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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

2006 Vacation: Day 1 Summary

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get something posted, but, I finally did make it back home from the vacation that I mentioned in my previous post. Like I said at the time, I have a whole lot of photos and other observations to share, starting with this post.

Day 1 Summary
Brainerd, Minnesota to Bismarck, North Dakota
Sunday, July 16, 2006

I took eight days to travel westward from Brainerd, making a loop through the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, and finally back to Minnesota. I had already been through the same general area in 2002. One big difference, however, was that in 2002, I broke my leg on the first day of vacation.

With that said, the primary reason for going on a western vacation this year was to spend some more time at the places I may have too hastily passed over in 2002. Another large reason for spending time in the west was to take as many pictures as possible of trains traveling through the scenery of where the plains meet the mountains.

So, the first day of my vacation featured traveling from Brainerd to Bismarck, North Dakota. All of the other times I have traveled this way, I have traveled along Interstate 94, just like probably 99% of all other people who go through the area do.

However, the railroad tracks don’t parallel the interstate for very long. If you want to be able to drive next to them, you have to get a good map handy and find the spots where the two-lane highway that preceded the interstate is still paved and intact. Truth be told, I can’t recommend getting off the interstate and onto the original highway – so long as it still exists – highly enough. Sure, it’ll make your trip a tiny bit longer, but if you aren’t in a hurry to get to the place you’re going to be spending the night, traveling on the old highway allows you to see a lot more scenery and small towns along the way.

There weren’t really any tourist attractions that I wanted to see in this part of North Dakota, so most of the day was just spent going through the many small towns that are located along the old U.S. Highway 10 that ceased to be once the interstate was completed.

Although every one of the small towns seemed to have its own identity, there were a few common traits to all of them. They generally had a downtown area complete with a bar and post office, a mid-sized grain elevator, and railroad tracks either running right through the middle of town or off to the side.

Another thing all the towns had in common was how hot the temperature was when I was passing through them. Nearly the entire United States was going through a gigantic heat wave at the time, and most of the heat was centered in on the Midwest. At about noon in eastern North Dakota, temperatures quickly soared into the upper 90s; by the late afternoon, they were reaching into the middle 100s. When I was in Driscoll, the temperature in the shade was a sweltering 107 degrees!

As can be expected, that sort of heat can wreck havoc on railroad tracks. As I mentioned in my previous post, a train derailed 20 or so cars 20 miles east of Bismarck in the city of McKenzie. Luckily for the numerous crews who were put in charge of cleaning the accident scene up, they were able to do so during the night, when temperatures settled back into a more comfortable range.

From McKenzie, it was a short drive into Bismarck, a city that seems to become more and more beautiful every time I visit. The scene didn’t translate quite so well into a photograph, but one of the things I enjoyed the most was going up the hill near the eastern side of the capitol and watching the setting sun cast shadows onto the hills south of town. Bismarck is definitely on a very short list of cities that I would unquestionably live in if the opportunity ever came up.


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The BNSF railroad bridge that goes over the Sheyenne River in Valley City is one of the tallest and longest in the country

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Between Valley City and Jamestown are numerous man-made "lakes" alongside the old Highway 10

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The public school still in use in Spiritwood is probably the only school the city has ever had

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This is a motion-detecting stoplight placed at the end of a bridge undergoing construction in Dawson - these stoplights were needed at both ends because the bridge was reduced to one lane and it was not possible to be at one end of the bridge and see over to the other

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The temperature topped out at 107°F in downtown Driscoll

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Some scenery along the old highway near Sterling

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In this photo of the train derailment, the front of the train is off to the front

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Here's the photo I posted earlier showing the worst of the damage from the derailment

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A closeup of the derailed cars shows the ties, track, and ballast (rock) all torn up and strewn about - note also that you can see some piles of soybeans that spilt out of the cars

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Right where the man in the orange vest is standing is where the derailment stopped

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The most scenic bridge crossing the Missouri River between Bismarck and Mandan is the one on Memorial Highway, otherwise known as the business spur of Interstate 94

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A downtown Bismarck street scene - all of the stoplights are timed to go red and green at the same time

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Although the hillside neighborhood is already dark, the sun is continuing to shine on the hills to the south of Bismarck

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At 9:24 PM, the sun finally sets on the city of Bismarck - you could easily mistake where this photo was taken, as the hills look a lot like mountains when the sun's angle gets very low

Low-Grade Camcorder Picture:

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Although there is still no "welcome to North Dakota" sign on U.S. Highway 10 between Moorhead and Fargo, there is this new city of Fargo sign. The unique style on this sign (it looks more like a typical Minnesota city sign rather than a North Dakota city sign) makes me think it was designed for Fargo by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and not North Dakota's Department of Transportation.


Blogger Kaila said...

Glad to hear that you're finally back and equally glad to hear that you enjoyed your vacation. :)

Thu Aug 10, 11:29:00 PM CDT  

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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001