We just made a week-long journey through North Dakota on our way to our next job in Minnesota. I’ve only driven through North Dakota once in my lifetime and that was 15 years ago. I only remember it was really windy and there were lots of sunflowers. This was a good opportunity to check out more of North Dakota on our journey Eastward.
One of the first things I noticed on the journey north from South Dakota was all the fields of small yellow flowers. Not sunflowers though. A google search revealed it is canola! Who knew! North Dakota produces 90% of all the canola oil used in the US. That’s your fun fact for the day! Another observation, I think this is the hay bale capital of the world. There are fields of hay bales all across the state. Even the sides of the roads (interstates and highways too) are lined with bales of hay.
Our first stop was along I-94 (the only East-West interstate in ND – another fun fact) at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South unit. Entry fee = $25 which gives you access to the north and south units for 7 days. Cottonwood campground is a few miles inside the park. The charge there is $14 a night and all the sites are primitive without hook ups. It is very heavily treed, with what else but cottonwoods. It is not very friendly to larger RV’s. Have a tent, camper van, or small trailer and you’re good to go. We have a 35 ft fifth wheel. There are many pull through sites that are 50+ ft long. They are narrow and lined with trees AND U-shaped, making it almost impossible to maneuver into and out of them. There’s a parking lot area with hook ups for 3-4 larger RV’s. We saw a few 40 footers there, but I didn’t come to a national park campground to park in a parking lot!
We arrived on a weekend they were doing an astronomy event (which unfortunately got completely rained out), and the park was almost full!
Verizon cell service worked fairly well. There’s no wi-fi.
Our first day there and it rained all day. We did visit the small visitor center which included a tour of Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross cabin and a movie about the area and Roosevelt. There’s a 36 mile scenic drive through the park where you can see colorful rock formations, wild buffalo, feral horses (meaning they are descendant of domestic animals – supposedly of Roosevelt’s horses!) and prairie dogs galore!
Day 2 – We decided to move to a private campground in Medora, the town just outside the park gates. The park was closing the next day for the season. We paid $42 a night (absurd!) for a full hook up site with wi-fi. It was hard to find a site that wasn’t half underwater…and yes it was raining again. It was much more comfortable having electricity as we could run our fireplace and get a few channels on tv. Being off-season, half the town was closed up. We did find a nice little coffee shop that made a good chai latte and had yummy blueberry muffins! The fall colors in this area are really starting to pop. This made the experience a little better considering all the rain!
Day 3, we moved on the north unit of the park which is actually located 68 miles away. We were told that it is the less visited part of the park and so when we arrived around noon, we had almost the whole Juniper campground to choose from for a campsite. Again, lots of trees make most of the sites inaccessible for an RV our size. We did manage to find a site to get into and it was right on the river, although you couldn’t really see the river because of all the trees. Our slide out was really close to the street too which was a little worrisome at first. There is no cell service (Verizon) here at all and no wi-fi. The sites are all primitive. Campground fees: $14 per night.
The park actually filled up quite a bit by the end of the day and we saw a few big guys trying to figure out how to get into sites. Juniper campground sits 5 miles inside the park. There is no visitor center. Apparently there was one and the building was condemned for a structural defect and they have yet to put up anything more than a “mobile building” with a porta potty out front.
Originally we were going to stay 2 nights, but it was cold again and our camper battery died by the next morning from kicking on the furnace all night (plus we accidentally left a small light on outside…oops) so we decided to leave after one night. The north unit is smaller than the south unit but I felt it was prettier and more dramatic than the south unit. We saw lots of buffalo and deer here and we noticed the deer were much darker than down in the south unit!
The nice thing about being down south, if you go during the “season”, is that you have the cute little town of Medora to explore. I would’ve loved to go to the outdoor theatre there, but it’s closed for the season. The downfall of travelling off-season is that a lot of things are closed.
Day 4 – We finally had a day of sunshine, great for a travel day. We headed north into oil country, which encompasses much of northwest North Dakota.
Lunch stop in Williston as well as a stop at Wal-Mart to get an inner tube for my bike and some other stuff and then we were off to find a campground. I really prefer to stay at State parks, National Forests, National Parks etc than to stay at private campgrounds which is ironic since I owned a private campground for 11 years. Passing through all the oil fields (they are everywhere!) led us to Lewis and Clark State Park about 20 miles east of Williston. We spent one night there. Fee: $7 entrance fee to park and $25 for water/electric site. Total $32 per night. We had a few TV stations and wi-fi and cell service.
The campground is on the shores of Lake Sakakawea, which was larger than I thought it would be. Upon looking it up I found out it is the 3rd largest man-made lake in the US! Second to Lake Mead and Lake Powell. It covers 479 square miles and is 177 miles long! We had wi-fi so we watched a movie on Netflix at night. During the movie we heard meowing. I thought it was one of my cats but I looked around and they were both in the living room, also sitting alert and looking at the door. Further inspection found that there was a cat sitting on our camper steps! He was a cute looking cat and I just couldn’t resist feeding him. Jerry wasn’t happy about that but then he opened the door and was going to let the cat in! The next morning there was no sign of the kitty. We stopped at the office to inquire if someone lost a cat. The lady knew right away the cat I was talking about and identified the colors. She said it’s a feral cat and it has spent the last year there. I was happy to hear that. I didn’t feel so bad about leaving it behind. Jerry said that if we didn’t already have cats, we would’ve probably left there with one!
Day 5 – Our first stop was at a small Cenex truck stop in the middle of nowhere North Dakota (actually Caprio, ND) where we found a guy to weld our broken camper steps back together (a weld had broken). For $10 and 5 minutes of time, we were on our way again with freshly welded and painted steps! Fastest, cheapest home repair I’ve ever had done!
We made our way up to the tippy top of North Dakota and east through the Turtle Mountains we went until we hit our last stop in North Dakota – The International Peace Gardens. The entrance is actually located between the border and customs stations for the US and Canada. When you leave the park, no matter which direction you head, you have to pass through customs. We carry guns, or should I say Jerry carries guns, so this was a bit of a concern. It ended up not being an issue as long as you are going back into the US. Canada is a different story in which you need to fill out documents and there are all kinds of restrictions. We also were carrying firewood which is also prohibited from bringing into Canada. The customs man just asked what kind of guns, if they were registered and locked up. He then asked us to unlock and open the door to the camper so he could look inside. He opened a cooler that we keep by the door which basically just has all the stuff from our refrigerator door (ketchup, mustard, etc) that always falls off when we’re travelling, He also inquired about the cats that he saw in the backseat…just wanted to know how many there were and if there were more in the camper. Dude, we don’t have that many cats!
Day 5 and 6 – The Peace Gardens was …quiet and filled with rain again. I’ve determined that September may not be the best time to visit North Dakota because it rains a lot and so many things are closed for the season. Although there were still quite a few flowers, a lot of them are “done” for the year, dying or fading away. Entry fees: $10 per day plus camping $30 per day for water/electric sites. There was no Verizon cell service and no wi-fi unless you went to the cafe. We were able to get a few tv stations mostly from Winnipeg, Canada.
The Peace Gardens are open 24/7, but the museum was closed for the season and there were very limited hours on the cafe and gift shop. I think the gift shop was supposed to be open 11 am to 2:30 pm. At 11 a.m. it still wasn’t open. Our one full day there was filled with nothing but fog in the morning and then by 10 a.m. the rain started and it didn’t stop until well after midnight, other than for maybe 30 minutes during the day.
We got tired of sitting around the camper after several hours. You can only play Yahtzee so much! So we decided to take a ride over the border to see if it looked any different than North Dakota. About 15 minutes north, we arrived at Boissevain, Manitoba.
It’s a tiny little farm town. Aside from several museums which were all closed and a giant turtle statue – Tommy the Turtle, we were able to locate a coffee shop and stopped for our obligatory lattes. We’re still trying to find one as good as Edelweiss in Iron Mountain, MI. So far, we haven’t had much luck although this chai was pretty darn good! This was the 30 minutes that was rain free. As soon as we began heading out of town towards the provincial parks it began to downpour. We pulled into Turtle Mountain Provincial Park to see what it was like and hoping to take some photos. I hear there’s moose here! However, the rain turned torrential! The park is filled with dozens of lakes. The roads are all gravel. I was worried we were going to encounter flooding as some of the lakes looked like they were getting pretty close to the road.
We got to a point where I think we were both really concerned about the weather. I mentioned that there was a “Y” in the road ahead (according to google maps) and that we should turn around and go back. We got to the “Y” and the road was flooded one direction and a muddy rutted mess the other. With Jerry’s precision driving skills and 4WD, we made it out and hurried back to pavement. You could see the ditches filling with water as we drove by.
Day 7 – we decided to leave North Dakota. We’ve had enough rain! We did learn that we really could use a generator and a second camper battery. That would enable us to do a little more boondocking and be a bit more comfortable. I think we need a few board games too for those rainy days.