Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Good Girls are good sports in Fargo

Judy takes great glee in pushing Steve Buscemi through the wood chipper. Photo by Debi Lander.
The movie Fargo is one of those films you either love or hate. Judy and I both enjoy the black comedy.  Naturally, when we heard the famous wood chipper was in Fargo, we insisted on a visit. 

We reached Fargo on Labor Day when nothing was open but malls, restaurants and, fortunately, the Visitors' Center where the machine is ideally located. They even supply the plaid hats for photos.  In fact, they want to take your picture for their Facebook site.

While wandering the  tourism displays, I picked up a pamphlet on the Roger Maris Museum. I remember him (yes, I'm that old) and my ex was truly devoted to the man. The museum is also conveniently located in a mall, so off we good girls went in the name of sports enthusiasts. 

Fargo native Roger Maris has his museum here. Photo by Debi Lander.
The Maris Museum displays fill the indoor storefront windows with easily readable signage. They don't take long to peruse but you really must go inside and sit in authentic Yankees ballpark seats to see a continuous playing film on Roger's life. The film lasts about 45 minutes and we thought, was well worth the time.  You can come in just about any place and catch on.

Memorabilia galore. Phptp by Debi Lander.
Roger Maris was a humble man who didn't care much for publicity, but he happened to be a great ball player. In 1961 he and team mate Mickey Mantle battled through a home run hitting streak. Mickey got hurt but Roger went on to break Babe Ruth's long standing record of 60 home runs in a season. Note: Ruth played a shorter season but Maris still hit a record 61 over the fence. 

Home run crown. Photo by Judy Wells.
Many people criticized him for breaking the Babe's record but  in many ways I suspect Roger's accomplishments were more difficult. And, he did it in an era before steroids. 

Roger's home run pennants extend far beyond the length of the museum. Photo by Judy Wells.
Sadly, Maris died very young and is buried in his hometown of Fargo. We did not go to the cemetery but I'm sure many do as there's not a lot to see in this town. We honestly wanted to visit the Art Museum, but it didn't open until 11:00 a.m., too late for our schedule.  

Our other discovery in Fargo actually started in Bismarck.  A restaurant called the Space Aliens Bar and Grill caught our eye. It looked a bit strange but the kind of strange that makes North Dakota interesting. When we saw another one in Fargo, we ventured in. 

Space Aliens Bar and Grill: We had to go in. Photo by Debi Lander.
The restaurant, dubbed "the extraterrestrial mother-ship of food and family fun, " was fun. The decor included a domed outer space ceiling, lots of kitschy creatures and references to earthlings. Kids love it because they can play games and win prizes- like at the Dave and Buster's in Jacksonville. The bar is a separate room giving adults a kid-free zone. We watched the bartender whose job seemed rather unusual; he not only made drinks but plated desserts.  In between pouring beers he put together ice cream sundaes, space cakes and who know what else. We joked about the strawberry syrup sitting near the salsa. Perhaps someday he will create an out of this world alien treat.   

 All in all we were glad we visited Fargo but honestly don't think we'll be returning any time soon. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dinosaur skin and Lewis and Clark

What we saw of Bismarck was strip malls and industrial until we went in search of the Bismarck Heritage Center, which sits in a beautifully landscaped area across from the state capital. A statue of Sakakawea - that's the way Lewis and Clark's guide's name is spelled in her home territory and they ought to know - marks the entrance.

Where else can you see mummified dinosaur skin?
Judy had read about the mummified remains -  including skin! - of a duck-billed dinosaur known as a hadrosaur and wasn't about to miss it.

That was all we planned to see but the dinosaurs that once roamed the area and early inhabitants' artifacts drew us in.
Mammoth tusker. Photo by Judy Wells.

Tree bark instead of buffalo hide but otherwise quite similar to Plains tepees. Photo by Judy Wells.
Painted by Chief Sitting Bull. Photo by Judy Wells.
We stayed for over an hour seeing the tree-barked homes of the first North Dakotans, the wonderful winter count, drum and other implements drawn by Chief Sitting Bull and other interesting artifacts.

The excellent gift store grabbed and pulled us inside, too.

Wind machines became more common. Photo by Judy Wells.
On the road again, we paused to photograph some picturesque wind machines then headed to the spot where Lewis and Clark spent the 10 winter months of their epic journey into the west.

Sakakawea and Lewis and Clark portrayed outside the Interpretive Center. Photo by Judy Wells.
The Interpretive Center in Washburn, N. D., is an excellent introduction to what the trek was all about. President Thomas Jefferson wanted to know EVERYTHING about his Louisiana Purchase from its human inhabitants, their numbers and customs, to the flora, fauna, rivers, rocks and insects.

And boy, did he get his money's worth! Only Google may have learned more, though I doubt if the dot-commers of today would have the stamina of this intrepid group.

Fort Mandan where the expedition spent two winters. Photo by Judy Wells.
Just down the road is the location where they built Fort Mandan to spend the winter - about five months - both going and returning.

Officers' quarters where Lewis and Clark stayed. Photo by Judy Wells.
The original burned down but an exact replica replaced it in the 1900s.

Checking out the sergeants' beds. Photo by Judy Wells.
It and the center are one of the few North Dakota attraction you can view year-round.

Debi plays Sakakawea. Photo by Judy Wells.
Judy plays cold (it was in the '90s!) Photo by Debi Lander.
Of course Deb and I had to try on the costumes and put ourselves in the freezing North Dakota winter.

Statue to Seaman. Photo by Judy Wells.
One surprise was learning of Seaman, the Newfoundland that accompanied Captain Merriwether Lewis. A large statue of him stands guard over the river.

Surprises didn't cease there. You may leave home but you never quite escape, even in the emptiness of mid-North Dakota.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Mandans and General George Custer's Last Command

The round shape was the site of a Mandan earth lodge. Photo by Debi Lander.
The Mandan people had lived happily in the Upper Missouri River Basin for more than 300 years before the white man arrived to trade.

Model of the On-A-Slant Village.Photo by Debi Lander.
Their towns were made up of as many as 1,000 inhabitants and their culture was one of peace and closeness to all things surrounding them, each of which was imbued with a spirit.

They welcomed the newcomers, helped them and were wiped out by the diseases they brought, especially the small pox epidemic of 1837.

In the Council House. Photo by Judy Wells.
One of those towns, On-a-Slant Indian Village, as been partly recreated just south of Mandan-Bismarck at what is now Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

In an earth lodge. Photo by Judy Wells.
Our tour was given by a Native American which gave it more credibility as he described the life in the earth lodges and council house.

Don't miss the Visitors Center with its excellent displays and details on Mandan life and the interaction between newcomers and natives.

Guides treat you as visitors in 1875. Photo by Debi Lqnder.
Also at the park is the fort Gen. George Armstrong Custer commanded and from which he and men of the 7th cavalry rode out and took on unsuccessfully the forces of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn.

Gen. and Mrs. Custer's house. Photo by Debi Lander.
The house he and his wife, "Libby," lived in until then has been recreated and Corporal Jacobson gave us a lively living history tour of it, from the actual drapes Mrs.  Custer installed...
Mrs. Custer's drapes. Photo by Judy Wells.

Thimble-sized bathtub. Photo by Judy Wells.
... the bathtub she described as "like bathing in a thimble" ...

The living room, dining room and the General's "rumble doors" that separated them. Photo by Debi Lander.
... Mrs. Custers' grand box piano and her musical skills...

The General's office. Photo by Judy Wells.
.... and the general's favorite book, "Life of Daniel Webster".

After the General's last stand, the army responded with typically heartless efficiency: Mrs. Custer had 40 days to vacate after learning of her husband's death.

Something blue, the bride's tennis shoes! Photo by Judy Wells.
Happily, we encountered an exuberant bride who had been wed and was celebrating on the fort's grounds.  We wished her much better luck than Libby Custer.

Monday, September 10, 2012

North Dakota roadside attractions: Big, bigger, biggest

Leaving Medora we were on the lookout for roadside attractions.

Grasshoppers in the Fields, second sculpture on the Enchanted Highway. Photo by Debi Lander.
First on the list  was the Enchanted Highway, a stretch south of Gladstone  known for its over-sized sculptures. We turned off expectantly only to discover the first one was 10-plus miles away. We weren't exactly enchanted when the large buck jumping a fence with a smaller doe watching came into view; kind of like an overgrown Christmas decoration.

The next one, over-sized grasshoppers, was a little better but still a long way down the road, more than five miles.

Two young guys were behind us and we asked if they had done the highway before. They hadn't and were less than impressed too. They and we decided to try one  more.

Angler's Dream; they were getting better but we'd seen enough. Photo by Judy Wells.
This, an Angler's Dream, was much more involved with several huge fish, two boats (one with fisherman) and grasses. By this time we had 50 miles invested there and back. With the rest probably spaced five or so miles apart, we decided the enchantment was wearing thin and returned to our eastern route.

New Salem Sue is one big bovine. Photo by Debi Lander.
New Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein cow, was next. 
Debi tries to hug a hoof. Photo by Judy Wells.
Similar to Paul Bunyan's statue and myth, Sue is extra large; her teats too large to get your hands round. The fiberglass lady weights 12,000 pounds and stands 38 feet high and 50 feet long on top of School Hill, just off Interstate 94. By North Dakota's standards School Hill is a veritable mountain, making Sue visible from five miles away.  
Sue has a great view. Photo by Debi Lander.
We walked up from the parking lot to take photos of the hefty heifer, a much beloved tribute to the region's dairy industry.  You also get a bird's eye view of New Salem, a small town with a population of 950. I was surprised to see a nine-hole golf course to one side of the hay bales and corn fields. Not many golf clubs in the predominately agricultural state.
Sue was constructed back in 1974 by the New Salem Lions Club at a cost of $40,000.  The detour to visit Sue provides an udderly delightful break in your drive and we strongly advise a stop. 
Setting up the e-moo-tional family photo. Photo by Judy Wells.
We liked her and so did the family having their pictures taken underneath the massive bovine.

The next day we had the Jamestown's Frontier Village, the world's largest buffalo and the National Buffalo Museum with its herd, including White Cloud the sacred white bison, to look forward to.

Driving across North Dakota is not a particularly exciting or scenic road trip. Dave Barry summed it up saying, "I like it better when I'm away from it." We good girls are pretty easily entertained and since we stopped to visit New Salem's cow, Sue, we thought a photo of the world's largest buffalo was mandatory. Heck, it was this towns' statue that pushed New Salem to erect the cow!
The sign speaks for itself. Photo by Debi Lander.
So, off we pulled at Jamestown to see the National Buffalo Museum, the giant statue and a herd which included three white buffalo. The world's largest buffalo was, of course, large and brown, but not nearly as exciting as Sue.
We looked at the Frontier Village but kept going. Photo by Judy Wells.
The Frontier Village was very touristy; most of the newly created and aged buildings were stores.
We would have been very safe crossing the field. Photo by Debi Lander.
The sun was wrong to get a good photo of the big buffalo and the herd was nowhere to be seen. When we asked the keeper of the museum he said the herd had 50 acres to roam in and might be anywhere so it was a matter of luck.
Nothing like bison headgear to start the day. Photo by Debi Lander.
We tried it all. Photo by Judy Wells.

We had no luck, spying neither brown nor white bison. Having already gotten up close and personal with the beasts and their history and importance, we declined to pay the entrance fee to the museum's innards but had a ball trying on buffalo head gear in the large shop.

Still, not seeing any of the now three albino bison in the herd was a disappointment.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A picture-perfect day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

T. Roosevelt National Park. Photo by Debi Lander.
The Badlands in South Dakota are stark and stunning, but like many, we had no idea there were northern Badlands until we drove the Roosevelt Park loop.

Photo by Debi Lander.
Softer, with trees, grasses, and wildlife large and small, these badlands are no less photogenic.

Photo by Judy Wells.
We'll let the images speak for themselves.Photos by Debi Lander unless otherwise noted.

Day one.

Evening one.
Photo by Judy Wells.
Photo by Judy Wells.

Day two, morning.

Wild horses watched with wary eyes as hikers neared. Gone in a flash. Photo by Judy Wells.
Photo by Judy Wells.
We lucked out - three herds of wild horses. Photo by Judy Wells.