Day 3 Summary
Dickinson, North Dakota to Glendive, Montana
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Day 3 began in Dickinson, which, with a population of 16,010, is the largest city in the western third of North Dakota. One of the neat things about this nice, clean city is that there is a large lake – Patterson Lake – on its western edge. Walking along the shore of the lake and getting blown around by southerly wind gusts that were probably close to 40 mph was how I started the third day of my vacation.
I should note is that although there are more lakes in western North Dakota than you might imagine, few, if any, of them are natural. Instead, they have all been created as the result of placing a dam in one of the many creeks and rivers that run through the area. In actuality, the lakes are really just pieces of swollen rivers that have taken on lake-like characteristics. Patterson Lake in Dickinson was created as a result of placing a dam on the Heart River that runs slightly south of downtown.
From Dickinson, I traveled once again on the former U.S. Highway 10 that largely became obsolete once Interstate 94 was completed in the area. The first small town west of Dickinson is South Heart. After South Heart is the city of Belfield.
The landscape changes rather abruptly west of Belfield. It is here where the badlands begin. While they may not be as well known or as scenic as their South Dakota counterparts, the North Dakota badlands do have a certain charm about them. One of the places everybody who travels to western North Dakota should stop at is the Painted Canyon Visitors Center off of exit 32 on Interstate 94. The center offers one of the best views of the badlands and is also a launching pad for exploring the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
I didn’t visit the park, but I did end up taking a back road between Fryburg and Medora that runs along the park’s border. Besides seeing some great scenery along the way, I also got to see a number of oil wells busily drilling into the ground.
It seems safe to say that Medora is North Dakota’s biggest and most well-known tourist trap. What was once a quaint town in the middle of the badlands has been turned into a place brimming with gift stores, general stores, restaurants, and campgrounds. One of the biggest attractions in the city is the Medora Musical, a professionally-produced variety show performed in an outdoor amphitheatre on a hill high above the city.
Something I did admire about Medora is that, unlike similar tourist traps I’ve seen across the country, it didn’t have a massive amount of sprawl on the outskirts of town. There is no Wal-Mart Supercenter, and Amercinn is the only chain hotel in town.
West of Medora, the badlands end nearly as abruptly as they began. They are replaced by a rocky countryside dotted by buttes. One of the largest buttes in the area is Sentinel Butte, just south of the city of the same name.
The final city along Interstate 94 in North Dakota is Beach. The name comes not from a natural feature of the land, but rather from Captain Warren Beach, a man who came through town in 1873 as a part of a railroad surveying gang.
Old Highway 10 turns into a dead end just past the North Dakota-Montana border, meaning that the only way to get to Glendive is to take the Interstate. Unfortunately, that was what I was forced into doing in order to get to my final destination for day 3 of my vacation.
Here's a photo of the choppy water in Lake Patterson
There are a lot of nice houses on the western shore of Patterson Lake
Scenery along the old highway west of Dickinson
Like a lot of other small North Dakota communities, Belfield proudly displays the North Dakota state flag, the United States flag, and the flag of Canada along the main road leading into town
Though the landscape may brown and barren at the exit off of Interstate 94 into Belfield, the North Dakota badlands begin a little less than 10 miles west of here
The famous scene from the Painted Canyon Visitors Center
Another scene from the visitors center
Along the back road leading into Medora was this intriguing dome-shaped rock
A view of the back road leading into Medora - notice how red the soil is in this area
Of course, the soil isn't the only thing that's colored red, as these rocky hills demonstrate
Cattle ranches are just as numerous as oil wells along the roadway
The road is paved for the final few miles into Medora
The United States and North Dakota flags gracefully blow in the wind atop a large hill overlooking Medora
The Laurel, MT to Galesburg, IL regular manifest train moves east with the North Dakota badlands in the background
To the right of this coal train bound for Superior, WI is the Little Missouri River - the bridge going over the river belongs to Interstate 94.
Just west of downtown Medora is a historical site that was home to a grand meat packing facility that was forced out of business over a century ago due to economic reasons. The following four photos are an overview of the remnants of what once promised to be a massive enterprise in the city of Medora:
The post office is one of only two businesses still in operation in the peaceful town of Sentinel Butte
The letter carrier was busy driving her "mail truck" through the gravel roads of Sentinel Butte
The land becomes flat again near Wibaux, Montana
A bird flies overhead during the final few seconds before the sun sets behind the badlands - this was the magnificent view out of the window in my hotel room in Glendive
I also saw this great view of a grain elevator and mesa at sunset from my hotel room
Low-Grade Camcorder Pictures:
Welcome to Montana
Because Dickinson gets network TV affiliates from Bismarck, and because Bismarck is in the central time zone while Dickinson is in the mountain time zone, all programs on network TV in Dickinson begin one hour too early