Recently, my out-of-state college roommate called to say that she and her husband need a respite from their crazed, big-city schedules. She thought a trip to North Dakota, the "heartland," is exactly what they needed. Her request: Suggest a half dozen things to do in your state, this fall. Now. My college roommate is a city girl through-and-through (and through), so in a state flush with natural beauty and outdoor activities, my goal is to give her a balanced view of all North Dakota has to offer. Having moved here myself from a large metropolitan area, I think I have some perspective on what visitors might consider especially unique, fun and memorable in our fine state. As I brainstormed, I felt inspired to get busy showing my own children my North Dakota to-do list. Here's what I concocted.
1) Find a Festival ... This fall in North Dakota, there is absolutely, positively no shortage of festivals. If ou are feeling festive, there is the Aw Shucks Corn Fest in Garrison; Oktoberfests in Jamestown, Mandan and Fargo; West Fest in West Fargo; Norsk Hostfest in Minot; Duckfest in Bowdon; and Goosefest in Kenmare. Prost!
2) Float the Missouri ... Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traversed the Missouri River in keel boats (and later canoes and pirogues) 200 years ago. Why not try a kayak today? The confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers is just outside Williston and the Missouri continues to weave its way south and east through the western portion of the state. There are a multitude of ways to experience this serene and historic body of water, and the autumn colors and wildlife offer a unique, seasonal view. Visitors can access the Missouri River from a variety of locations. Missouri River Kayak Rentals, based out of Bismarck and Stanton, rents kayaks at single or multi-day rates, and also offers shuttle services for transport and retrieval of boats (www.missouririverkayakrentals.com). The Lewis and Clark Riverboat leaves from the Port of Bismarck (along River Road) and runs cruises through September (www.lewisandclarkriverboat.com). Lund's Landing near White Tail Bay on Lake Sakakawea rents boats, pontoons, kayaks and canoes (www.lundslanding.com).
3) Rock a Rodeo ... What better way to get a sense for western lore than to check out a rodeo? Rodeo is a professional sport that originated from the working practices of cattle herding, and has become a way of life for many of it's amateur and professional participants. From team roping to barrel racing, from boot spurs to glitter studded western shirts, a rodeo offers a glimpse into the legendary American west. This September and October, there are several rodeos across the state. The North Dakota Rodeo Association Finals will be held in Watford City. The year-end championship for the Roughrider Rodeo Association Finals will be held in Jamestown. And in Minot, the champions of the PCRA's Badlands Circuit will be crowned at the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo, also called the Minot Y's Men's Rodeo. And it's worth noting that if you're not really sure what the objective of a certain rodeo event is, just ask the person sitting next to you. North Dakotans are friendly and they would be happy to fill you in.
4) Find the "World's Largest ... " ... When I moved to North Dakota over a decade ago, I noticed our state's penchant for "The World's Largest fill-in-the-blank." Start your own scavenger hunt and Instagram your way across the state as you seek out these metal monstrosities. Salem Sue is the World's Largest Holstein Cow. Jamestown lays claim to the World's Largest Buffalo. Wahpeton has the World's Largest Catfish. A stretch of highway near Regent has the World's Largest Scrap Metal Sculptures. There is also Wally the Walleye (Garrison); Tommy the Turtle (Bottineau); the World's Largest Sandhill Crane (Steele); a giant Dala Horse (Minot); and then there's "Big Gene," the giant Golf Zombie, who resides on the Garrison Golf Course. Who knew?
5) Get Your Prairie Culture On ... The salvage-meets-prairie exterior of the Prairie Arts Museum situated on a quiet side street in downtown Fargo is a piece of art in and of itself. The innovative design carries through to the museum's interior, which houses approximately a dozen special exhibitions of 20th and 21st century art throughout the year. In addition to the art exhibits, there are classes, studios, lectures and performances held within the complex. Check out http://plainsart.org/category/events/ for a calendar of upcoming events.
6) Go Big in Theodore Roosevelt National Park ... I would be remiss to leave Theodore Roosevelt National Park off this list. The majestic south unit of the Badlands, approximately 130 miles west of the Missouri River, is unquestionably one of North Dakota's greatest treasures. This rugged expanse of prairie grasslands and eroding clay hills took my breath away when I first saw it: The view embodied my youthful imagination of what the wild, wild west must be like. Beneath copious skies roam buffalo, elk and wild horses. The effects of wind, water, fire, and wild temperature variations are evident everywhere you look. Stop at the South Unit Visitor Center, and then take a drive along the road through that portion of the park. Feeling vigorous? There are plenty of places to hike, and the Maah Daah Hey Trail offers mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders 144 miles of trail and unending adventure (not for the faint of heart- please visit with locals/park personnel before attempting). Check out quirky Medora, with it's faux western shop fronts and eclectic gift stores. A must: The Cowboy Cafe for breakfast. You'll understand why I sent you there.