At the end of the last post we’d left Yellowstone and were heading towards North Dakota. That takes a while, this place is pretty big. About 100km from the border, I come across signs for “Bad Route Road”. If that’s the official name of a thing, that’s gotta be a pretty bad road. And yes, yes I am tempted to pull off and go exploring.
In the end, I manage to resist. It’s already dusk, I only have half a tank of gas, I am in an Undisclosed Rush, and I’m vaguely convinced that this is a trap by Montana to lure idiot visitors off into the wilderness. And for once, Montana, I can proudly say: not this idiot.
I stick to the interstate as night falls and the moonlight picks out a rugged, vast landscape. A few miles away from the border, there’s another source of light. It’s at this point, in my not-at-all-paranoid-and-caffeine-driven mind, I think it was a double bluff. The Bad Route Road was the safe road, because what’s ahead is a demonic, glowing red light. I first spot it far in the distance and it resembles little more than a camp fire. But now I’m drawing near and it’s rising over the landscape, as fiery and intimidating as the Eye of Sauron.
It turns out to be the red neon cross of a church, but still.
I sneak into North Dakota under its gaze and make it to my motel for the evening. North Dakota is currently undergoing a spike in population and a boost to the economy as a result of an oil boom. The town a hundred miles north of where I am, Williston, is now the most expensive place to rent an “entry-level” (one bedroom, 700sq ft) apartment. Companies try to commence drilling in as many wells as possible to prevent losing the lease, leading to a huge increase in the number of available jobs, but not so much in the available homes, leading to massive rent increases and a huge increase in homelessness. Not that pleasant in most places, but up here there’s plenty of sub-zero conditions and snow to add to the mix.
I’m not here prospecting or anything, just thought it was interesting. Instead I’m here to have a look at some nature while it’s still unfestooned with rigs. Nearby is Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Theodore Roosevelt is often noted as the “conservation president” and during his presidency he expanded federal protections for many areas of outstanding beauty or cultural significance, to protect the landscape for future generations, and to protect wildlife so that he could shoot them in the face.
Roosevelt’s connection to North Dakota began when he came to the badlands to hunt bison, then later to recover after the death of his wife and his mother. I’ve come here in that spirit to shoot every animal I can find.
There’s a great variety of wildlife here, happily milling about, from bison to wild horses. Now if you’re a decent human being, that last sentence just put the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses in your head.
It’s fine, go listen to it, I’ll wait.
There are also beasts of smaller scale here, including hundreds of nippy little prairie dogs, who zoom about chittering to each other about possible threats.
There are still a lot of the Dakotas to cover, so I head back on the road, eager to see the other delights that this badlands state has to offer, like:
The reason I’ve pulled over in that last picture is because of the shape further on down the road, which you might be able to make out. It’s an ambulance. It came roaring up behind with sirens on and shot off into the distance. You might be able to see my concern as you try to spot the end of the road. The next thing approaching a town with any kind of medical place is about 70 miles away. I hope whoever called that ambulance planned ahead before getting into an emergency.
Speaking of medical things, there is something strange about North Dakota. I’ve seen plenty of billboards across this country expressing points on various social issues, by which I mean: Guns and Jesus. Lots of billboards in the South quoting Genesis, which was known in the UK as the Mega Drive, or billboards either selling guns or advocating that these poor defenceless things be defended. The billboards in North Dakota are a little different. They’re all anti-abortion. I’ve seen anti-abortion billboards elsewhere in the country, but I mean, they’re all anti-abortion. For a population of about 700,000, there are approximately 5 anti-abortion billboards per person . Which does make me wonder: how large would the population of North Dakota be if it wasn’t for this apparent epidemic of abortions?
I did take a picture of a billboard. Not of the anti-abortion ones, but one of the ones as I got into South Dakota. I really don’t have much to say about it that it doesn’t say for itself, except I had to pull over and double-back to make sure I took a picture of it:
I guess the logic is that people will see that billboard and think, “Hey, I remember when Star Trek first aired. … Damn, I guess that means I should probably be on social security.”
Anyway, the point is I’ve crossed over into the most southern Dakota and get to Rapid City for the night. Next post I’ll be going through this, my 42nd state, and it really does contain life, the universe, and everything. No spoilers, but it is by far my favourite of all the Dakotas.