Here’s how to enjoy Lake Sakakawea for free at McKenzie County

This North Dakota county gives you nearly unlimited access to outdoor recreation — free!

Sunset over Lake Sakakawea at McKenzie County.

You don’t need a boat to enjoy Lake Sakakawea.  The magnificent lake is 180 miles long with 1,530 miles of PUBLIC shoreline.

Plenty of opportunities to wade in the water to cool off on a hot day hike.

As we found out, that means you can explore, hike, bike for days on end.  Find a bay or inlet and you can camp next to the water, or if it’s a hot day, dive in and cool off. It’s what we did, and here’s all you need to know to enjoy the Lake.

Hiking the shoreline north of Charlson along Lake Sakakawea

 

 

 

 

 

First, a little background:

The Army Corps of Engineers created and maintains the lake; it owns the immediate shoreline. It says the lake covers 382,000 surface acres making it the largest manmade lake in North America where the entire shoreline is open to the public. It is world-famous for its recreation, walleye fishing and its paddlefish snagging.

History

Without a ferry system, McKenzie County farmers struggled to get grain to a nearby rail line across the Missouri River.

Lake Sakakawea was formed in the 1950’s by damming the Missouri River. Even before it was a lake, the River was a transportation barrier. The river challenged McKenzie County farmers to get their crops to market, going north across the river to Williston.

Ferries such as those at the ghost town Banks on the Tobacco Garden Creek helped farmers move their grain.  Eventually, a bridge across the river at Williston helped ease transportation.

After WWII, the Army Corps of Engineers built a series of dams on the Missouri River, each one backing up on to historic tribal land and Indian Reservations. In 1956, the Garrison Dam swallowed up the largest amount of historic land in the new dam system.

Garrison Dam created Lake Sakakawea and flooded hundreds of thousands of farmland, and homes. Courtesy of State Historical Society of North Dakota (B8081).

The lake became a recreation attraction. It flooded some 150,000 acres, three towns, and several villages. It divided the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation so that two districts are south of the lake and three are north of the lake.  Lake crossings are about 70-miles apart at the dam itself or at the Mountrail County/McKenzie County crossing, Four Bears Bridge.

Some of the towns and villages flooded by the creation of Lake Sakakawea.

 

What to do

If life before the dam intrigues you. The Three Affiliated Tribes Museum on the eastern edge of McKenzie County has a full display of pre-lake years.   It’s that large A-Frame building inside a wrought-iron fence north of the Casino.  We discovered you will need to check ahead to see if it is open.  You can call 701-627-4477.  Generally, it is said to be open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  That’s not always the case, though.  The last two times we attempted to visit were during those hours, but it was closed.

Admission isn’t free but close.  The last time we were there it was $3.00.

If you are successful, head to the second floor. That’s where we found the most interesting displays.  It’s an eye-opener to learn the history of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nation.  It will shape your views on the region.

If you are in to land-based activities, you’ve got hundreds of miles of opportunity.  Many locations are easily accessed by following two-track trails or no-maintenance roads.  The public access shoreline provides landlubbers the opportunity to hike and explore, swim, camp, view waterfowl and other birds. We like to drive north from Highway 23 on what is designated to be Highway 1806.  It’s a good idea to be in a pickup truck, or a high-clearance vehicle to access the lake. Turn off 1806 to the north and explore the two-track trails.  We’ve done it several times, but only when it’s dry enough that we won’t get stuck.  The dog gets excited about this time because we slow down to about 5 mph and weave our way through the hills and valleys to the shoreline.

In the winter, when the lake’s many bays and inlets freeze over, cross-country skiing is possible.  Snowmobilers often ride the ice and snow.

Pontoon and fishing boats are the most popular boats on the water. Up until about 1970, hydroplane boats raced on the lake, but floating trees and other debris made it too dangerous.

On the water, pleasure boats are commonly seen with passengers enjoying the vast expanse of water. In addition to swimming, water skiing, jet skiing, and scuba diving are just some of the favorite activities.

Fishermen travel from across the world to catch walleye, northern pike, and salmon. The waters also yield a good harvest of smallmouth bass, catfish, yellow perch, and trout.

For a few days in the spring, on the upper reaches of the lake, paddlefish snagging attracts thousands of people to the upper reaches of the lake on the northern edge of McKenzie County. The prehistoric fish lay on the bottom of the river where anglers snag them and harvest their eggs as caviar.

Click: The Williston Herald has a great story about paddlefish snagging.

 How to get there:

East of Watford City on Hwy 23, you access Lake Sakakawea at Four Bears. The mile-long Four Bears Bridge spans the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea

Drive north or east of Watford City in McKenzie County. State Highway 1806 north or State Highway 23 east will take you to the shores of Lake Sakakawea.

If you use Google Maps, you’ll get something like this (the complete round trip with an extension to Four Bears is almost 3 hours.  But if you are just going to one spot, the drive is less than one hour):

Easy access from Watford City to Lake Sakakawea.

Our Recommendation

We were not boating when we explored the region.  We went northeast of Watford City and then north past the ghost town of Charlson.  We always take with us a U.S. Forest Service Map ($13) to see all the back roads and trails that got us down to the lake for a good day of hiking, sightseeing, and swimming.  Another useful tool is Google Earth that gives you a precise location and a view of what’s ahead on the trail.

Imagine the steep valley that drops down below this tributary to Lake Sakakawea. You can hike along the top, or take a canoe to explore the shoreline.

If you own a kayak or canoe, just about any road that goes up to the lake from McKenzie County will give you access. Again, a U.S. Forest Service Map is most helpful to find those access roads.

We have accessed the waterscape on canoe.  This summer we’ll do it with a kayak.  It allowed us to get up in to some of the tributaries.  Exploring the upper reaches scratches the curiosity itch.

A canoe or other smaller fishing boats gets up in to some of the tributaries of Lake Sakakawea so you can explore hidden riches.

 

If you want to get out on the water for little money (not free)– consider renting a canoe or kayak.  You can follow the shoreline, investigate bays and inlets, and get a sense of what it must have been like for the Thomas Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery.

 

 

Admittedly, it’s hard to find a canoe or kayak to rent.  Are there any in Williston or Minot? I don’t know any rentals. Do you?

East of Williston in Williams County (directly across the lake from Tobacco Gardens in McKenzie County)  is Lund’s Landing. You can rent a kayak or canoe there for the day.

http://www.lundslanding.com/fishingboatrentals.htm

People who drive up from Bismarck have a couple of places where they can pick up a canoe or kayak in Mandan. They have multi-day rates so you can rent one day and return the next.

http://0317f38.netsolhost.com/rentals.html

http://www.paddleonnd.com/rentals.html#kayak

If you have a boat, here are a couple of good points to consider: the first access point is the Four Bears Peninsula, on the far eastern edge of McKenzie County, is a popular access to the water. A boat ramp, bait shop and large parking area will let you get out on the water. It will introduce you to Native American history of the region. Go in August to take in the Little Shell Powwow.  The peninsula extends south of the Four Bears Casino where people camp, fish and picnic.

Others recommend

(The goal this summer is to check out this highly recommended McKenzie County location.)

The second access point is Tobacco Garden Creek Bay — 2 miles east of Watford City on ND Highway 23, then 25 miles north and east on ND Highway 1806. The resort is open year round and is pet-friendly. A full-service restaurant serving: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner – with Prime rib every Saturday Night.  A convenience store providing Groceries, camping supplies, off sale beer, bait and tackle shop, gas on the water, and everything in between.  There are over 100 camp sites, two log cabins, family picnic shelters, two playgrounds, wireless Internet and hiking on the Birnt Hills Trail – a certified Lewis and Clark site.

We’re always looking for other free or low-cost opportunities to explore Lake Sakakawea.  What do you recommend?

Here’s another free spot in McKenzie County to explore

Subscribe to this blog to get more ideas to explore in this great state of North Dakota

To get a free 22 page travelogue to plan your trip in McKenzie County, just type in the word “McKenzie” in the subject field and send.

 

 

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5 amazing free or low cost world class points in McKenzie County

The county is larger than Washington DC, Rhode Island and Delaware. When settlers moved to the area, McKenzie County was known as an island and called the Island Empire. You cannot get to it without crossing water.stylized-map-of-mckenzie-county-map

The Missouri River, Yellowstone River and Little Missouri River set the boundaries of the county. They also contribute to the world-class recognition of McKenzie County.he largest county in the state, McKenzie County has always been fascinating, going back to the Dakota Territory days.

I was first intrigued by the county thanks to the historic McKenzie County Grazing Association, a rancher group intent on maintaining the industry and the environment that supports ranching. From there, my interest and my involvement in the county’s heritage grew.

There are five world-class points in the county:

  1. Four Bears Bridge
  2. Lake Sakakawea
  3. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  4. Maah Daah Hey trail
  5. Rough Rider Event Center

Sure, you can take a day trip to buzz through all six locations, but why would you? We put this together so you can take advantage of vacation days, weekends or holidays through the year to explore the adventures, get insight and history of America. It’s  yours to enjoy.  Each site is free or very low cost.

Four Bears Bridge

The mile-long Four Bears Bridge spans the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea

The mile-long Four Bears Bridge spans the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea

This mile-long bridge is the latest effort to overcome the continental division of the Missouri River. During four construction seasons, 2003-2007, a new $55 million dollar bridge was built using context sensitive design.  It won several international design contests and is recognized as a model for designing a modern structure that seamlessly fits in the cultural, natural, social and economic environment of the area.

Each sweeping arch is designed to transfer the load in to the piers and the rock bed 90 feet below the water. The chopped off cones at the base of the piers are designed to stand up to ice floes coming downstream.

Each arched span directs the weight of the bridge in to the piers

Each arched span directs the weight of the bridge in to the piers

Walk the bridge to see artwork detailing the history of the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, the MHA Nation.  The stories of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations are on storyboards on both ends of the bridge.

Here’s what you can do here next to an internationally recognized engineering feat (and it’s free!):

  • Walk across,
  • Walk under
  • Follow the recreation trail,
  • Learn history
  • Have a picnic.

Lake Sakakawea

Lake Sakakawea is 180 miles long, providing public shoreline access from which sunrises and sunsets can be viewed.

Lake Sakakawea is 180 miles long, providing public shoreline access from which sunrises and sunsets can be viewed.

Damming the Missouri River at Garrison with Garrison Dam, created a magnificent 180-mile long lake with 1,530 miles of PUBLIC shoreline.  The Army Corps of Engineers says the lake covers 382,000 surface acres making it the largest manmade lake in North America where the entire shoreline is open to the public.

Pontoons, and other boats take full access of the 300,000 acre lake.

Pontoons and other boats take full access of the 300,000-acre lake.

It is world famous for its recreation, walleye fishing and its paddlefish snagging.

Here’s what you can do here next to this world-famous lake:

  • Hike the shoreline
  • Watch sunset/sunrise
  • Visit the parks
  • Learn history
  • Have a picnic
  • Fish
  • Boat (fishing, sail, jet ski)
  • Scuba Dive
  • Camp
  • Swim

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Bison roam freely at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. They are not domesticated, so give them plenty of space.

Bison roam freely at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. They are not domesticated, so give them plenty of space.

Undersold and over delivering as a National Park, the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TNRP) is on the south edge of McKenzie County.  It is a rugged wilderness with a variety of trails through the park to suit all types of hikers.  The roadway through the park takes visitors to the Riverbend Overlook cabin above the Little Missouri River.  Along the drive, it’s likely you will see a collection of bison or other species such as mule deer.

When Theodore Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1885, he was a skinny, young, spectacled dude from New York. He could not have imagined how his adventure in this remote and unfamiliar place would forever alter the course of the nation. The rugged landscape and strenuous life that TR experienced here would help shape a conservation policy that we still benefit from today.

–National Park System publication on the TRNP

On the Achenbach Trail, the views of the Little Missouri River Valley are outstanding.

On the Achenbach Trail, the views of the Little Missouri River Valley are outstanding.

It would seem a great number of visitors view the park through their windshield. They’re missing out. There are several trails in the park to accommodate all levels of fitness. One of the most challenging is the Achenbach Trail. It is 18 miles long and you can extend it into a two-day hike. (Anyone intending to camp in the backcountry must obtain a free backcountry permit prior to their trip. Permits are issued at the South Unit and North Unit visitor centers.)

Here’s what you can do here next to this National Park:

  • Hike
  • Picnic
  • Photograph
  • scout wildlife
  • access the river
  • research, browse books
  • drive

Maah Daah Hey trail (Otherwise knowns as the “lasting a long time” trail)

The world-class 125-mile long Maah Daah Hey trail attracts riders from all over the United States and many European nations.

The world-class 125-mile long Maah Daah Hey trail attracts riders from all over the United States and many European nations.

Imagine a 125-mile trek through Badlands wilderness on a mountain bike, horse or on foot. Mule and whitetail deer, antelope, wild turkeys, beaver, prairie dogs, and coyotes are often sighted, while an occasional golden eagle, red-tail hawk, or prairie falcon may be spotted soaring above. Bighorn sheep and elk have been reintroduced into the area and can be spotted by keen observers.

On rare occasions, you can catch a glimpse of the Big Horn sheep.

On rare occasions, you can catch a glimpse of the Big Horn sheep.

Wildflowers such as this crocus adorn the trail.

Wildflowers such as this crocus adorn the trail.

The single-track mountain bike trail has attracted world riders to visit with their $4,000 bikes. You can rent mountain bikes on the south end of the Maah Daah Hey trail at Medora.

The dream was to connect the two units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The actual planning and building took about 14 years. It’s a difficult trail to maintain through the erosive and wild Badlands. In recent years, your tax dollars have not been spent to keep it up. Locals including the Save the Maah Daah Hey trail group sculpt and mow the trail. The group hosts the annual Maah Daah Hey 100 mountain bike ride: 100-miles in one day. The winning time is just minutes under 10 hours.

There is no time of year that is a bad time to strike out on the trail. Of course, North Dakota’s legendary afternoon and evening thunderstorms can make the trail very challenging even for the most experienced adventurer.  dead-tree-in-the-brush-color-sig

Don’t be scared off by the massive challenge the Maah Daah Hey can present.  There are plenty of short-access hikes, here’s where you can get on the trail to get in to the Badlands:

  • CCC Campground
  • Summit Campground
  • Bennet Creek
  • Beicegel Creek
  • Highway 50 West of Grassy Butte

Rough Rider Event Center

img_3287Imagine a $100-million indoor swimming pool with a few extra features.  That’s a silly way to describe the Rough Rider Event Center.  It is an auditorium, arena, gymnasium, and indoor water park, swimming pool, walking track, two ice hockey rinks, convention center, coffee shop and restaurant. Concerts, conventions, hockey and basketball tournaments draw thousands of people to the Rough Rider Event Center.

Architect’s specs:

  • 22,000-square-foot multi-use field house
  • Three basketball courts
  • Removable artificial turf
  • 1,000-seat hockey arena
  • Separate practice hockey rink
  • 3,000-seat arena for sporting events and concerts
  • Eight executive suites
  • 12,000-square-foot gymnastics club
  • 10,000 square feet of convention space
  • Continuous elevated running track.

img_3279

Watford City visitors can use the facility for a surprisingly low fee. For $7.00 visitors can enjoy daily use of any open activities, including swimming.

Just because these are the six world-class sites in McKenzie does not mean there are no more incredible places such as the Long X Museum and Visitor Center, art galleries and coffee houses in Watford City,  Fairview Lift Bridge, the Cartwright Tunnel,  Grassy Butte and its post office, the Frontier Village, the museum at Alexander.

There’s a lot more to these five world-class sites. Type the word McKenzie in the subject line of the contact form to know:
  • more about each one
  • how to get to each one
  • recommendations activities at each site
  • the history of each site
It’s free!
We’ll send you a 20-page travelogue for free just because we think McKenzie County is worth bragging about and you will too.  So, have a good time.
 
Oh, and click to subscribe to this blog to learn more of events, locations, activities each week. Pictures, information, and helps each week are posted here.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the Bakken? Did you know these things?

Oil production can be a controversial topic. Nevertheless, it’s a present North Dakota industry tipping the balance of world energy politics. The world knows about North Dakota and the Bakken oil play. 

A rig works in McKenzie County, west of Watford City.

A rig works in McKenzie County, west of Watford City.

Where is it?first-nd-oil-well-map-aoghs

It’s not hard to imagine a Saudi oil prince who had never heard of North Dakota, now knows about the state and the Bakken,  with its primary counties: McKenzie, Mountrail, Dunn, Ward, and Williams Counties.  The heart of the Bakken extends roughly from Watford City east to Mandaree, up to New Town back south to Killdeer It is a region that put OPEC on notice that the U.S. was cutting its dependency on Middle Eastern oil.

Take a drive through the region to see the “dipping donkeys.”

two oil pumps

Dipping donkeys or oil pumps are placed a few yards apart so their footprint is minuscule compared to the wells of 30 years ago.

They won’t be there for long. For every active well that you pass, you also drive past hundreds of capped wells no longer apparent. You may get to spot an oil rig. There are about 40 working in the beginning of 2017.  Four years ago, there were about 200.  A well is not permanent.  Technology is so advanced that the wells’ greatest production is in the first five years.


Did you know?

When a well costs more to operate than it produces it is cut off three or four feet below the surface. The pipe below ground is encased in at least three layers of concrete.

The same topsoil and subsoil that was removed for the well pad is replaced and the terrain is reshaped.  Vegetation is restored.  Nearly 9,000 wells in the region have been capped and are invisible to everyone except petroleum engineers.

Nearly 9,000 wells in the region have been capped and are invisible to everyone except petroleum engineers.



The Bakken is a geological layer a couple miles or 10,000 feet below the surface.  The target area at that 2-mile depth is a layer about 5-feet wide . Its name has been applied to the surface region where drilling activity is most apparent. It is 200,000 square miles of the subsurface of the Williston Basin, covering parts of Montana, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan.  It’s estimated up to 500 billion barrels of oil are in the Bakken.  About one-million barrels a day are produced.

Multiple wells are on one pad. Current oil production uses less than 10% of space compared to oil production 30 years ago.

Multiple wells are on one pad. Current oil production uses less than 10% of space compared to oil production 30 years ago.

The world-class oil play could last up to 50 years at some level, but probably not as busy as it was 2011 to 2014.  Thousands of jobs have been created.  One form of taxes on the wells, extraction taxes produce as much as $3-billion a year. Billions more are collected in income, sales and corporate taxes.

History of North Dakota Oil Production

 North Dakota has provided oil to the nation for more than 65 years.  The earliest permit issued for oil exploration in North Dakota came from the state geologist in 1923. The spark that ignited North Dakota’s oil boom of 1951 was discovery of oil by Hess Petroleum Corporation on the Clarence Iverson farm, 8 miles south of Tioga. The oil field which grew up around this original site is a small part of the oil-bearing region called the Williston Basin, which extends from South Dakota to western Canada, and from central North Dakota to central Montana. The Bakken is within the Williston Basin.

 Click here to read more

How to get there

three-oil-derricks

The drilling rigs associated with oil activity are in place for only a few weeks. Then, the “dipping donkeys” or pumps are installed. Even the pumps are temporary because when the oil has been removed from the tiny area two miles down, the pumps are shut down and removed.

 From Watford City, head east on Highway 23 toward New Town.  15 miles down the road, at Johnson Corner continue straight on Highway 73 toward Mandaree. Another 15 miles and you’ll stop at the intersection with Highway 22. Head north about 17 miles and you’ll once again connect with Highway 23.  Here, you can turn east toward New Town or turn west back to Watford City.  (Technology has improved the process so much that a well today occupies only about 10% of the ground that a similar well occupied in 1980.)

 A late-day drive through the region will help you spot oil drills as the sun sets. Floodlights shine on the skyscraper structures and the little village at the base of each drill. That’s where workers stay as they service the 24/7 drilling operation. Each well will drill down about 2 miles, and curve horizontally to tap a five-foot wide section of geology called the Middle Bakken. Once drilled, wells are installed to lift oil from 2-miles below the surface.  An onsite system of tanks and separators hold the oil until it can be delivered to a refinery.

Cattle are king. Wells being drilled nearby do not upset grazing beef cattle.

Cattle are king. Wells being drilled nearby do not upset grazing beef cattle.

The vehicle you are driving could be burning fuel that was once two miles below the road on which you are driving.

Late in the day, you’ll also see large flames from tall pipes on the well pad.  When oil comes up, natural gas comes with it. At current market prices of 3-cents a million cubic feet, it costs far more to collect, move and distribute than the current price. So, it is burned off, or “flared.”

Excess natural gas is burned off in a process called "flaring." North Dakota's rate of flaring is far below national standards.

Excess natural gas is burned off in a process called “flaring.” North Dakota’s rate of flaring is far below national standards.

The Bakken leads the world in capturing natural gas and reducing the amount of natural gas that is flared.  North Dakota’s flaring rate is well below national regulations and world standards.

Recommendation

This is history unfolding around us.  If you haven’t driven through the region in the last few years, you missed the excitement of “The Boom.”  That historic moment is gone.

You can still see just what it is that the world is talking about. The boom of several years ago has passed, but oil production continues.  At the time of this writing, there is an uptick in oil production and a national call for workers, but it is nothing compared to 2012-2014.  Infrastructure, roads, services have caught up to demand which makes now a good time to drive through the region to see for yourself what it is that people are talking about.

Though the boom of several years ago has passed, but oil production continues.  At the time of this writing, there is an uptick in oil production and a national call for workers, but it is nothing compared to 2012-2014.  

  • Infrastructure, roads, services have caught up to demand in many places. and the work to catch up continues. That makes now a good time to drive through the region to see for yourself what it is that people are talking about.  
  • Truck bypasses have taken the load off city streets and provided fast routes around towns such as Killdeer,
  • Watford City and New Town.  Nearly all of the city Main Streets have been reworked to accommodate visitors.  
  • Familes are filling homes for long-term if not permanent work.

 

 

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.

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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.

mary-hike-long-x-little-missouri-river-sunset

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

https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dpg/recreation/recarea/?recid=79454&actid=29

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.

7 wild reasons to see North Dakota in the fall — A photo safari (Part 2)

You’ve been busy all summer, and now winter is closing in. We’ve been blessed with a mild October..only a few snowflakes when some Octobers we’ve already had two blizzards.  So, here’s motivation to get out and see North Dakota wild before it get’s unbearable — check the wild open spaces of North Dakota.

Later in the day, especially along the river, you can see some of the state’s largest wildlife — mule deer and white tail deer. They’re not easy to see because they blend in so well. Deer in the brush, down in a slough will only pause a moment before they take off.

two-deer-crop-vig-sig

Deer in the brush, down in a slough will only pause a moment before they take off.

Pheasants are more easily spotted if you’re in central or southwestern North Dakota. They like the cover provided by wetland grasses, tall pastures and stubble fields. Often they’re along the side of the road and can get up just as you pass by, which can mean a broken grill.geese-pheasant-doesnt-fit-in-sig-smallIf you have a dog with you,  he can help you see them because they’ll huddle down in the tall grass until the last moment.bird-gets-up-2-sig-desat

Hungry hawks will be lingering on perches such as fence posts, telephone poles and trees. Click here to get the ND Game and Fish guide to identifying ND Hawks.

hawk-sig-small

A group of blackbirds is most correctly called either a cloud, a cluster, murmeration or a merle of blackbirds.  blackbirds-cu-vigDid you know a similar group of larger birds, such as crows is called “a murder?”

blackbird-flock-in-tree-top-sig-small

Central North Dakota, through the prairie pothole region east of the Missouri River, is under the Central or Midway flyway where waterfowl migrate across the region. That’s why through much of October, depending on weather, Great Canadian Geese are in fields and waterholes.   A stroll along an unused road with my dog kicks up geese from their hiding places.

two-geese-take-off-from-gunnar-sig-small

As long as you’re in the wetlands region of North America, stick around until about 6:00 p.m. — sunset.  The hour before, the golden hour with long shadows and a golden filter on the sun is great photo time.  Immediately after sunset, sunsets in the sky are repeated in waterholes where geese and ducks are floating.

sunset-on-waterhole-with-ducks-sig-small

Finally, the most rewarding and hardest to spot wildlife is south of Watford City along the Little Missouri River. Big Horn Sheep populate the area.  I’ve never worked too hard at trying to spot them, which may be why I’ve only seen them once or twice.  If you’re careful not to spook them, they’ll pose for you.

two-big-horn-sheep-on-a-hill-nearby-sig-small

Other rare-to-spot animals in the state that run free are moose and mountain lions.  Moose sometimes wander in to towns or farmsteads.  Have you seen one in town?  Or mountain lions — have you spotted one?  What is the predominant wildlife you spot in the fall where you live?

Beauty is where you find it — if you’re looking for it.

An abandoned truck from decades ago in the Badlands.

An abandoned truck from decades ago in the Badlands.

Have you ever noticed that negative critical people find negative things to criticize? Conversely, a person who goes looking for good, for beauty will find it – often in the same area where black-hearted people see decay and destruction.

That’s the case here in the Badlands, the Bakken Shale Play region of North America. People who do not live here are sending film crews, photographers and others here to document the destruction of the Badlands caused by the oil boom. With a predetermined point of view, a prejudice, they look for and find what is in their heart.  People with a good heart see good, see beauty.  What is in the heart of the Bakken haters?

magpie creek

One of the many oxbow bends in the Magpie Creek that feeds in to the Little Missouri River

I see the same beauty out here that I’ve always seen in my 33 years of exploring and hiking the North Dakota Badlands and Grasslands.  It’s one of the most popular galleries on my website www.mykuhls.com

Little Mo ice jam

Ice goes out on the Little Missouri River as it winds through the Badlands toward the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea.

On this day, March 11 I drove one of my favorite roads for only about 10 miles. The Long X road extends from south of Watford City to north of Killdeer, about 30 miles of gravel – much of it “unimproved” gravel.   The ice was going out and rain was moving north of the region.  Sure signs of the exciting time called “spring.”

A month later, I found the other end of the road near Killdeer.  The road follows the Little Missouri River that flows through the epicenter of the Bakken Oil Play where there are literally thousands of oil wells extracting oil to build up America’s energy independence.   It’s even more spring-like and even more exciting.  It is beautiful, open country.

Destruction? Pollution? Damage? I don’t see it. Do you?

Muddy water from snow melt up in the hills finds its way to the Little Missouri River

North of Killdeer, muddy water from snow melt up in the hills finds its way to the Little Missouri River

You can see more of not only mine, but my hiking partner’s views at www.mykuhls.com

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

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?