“Is it that good?” I asked her.

“Oh yes,” she smiled as she refilled my coffee.  “Much better.”

Brittany, the waitress from Idaho at the Little Missouri Grille in Watford City.

Brittany, the waitress from Idaho at the Little Missouri Grille in Watford City.

On this trip, we did not find the rudeness, lazy workers, sub-standard service or high prices we were warned about. From the Cash Wise Grocery Store to the Kum-and-Go gas station, we found service was professional and efficient.

Business owners we talked to in Watford City and New Town said their employees are keeping up with the flood of new business, but not easily.  At United Prairie in New Town, General Manager John Reese said the staff has grown in the last 10 years and that makes it tough to find adequate housing. That’s why his company is building housing for company families.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of stopping for a meal in town is getting back on the highway.  Outside of town traffic flows orderly, but in town, be prepared for an infrequent moment to enter traffic. Left turns are especially difficult.

Looking south from Watford City. Highway 85 used to be a quiet drive.  Not any more.

Looking south from Watford City. Highway 85 used to be lonely drive, but not any more.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation is widening highways, adding passing lanes and turning lanes to help alleviate traffic tie ups and make the highways safer.  Additional work is ready to begin in 2014.

With grace and common sense, it is no challenge to navigate traffic in towns such as Watford City, New Town or Williston.  Like red cells in a blood stream, an endless stream of 18-wheelers, pickup trucks and cars flow through the heart of the Bakken.  Stop lights and stop signs are the valves that slow down traffic for safety, but they add to the time required to get through the main arteries of the cities.  So, if you’re planning to drive highway 85, 200 or 2 through the Bakken, be ready for backups in town.

The North Dakota DOT is coming to the rescue of many of these smaller towns with by-pass surgery, building routes around the cities – a sign that the Bakken birth pains are abating.

Highway 85 construction halted for the winter, but will resume in 2014.

Highway 85 construction halted for the winter, but will resume in 2014.

When Andrew and I left Watford City to head to New Town, we followed a convoy of oil service trucks. The good news is the road surface is good, again a testimony to the attention the North Dakota DOT has given its highways.  Traffic moves safely, drivers are attentive and courteous.  Passing is limited on the hilly Highway 23.  Be prepared to drive trucker-speed which may mean a bit under the speed limit on up-grades.  Also, just as in town, left turns can cause a traffic tie up.  We saw no road rage evidenced by one-finger salutes or horn blasts.  Drivers kept a safe distance from the vehicle ahead of them.  Functioning brakes lights are life savers – make sure you have them and watch for them in front of you when driving in the Bakken.

Driving across McKenzie County to New Town, there is no place where you do not see at least one, if not many drilling rigs and pump jacks.  Next to the road, or off on the horizon, you can see why the Bakken is a major world player in oil production and extraction.

oil site with flaring on horizon

South and west of the Three Affiliated Tribes business office, one of the oil sites on the reservation is clearly visible, flaring natural gas in a large flame.

Our first stop on the way in to New Town was the business office of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, the Three Affiliated Tribes.  Our mission was to visit with Chairman Tex Hall.

Father Roger Syneck and Tribal ChairmanTex Hall pause during the blessing of the meal at the Elder's Christmas Party.

Father Roger Syneck and Tribal ChairmanTex Hall pause during the blessing of the meal at the Elder’s Christmas Party.

We arrived at the start of the annual Three Affiliated Tribes Elders Christmas Party.  Our timing was perfect. Chairman Hall was on the riser with the local Roman Catholic Priest giving the blessing. Elders are treated to a full meal at the Four Bears Casino Events Center, presented with gift bags and Christmas checks and serenaded by the children of the Head Start program.

Head Start children sing at the Elder's Christmas Party.

Head Start children sing at the Elder’s Christmas Party.

Members of the Three Affiliated Tribes benefit from oil activity and Chairman Hall’s pro-business philosophy.  Oil production is expanding.

New Town Transload wide shot

Railroad spur leading in to the transload facility on the east end of New Town.

new town transload

Construction continues on the transload facility on the east end of New Town.

Transload facilities in New Town and Van Hook are adding permanent income to the local economy.

News and events from the Bakken are incomplete without solid representation from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and the Three Affiliated Tribes. That’s why Bakken.com is working with Chairman Hall and others on Fort Berthold to tell the stories of the region.  Chairman Hall told us he is working on several issues to help his people gain even more benefit from oil production and avoid some of the challenges of the expanding industry.  Those issues including flaring and an oil refinery are issues Bakken.com follow.

The hospitality of the region is legendary and after meeting with Chairman Hall, we were warmly greeted by the Chairman and CEO of Lakeside State Bank of New Town.  Gary Peterson’s bank has grown along with the Bakken economy.  He showed us figures that Lakeside State Bank’s business is several times greater now than just a few months ago.  Larger numbers of customers and their transactions such as wire transfers means more work for his staff, but the swelling customer base is evidence the staff handles the extra work load.

After New Town, we drove to Stanley, Ray, Tioga and Williston.

Long before the current Bakken boom, the Enbridge Storage Site south of Stanley has helped move petroleum to market.

Long before the current Bakken boom, the Enbridge Storage Site south of Stanley has helped move petroleum to market.

Yes, the towns are challenged by the instant impact on infrastructure.  They’re now getting in to the pace, working with developers to meet one of the greatest needs – housing.  It’s not just the structures that must be built, but also streets, sewers, water, lights and law enforcement.  New condominiums, apartment complexes, single-family homes and RV parks seem to have popped out of the ground like toadstools on an over-watered golf green.  The housing shortage is not over, but at this stage, developers and city fathers we spoke to are watching trends to help make sure the housing shortage does not become a housing glut.  They’ve become skittish after watching the last oil bust 30 years ago.

During our drive through the Bakken region, we scanned the horizon checking out rigs, pump jacks, storage facilities and support services.  Our roadside survey found gave visual proof to recent maps and stats that indicate most of the oil activity spreads from McKenzie County east.two oil wells

As we drove west in to Sidney, Montana fewer drilling rigs and pump jacks were spotted. Sidney is home to many of the oil field services that Bakken.com works with.  Compared to Watford City and Williston, life in Sidney is more peaceful and orderly.  Though activity is further east, westward expansion is predicted.

Traffic in Sidney, MT is comparatively light compared to other cities in the Bakken region.

Traffic in Sidney, MT is comparatively light compared to other cities in the Bakken region.

Some oil field services, landmen and engineers working in the Bakken may have local offices in other cities, but they are headquartered in Sidney.  Most work from the home offices in Sidney can be done by phone or Internet– away from the intensity. It provides staff a quick access of about an hour to most of the oil activity east of Sidney while at the same time being a step removed from the congestion.  Either Highway 200 or 68 carry most of the traffic. With Andrew at the helm, we drove 68 to Sidney and Highway 200 on the return trip.  (Incidentally, Highway 200 across the Yellowstone gives travelers a look at the region’s only lift bridge – used only once.)

Lift Bridge along Highway 200 east of Sidney.

Lift Bridge along Highway 200 east of Sidney.

We found Highway 68 to be the quickest with the least traffic. Highway 200 requires drivers to negotiate hilly terrain with more truck traffic.

Finally, to those who cry the beauty of the Badlands is marred by oil exploration, I must argue.  For 20 years I’ve backpacked, camped, cross country skied and rode horses in the region.  It’s still beautiful.

Long X Bridge south of Watford City where big horn sheep roam.

Long X Bridge south of Watford City where big horn sheep roam.

Oil companies meet environmental regulations, and go even further to try to do their work without disturbing the natural habitat of elk, deer, mountain lions, and big horn sheep (which were eliminated from the region in the 1920’s but have been brought back along with the oil field activity).

As Andrew and I discovered, the beauty is still there to behold, even from the heated protection of a car.  Early morning jaunts in to the area can produce amazing images that incorporate the wells, pumps and roads of oil activity.Oil well and moon wtrmrkoil pumps and moon

The birth pangs of the Bakken Boom are giving way to a more settled way of life.    It’s not as bad as you heard out here in western North Dakota. Embellished and enhanced stories repeated by those outside the region do a dis-service to the reality of the dynamic benefits of oil.  Once again, as with power plants, coal mines and farmland, this part of America is serving the needs of the United States and the world.  North Dakota’s cultural landscape has changed much over the years. That’s why there are so many abandoned homesteads and buildings across the landscape.  The current oil activity may bring a change in culture, but what hasn’t changed in America in the last 200 years?

Where does the trail take you in 2013

The trail toward the Missouri River.

The trail toward the Missouri River.

Where does the trail in to 2013 take you this year?

I’m sure it’s too early to tell..unless you’re an anal retentive planner. Who knows what the year will throw at you.

For me, I hope to remain as physically active as I was on this, the first day of 2013.  Ahh…it’s been a long long time since I was at my best physical shape, and today shows that clearly.  But hopefully today was a good sign.  It meant heading out of town, away from the videos and photos to edit, away from the papers to write. Away from the frames to make and the photos to mat.

The road west of Wilton leads straight to the river.  This region of the state is called The Missouri Slope region and you can see why…the soft rolling hills slope down to the river.

Once to the bottom, cross over to the west side and there’s the best cross country skiing in the region.

trail along river wtrmrk

Along the Missouri River

So, there’s my first hint at where I want the trail to take me — away from the daily grind.  First a drive toward the Missouri River, then to the river itself.  This is as close to where Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery traveled the winter of 1803 — 210 years ago.  It’s the Missouri River along the Lewis and Clark trail, south of Washburn at Cross Ranch State Park.

But wait!  There’s more!

skis point to clearing horz wtrmrk

Skis to the trees

It’s not just a pretty place, it’s a place to get physical.  So, I did, on cross country skis.  It just seems to me that as long as we’re gonna have winter — and we can’t do anything about that — we might as well use it.  A bright day, light winds from the south, and fresh snow.

Mike stops on curve

The trail starts

Years ago, I skied these trails regularly, but in recent years, there’s not been enough snow.

The trail starts through the trees and a short distance from the start, a person can choose to take a long, long, LONG route south, or curve back to the north. That’s me.  Ready to take the curve back north.

So, along the river I skied for about 45 minutes.  My daughter would roll her

away from camera along river bank wtrmrk

along the trail

eyes. When she and I used to do this every week, we’d be gone for a few hours.




Maybe next time.  But certainly not today.  Dang I’m outta shape.

So, the trail in to 2013, hopefully will take me back to better physical conditioning and I won’t take the turn back to the north, but will ski along the trail south of Cross Ranch.

Are you up to join me some afternoon?


Good music makes cold weather bearable — January ’11

Dirty Word Dad and Daughter

Music runs in this family.  Dirty Word is a fun talented regional bar band.  Well, actually a cut above most bar bands because even though their music is mostly covers, they put their own twists to the songs they do, their own arrangements if you will. That tells me the band members are talented. More so, to see the lead singer and his daughter together on the stage tells me the talent is in their DNA.  For just a couple songs at Burnt Creek, a dance bar north of Bismarck, dad and daughter entertained the crowd.  She not only has talent, but has poise and confidence — enough to stand alone to sing to a building full of respectful and admiring adults.

After a couple of songs, off she went, out the back door — I assume to the motel where her mother or other caretaker was waiting. After all, though it was 9 p.m. when she was on stage, it’s still late for a girl of her age.  From then on, the crowd danced to and was entertained by the good music of Dirty Word.  It’s a Minneapolis band that is too good for little smokey bars and clubs, but probably not good enough to hold the stage at a festival or other music event such as 10K lakes.  If you get the chance however, pay the cover charge and check out Dirty Word.  I endorse the band on a cold winter night. It will get you out of the cabin, down the trail, in to humanity for an evening.

Bands seem to flourish in the winter in Bismarck.  Take Midnight Noise Orchestra.  These guys have been parts of other bands and they’ve come together for a year or two now, entertaining at local venues, usually free.  No cover charge. They play at street festivals and other artistic and open venues.  They hold your attention and keep you coming back for their own tunes.  They’re a little bit of a jam band, folk, reggae, rock, jazz, blues band. Each song does not sound like the next song, the next song, the next song….  They’re original and entertaining.

On this night, I caught Midnight Noise Orchestra at Captain Freddie’s in Mandan.  The bar caters to a young crowd and the river crowd — even has it’s own dock for Missouri River boaters to stop for a brew.  Since there’s not much of a boat crowd in the winter, music brings in the patrons.  Midnight Noise does it well.

I like shooting bands. I hope to put together an entire portfolio of my photographs of local musicians. They’re talented, but don’t have much marketing to take them up the ladder of success. I can, however, provide them with a few good shots for their own portfolio.  In the mean time, I get stretched as a photographer.  It’s not easy working with low light situations — changing colors of the stage lights, and fast moving people. I’ve found that setting my white balance to “auto,”  cranking up the ISO to about 1,200 and opening up my aperture as far as it will go allows me to use a slightly faster shutter speed to freeze the players.

Not only that, I get to enjoy the good music, connect with band members — and get a break from cabin fever.  Bismarck-Mandan has an abundance of talented musicians, so cabin fever will have an abundance of opportunity for relief.  What about you? Are you more likely to catch a good musical group in the winter or the summer?

December 23 — Motorized sledders cruise the snow

Two Yamaha sleds

I’ve never even sat on one, but snowmobiles look like a lot of fun if you’re in to speed and thrills.  It would certainly be a good way to occupy the winter season.

The ditches along Highway 83 between Bismarck and Washburn is a designated and marked trail for snowmobiles.  Those orange diamond markers you see in the photo above are indicators where are to safely ride.

I imagine it’s a moderate amount of excitement, but not what it’s like to zoom up the trails in the Turtle Mountains, or in the woods of Minnesota or Montana.

Still, it gives a picture of life in North Dakota that I caught while driving to Bismarck —  a bit of a challenge to drive down the highway with the window open along side a slide keeping it in focus as the scenery blurs by.

Don’t tell on me.

December 20 – Bismarck’s Army of Snowmovers

Mass attack of snow plows

Here they come. Bismarck’s Street Crew is standing shoulder to shoulder to clear out Highway 83 in Bismarck.

The army of snowplows takes precedence over general traffic to clear a route out of town toward the north.  It’s the first leg of clean highway that the state and city keeps open so that power plant and coal mine workers can get to their jobs.

I was leaving town to head back to Wilton when I saw the street brigade headed my way. There was no way I was going to get out in front of them because traffic was too heavy. So, I consigned myself to follow them north and take a few photos as I went.

As in any city with multi-lane streets and highways, there’s no place to pile the snow should one plow be sent out. So the plows take all the snow from across the lanes and move it off to the ditch.  And to do it without causing traffic accidents with the large windrows of snow down the street, the road graders do it in one concerted move.

Follow the plow

Of course it means a few drivers will be inconvenienced for a few minutes as the plows do their job.  But it’s worth it. They leave behind clean and safe streets.  How well does your city crews keep open your streets?  Good? Bad? Medium?

December 19 ditches are for sleds


Sharing the road, or at least the ditches.  This time of year it’s not surprising to look beside you as you travel the highways and see a snowmobile running along side of you — sometimes just as fast as you’re going.

As I headed in to Washburn along Highway 200 from the west, there beside me was a big person piloting a snowmobile with a little person hanging on.  They were only going about 35 or so.  I passed them easily.  I image later in the say, however, you could pull up to most any bar, restaurant or gas station in most any town in North Dakota and see as many snowmobiles as cars parked outside.  I’ll hafta look for that shot this winter.