North Dakota is made for bicycles in the spring

An old Burlington-Northern rail bed opens up in the spring for a ride

An old Burlington-Northern rail bed opens up in the spring for a ride

Spring in North Dakota opens new horizons: the next landmark, the next vantage point, the next hill (everywhere except the Red River Valley). An advantage to being a sparsely-settled state is the open roads for bicycling.

Bicycles freely cross the DeMers bridge at Grand Forks.

Bicycles freely cross the DeMers bridge at Grand Forks.

In the eastern part of the state, with the flat-as-glass terrain, bicyclists cruise along and over the Red River on gentle paved paths.

Communities such as Grand Forks, Mayville and Fargo offer well-used paved recreation trails.

On the western end is the grueling challenge of the Maah Daah Hey trail. It’s more than 130 miles long through the Badlands and Grasslands of North Dakota.  Every year, mountain bikers attempt the Maah Daah Hey 100 — and last year, the winning time for the 100 mile ride was just under 10 hours.

Near the Ice Caves along the Maah Daah Hey trail, two bicyclists navigate the easy part of the ride, through the grass before hitting the trail

Near the Ice Caves along the Maah Daah Hey trail, two bicyclists navigate the easy part of the ride, through the grass before hitting the trail

A few places are easy challenges, but the greatest share of the Maah Daah Hey trail is a world-class mountain bike route. It is a tougher pedal than I’ll ever do.  For those families who want to enjoy the scenic Badlands, they can take an easy ride through Medora and the recreation trail, or can venture on to other nearby easy routes.

In the middle of the state, here in the Missouri Slope region, open gravel roads allow a mix of level and sloped rides.

Late in the day,  a power plant on the horizon burns coal to make electricity to power homes in Midwest states.

Late in the day, a power plant on the horizon burns coal to make electricity to power homes in Midwest states.

Take northern Burleigh County, for example.

On the nights I ride the gravel roads, I find an evening pedal out to the hills gives a chance for a good strong exercise in not only physical, but a visual exercise. On high-traffic evenings, I may see as many as three vehicles sharing the gravel roads in one or two hours.  Most evenings, there are none.couple walk their dogs at bottom of hill

Sometimes a farm family may stroll the gravel roads with their dogs.

A farm couple walk the gravel road with their dogs.

A farm couple walk the gravel road with their dogs.


Farm kids put their ATVs to work riding around the country.

Farm kids put their ATVs to work riding around the country.

Other times, kids will use the family’s ATV to spread dust.  Most of the time, it’s just the lone bicyclist (me) out to capture evening atmosphere.


Overhead, geese follow the Central Flyway across the North American Continent.  They’re always talking to themselves so you will hear the flocks before you see them.  Some evenings there will be as many as four or five large flocks with hundreds of geese talking among themselves and heading north.

Canadian geese head north following the Missouri River.

Canadian geese head north following the Missouri River.

As long as I’m out in the country in the evening, I try to time my rides to capture sunset. The golden hour and the long contrasting shadow give much greater evidence to the uneven terrain when shadows roll over the hills and valleys. golden hour hill top with bicycle The environment picks up that warm golden glow. Across the river the sun drops behind Oliver and Mercer Counties.

The sun sets behind a tree row on a late afternoon North Dakota spring day

The sun sets behind a tree row on a late afternoon North Dakota spring day

An endless variety of weather conditions create an infinite variety of sunsets – the reward of an evening pedal on the back roads of North Dakota.OIL_2809

That’s my recommendation. Where do you recommend bicycling in your country?

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November 2 Vote

Voting in Wilton’s Burleigh County shop

Election day voting for most Americans is a down home neighbor-to-neighbor activity conducted in the nearest public shelter such as this county shop.  The machine shop is cleared out, the tools packed away, and a couple tables are set up for Americans to do what make them free and strong — vote.

There’s nothing sophisticated about voting in Wilton.  You take your printed ballot in to a booth and with a black pen, you fill in the circles for the person or position for whom you are voting.

I see photos of candidates and famous people going to fancy places to cast an electronic vote, but it seems to me that is more the exception than the rule.  It’s the hard-working rank and file of Americans who take time from their jobs to head down to some grease-stained cold metal building to have their say in how they are to be governed.

October 7 Cuttin’ corn

Binder down the dusty road

I could smell it when I drove the back roads looking for a photo of the day.  Somewhere some place, someone was cutting corn silage.  It’s an unmistakable sweet, wet/sweet smell.  Growing up in the Tall Corn State of Iowa, I grew up with the smell, knew it well.

Then I saw the silage truck headed back out to the field to get another load.

Dumping silage in to a truck

Silage cutting

There he went, down the road out in to a field where a silage cutter was taking care of the corn field, getting it cut and chopped to feed cattle all winter.  The trucks drove out in to the field to get a load dumped in to the box from the wagon pulled behind the tractor and silage cutter.

There musta been a half-dozen trucks keeping up with the tractor and cutter, hauling to a silage pile about 3 or 4 miles down the road.

I learned this was a neighborhood cutting bee. The owner’s wife was gravely ill and he was spending his time and money on her and her medical treatment.  So, the neighbors got together and  did the farmer’s work for him.

That’s the way it is out here.  We may not agree on everything, and sometimes downright disagree, but doggone it, when someone needs help, we’re there.  That’s what these neighbors did…they were there for the farm family. Not only did they supply material relief and help, their involvement in their neighbor’s plight musta been an encouragement to the farm family.

Would you agree? Sometimes it’s not what you do for someone, but just the fact you did something that really counts?

September 20

Red Tail Hawk

There’s a reason they’re called “Red Tail Hawks.”   See the tail?  And getting a photo of one is quite a challenge for me.  They move fast, they stay away from humans and their movements are unpredictable.  So for me personally, I take it as a challenge to get better at photographing hawks.

Equally challenging are deer.  A few dumb ones are known to stand by the side of the road with that “huh” look on their face. Most of the time you catch glimpses of them on the move.  On this date,  in Burleigh County, I caught two sets of deer moving to new feeding ground. But alas! I got only one set even reasonably clean and in focus.

Autumn in North Dakota abounds with life.  Farmers are harvesting grain and that kicks off the wildlife movement in to the valleys and protected cover.  While I bad-mouth autumn for its identity as a bridge between summer and winter, I do like the colors and the contrasts that present themselves for photography.

August 2

Flooded Highway 83

Coming in to Bismarck from the north on Highway 83, the results of the night’s rain were evident.  Though drainage in North Bismarck is much better than in South Bismarck, this

intersection was plugged.  Though we get only about 14-16 inches of precipitation a year, including snow, this scene is evident that sometimes it can come in great abundance at one time.

Waiting for water

Bismarck City crews were on hand to open plugged storm sewer lines and open up the closed lanes of Highway 83.  By noon, the flooded intersection was only a damp spot on the highway.

July 13

Headed west on Old 10 in Mandan

I love the traffic in Bismarck and Mandan. It is easy and peaceful, perhaps sometimes too easy and too peaceful. Some times people drive like they have no place to go.

Other times, you’ll get passed by an ’07 Road King on Memorial Highway in Mandan.  It used to be Highway 10, and before that The Old Red Highway or Old Red Trail.  After Interstate 94 came through North Dakota, the old 2-lane scenic route through the state was abandoned. 

Before you get to Mandan (provided you are headed East to West) you ride down Bismarck’s Main Street that was once a bustling traffic zone on Highway 10, or the Red Trail, or even before that some unmanned mud road in Edwinton which proceeded Bismarck.

There is almost nothing left of the old muddy road, or Highway 10 but just the four lanes of Bismarck’s Main Street.  It looks pretty much like every small town “Main Street” with pre-planned landscaping and building structure. You’ll see the same kind of look in Fargo, or Dickinson.

On the former “western edge” of Bismarck is Washington and Main. It once was a tricky dog leg through a railroad underpass, but modern design dropped the historic romance in favor of a more efficient design.

The intersection replacing the Hwy 10 dog leg under the RR tracks

In this photo, the right street in the intersection is “Front” which becomes Old Highway 10 or Memorial Highway.  It leads down the strip in Mandan as the firs photo shows.

Once you get to Mandan Old 10 becomes Main Street for that city. There you will find riders cruising “Main” on their bikes or their hot rods.  Further west and your out of the city, headed to the Scenic Highway of Old 10 across North Dakota.

On this summer evening, I drove from one city to the next and spotted cruisers on two wheels, all good to photograph.

June 25

Burleigh County gravel road

Yes, I may be prejudiced, but I see North Dakota’s beauty everywhere.   It’s easiest to see later in the day when the sun and the shadows play against the rolling variegated colors of the landscape.

I didn’t always see it that way. I was bored with the vision of the state. Than a gifted photographer from Minneapolis (Images by Irene) would visit me from time to time and rave about the natural beauty of the state in contrast to the cement, steel and glass of her local environment.  And you know what, she’s right.

I now see the state in contrast to what most of the world’s population has to see, the clutter and cluster of humanity in cities around the world.  That merely adds to the romantic feeling I’ve developed for North Dakota’s purity and calmness.

On this particular Sunday afternoon, I was in eastern Burleigh County as the sun started its descent. The light softened a bit from the harsh mid-day brightness and the colors and contrast of the region became apparent.Within about an hour, all in the same neighborhood, I captured these images and more within about a 4 mile area of the rolling plains of the east river North Dakota.  Like Irene said, “You’ve got a beautiful and cooperative model there, Mike.”  What do you see when you look out your window around your neighborhood?

June 16

Regan Rocks

The day started out gloomy, a kind of June gloom — not by Southern California standards, but certainly by North Dakota standards.  I wasn’t sure what I’d see if I got up around the front side of Regan Rocks because the whole horizon was overcast.  Regan Rocks an unusual outcropping of rocks and caves near Regan gives a good vantage point of the farm ground to the south in Burleigh County.

Later that day, I got a different view of Burleigh County when the overcast skies became more active.  The storm was well south of me and after several attempts at getting shots of  lightning bolts, this was the best I could come up with.

Lightning over Burleigh County

January 11, 2010 part deux

January 11, 2010

Sun dogs wrap around Wilton

Cold. Bitterly cold on January 11.  Ice crystals in the air caught the brilliance of the sun.  I was headed to  Bismarck, unaware of the sun dogs, but when I saw how bright they were, I headed east of town to capture their prismatic circle.  Even in black and white, the images of the crisp day are apparent.  Looking the other direction, the crisp cold created its own halo around the frosty trees of an abandoned farm in rural Burleigh County.