The beautiful state of North Dakota might be more known for its friendly people and open hearts. And you might be expecting to read another blog article about beautiful big buildings and structures, exquisite eateries and foodies, or glimmering art galleries. But this article is about more than that; it’s not of something tangible or aesthetically beautiful, but more of extraordinary experiences, places that touch your soul, and discovering a gratitude for life that is magical!
I am born and raised in a very small town in North Dakota, and do try to return and visit as often as possible, because most of my family still live here. On my recent visit, I explored new areas I have not yet explored and discovered incredible rich beauty and culture.
Since I am one of 5 kids in my family, we were a family that lived on a budget while growing up. My parents worked hard and did the very best they could to give all of us kids a good life while growing up. So there was no such thing as a vacation, no high tech gifts, and no name brand or fancy clothing in our house. But one thing there was plenty of… Love! There are, however, a few cool places I do remember visiting as an adolescent, this is closest to a vacation that I can recall. They include the following:
- Attending a circus event in Jamestown, N.D.
- Medora, N.D. Musical and driving around the South Unit in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (My memory is very vague)
- Visiting the giant Buffalo in Jamestown, N.D.
- Road trip to Montana to visit relatives. (This one’s a big one, it seemed it was a day’s long drive)
Since my adventure and exploration was a bit limited as a kid, I made it a point to seek and explore more of my home state on my recent visit to see my family this summer. There are a handful of unique things that make North Dakota not your average ordinary vacation destination. Nope, in fact it is an all around, peaceful, wide open spaces, beautiful and wonderful place to experience! Here is why:
North Dakota Heritage Center
Mostly, the people who live here are just common folks who work hard, care about others, and enjoy time with family. Speaking of spending time with family, I recently had the opportunity to visit the North Dakota Heritage Center along with my mother and her friend. We enjoyed learning about the Native Americans that populated the area many years ago, as well as the prehistoric creatures that lived across the plain states and nearby areas.
Some of the fossils displayed at the museum are actual findings as the one below with the attempt to preserve it and the dirt it was discovered in.
This exhibit is very interesting as the fossil still has some of the outer layer of skin preserved. The center offers static and rotating exhibits as well as a café inside; The James River Cafe. Check out more information here: www.statemuseum.nd.gov
Let’s not forget about street art and other beautiful art pieces around town.
The beautiful Missouri River, downtown Bismarck, open spaces and farmland.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This national preserve is packed with rugged beautiful bluffs infused with red and sand colored landscape where you can get up close and personal with roaming wildlife.
The North Unit is a 14-mile scenic drive through badlands where you might encounter bighorn sheep, elk, and even wild buffalo. This is the perfect destination for those looking for a unique kind of adventure, history, and bison!
According to the Medora 2018 Adventure Guide; Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Medora for a buffalo hunt in September 1883 and fell in love with the land. After his experience in this area, he became alarmed by the damage that was being done to the land and wildlife.
*Although you can get quite close to the wild animals, there are warning signs posted stating the buffalo are dangerous, so enjoy them at a distance.
Roosevelt later pursued interests in conservation when he established five national parks, 51 federal bird reservations, four national game reserves and 150 national forests. “I have always said I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.” Says Roosevelt. (Source: Medora 2018 Adventure Guide) There is so much more to see and explore, learn about this gorgeous national park here www.nps.gov/thro.
Medora, North Dakota is a town located at the far Western part of the state and is home to the infamous Medora Musical, and gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I visited this place with my parents many years ago in 1983 and I remember I did not appreciate it then because I was so young. My parents have attended this several times over the years. This musical is performed live outdoors on a stage setting surrounded by a 2900 seat Burning Hills Amphitheater under the beautiful Badlands sky! The performance usually is dedicated to President Theodore Roosevelts’ time in the Badlands and to the Spirit of the West. Talented performers come from all over the world along with live horses make this high-energy musical show to be like no other. I look forward to my next visit and seeing this show again in the near the future. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is also located near Medora as well.
There are tons of other things to do in Medora as well, such as golfing at Bully Pullpit golf course, hiking, biking trails, camping and cabins, horseback riding, and a cowboy cookout. Find your own adventure at Medora.com.
Home to the world’s largest buffalo and the city where I was born. A quaint historical city where historical author writer Louis La’Mour walked the streets and gained inspiration for one of his novels called ‘A Walking Trail’. The Stutsman County Fair has made Jamestown home over the 4th of July for many years and one event I’ve enjoyed as I was growing up. Jamestown is also known for their Stock Car Races, which always makes for intense excitement and family fun! Jamestown is also known for the World’s largest buffalo monument.
Elks Camp Grassick
One of the best summer jobs anyone could ever have! I worked here for three summers along with my sister and we experienced some of the most magical times of our lives. As you drive into the entrance off the gravel dirt road leading to the camp there is an exterior sign that states; “Elk’s Camp Grassick, A Very Special Camping Experience.” This is exactly what it is.
Elk’s Camp Grassick is owned and operated by the Elk’s of North Dakota and is a camp that serves children and adults with various special needs and disabilities. My experience working at Camp Grassick was extraordinary. My sister and I worked as Kitchen Staff, but we were still able to participate and be engaged with the camp participants. Here are some of the unique memorable things we experienced while working here:
- Enjoying time with special needs children, witnessing their improvements and making new friends. Learning to smile, laugh, and believe in themselves!
- Participate in Recreation events such as a costume party, seeing the campers dancing, laughing, and having fun.
- Attending the Stutsman County Fair where each staff member was assigned to tend to a camper and assist them so they can too enjoy the fair and feel like a regular kid.
- A peaceful canoe ride on Lake Isabel in the evening with other kitchen staff members, who have become lifelong friends.
- Making new friends with counselors, campers, and creating a special friendship with Camp Directors, Dan M. and others.
Learn more about his extraordinary camp and its quest to continue to helping those with special needs improve their lives. http://www.elkscampgrassick.com/
Here is a great article recently published about Dan, the Camp Director, and his remarkable dedication to this camp.
Hometown Fun: The Tappen Derby
The small town of Tappen, North Dakota is so small that if you blink as you drive on Interstate 94, you will miss the exit ramp. This town with a population of 250 give or take a few; is the town where I lived, attended school, and played piano for the small white church on the corner street located across from the school (there is only one school). There were not very many events or activities happening in this small quiet little town, but the one event the entire town looks forward to is the Tappen Demolition Derby.
This event is action packed and full of hot rods and junkers that crash into each other to compete for the trophy and other prizes. There are only a few vendor stands; there might be T-shirts and food sold. However, this event was free to attend in the past, but recent years, there is a fee now. Many folks from all over North Dakota attend this event, and this year’s show did not disappoint. Attendees bring their campers, lawn chairs, or large pick up trucks backed in as they sit and watch the crashing and demolition derby action. This is a great event for affordable, family fun. Here are a few captions.
A great event for family fun. Tappen, N.D. had celebrated its 125th Year Quasquicentennial Anniversary in 2003, and it was quite a celebration. The entire town was looking like something in a picture book of green manicured lawns, gardens and flowers, and tidy as far as I could see. I remember the 100th year Centennial Anniversary and found some old photos in my parents photo albums.
According to the centennial book, Tappen was a hopping, busy little town. Today, however, it has remained its quiet slow pace, farmers are abundant, and several of the old time buildings have been either torn down, dilapidated, or removed from Tappen and taken to Bismarck. A replica of a small midwest town called Buckstop Junction, has been re-created in Bismarck, using original old building and structures from various small towns. Learn more about this historical place: https://website.buckstopjunction.org:89/
Tappen may be small, but there are a few businesses that help make Tappen a great place to live or stop in and visit this small town USA.
- Roadhouse Bar and Grill: Offering a hometown fun and friendly place to enjoy cocktails and food. Occasionally, they will feature a live band. Roadhouse Facebook page.
- Marlins Standard: Gas and Auto. (We used to buy candy bars from the station as kids).
- Several Organic Farm businesses
- Tanning N’ More
- Tiff’s Hair Garage
Of course, some of these businesses are somewhat new and were not around when I lived there. I didn’t appreciate the simple good living I had growing up in North Dakota at the time. I do now, however realize how much I miss those wide open spaces, quiet lazy days, and forever sunsets. Everyone knew everyone; my classmates were like my brothers and sisters.
But I was a small town girl with big time dreams, I had goals to achieve, and it was difficult to leave home. I had the drive and curiosity to go out and experience the world that I was so shielded from as an adolescent. I am happy with the choices I’ve made in my life, I gained lifetime of experience and wisdom that is priceless. And although I miss my family tremendously, I do visit them and see North Dakota a couple times a year, which gives me a break from the busyness of life.
So if you have an opportunity to travel or planning on traveling in the future, you might consider adding North Dakota to your list. Read more here: www.NDtourism.com.
Thank you for reading! Do you miss your home town or state? Comment and let me know where you are from, I would love to hear from you!
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