Sunday, July 9, 2017

Bismarck, North Dakota

June 25 - July 3, 2017:

We drove our separate ways today with Twinkles taking the shorter more direct route north on route 1804 to Bismarck, North Dakota.  I took the more roundabout routes 12 - 83 - 13 to route 1804. The reason being so I could travel through the small towns of Mound City, SD,  Herein, SD, Strasburg, ND (boyhood home of Lawrence Welk), and Linton, ND.  I can’t say there was anything terribly interesting in any of those towns, but if you look hard enough, you can always find something.  These towns are still inhabited by descendants of the hardy German Russian and Nordic immigrant farmers who homesteaded there.
I stopped at the Welk homestead farm about 3 miles outside of the town of Strasburg.  I remember as a child going to the home of my mother’s friend Gladys Moore where they played cards and always watched the Lawrence Welk show on the TV, oh how I hated it.   Ludwig and Christina Welk came to the United Sates in 1893 like many other Germain Russians seeking a less oppressive life and a dream of owning their own farm in North Dakota.  They were hard working, hardy settlers who built a house with dried mud bricks called “batsa”, similar to those built by their descendants on the Russian Steppes. They had nine children, with  Lawrence being the 6th child.  Lawrence took no interest in farming, but instead had a love and talent for music, particularly the accordion which he learned to play from his father.  He left home at age 21 with his accordion and never looked back and after much touring and various bands he made it to the big time with his own TV show in 1955.  I might not be a fan of the music of Lawrence Welk, but it was inspirational to see where he came from and where his talent, drive and ambition took him.

I love these wide open roads

Antique store in Mound City

This building in Mound City needs immediate help

The Welk homestead on a lake, not sure if the lake
has always been there

The Welk farmhouse was comfortable inside

While I am touring around the countryside, Twinkles is taking care of business finding a campsite at the General Sibley Campground in Bismarck, North Dakota. It’s a very nice city campground with electrical hookups, a dump station and water spigots.  This campground is all reservable and all sites are reserved for the July 4th holiday period.  The best we could do was to get a campsite from June 25th to the 30th, so we need to search for something else to get us through the holiday. This campground looks more like a park being covered in grass and trees with a huge disc golf course.  We have now been to several places with disc golf courses and have seen no one playing, but here it is very popular with dozens of people out mostly in the evening.  The campground borders a marshy area with much wildlife.

View of our campsite amongst the trees

General Sibley and General Sully were given the task of coming here with their troops to drive out indians who had caused problems after a treaty was broken.  This eventually escalated with General Sully massacring many innocent men, women and children.  The don't have any plaques commemorating that in the campground.  

In 1883 Bismarck was designated the Capital of Dakota Territory which included both present day North and South Dakota.  In 1889 Dakota Territory was divided into two separate states and it became the Capital of North Dakota.  The present Bismarck Capital building was opened in 1935, (the first one burnt down in 1930) and is unique in being 19 stories tall, the tallest building in the state, and one of the few Capital buildings that doesn’t have a dome.  It also is surrounded by132 acres of park land, an arboretum, several statues and memorials, the State Library and the North Dakota Heritage Center.  On the weird side, Bismarck holds the record for the most snow angels made in one place getting 8,962 people to participate in the event on the Capital grounds.  I did a tour of the Capital, it’s more like an office building with nice exotic wood panelling and a few art deco details.  It a very imposing building visible from miles away and has a stark beauty, they say clean lines, but to me it’s kind of boring.

The Capital building

The North Dakota Hall of Fame with the Theodore Roosevelt
Rough Riders Award winners

The photos and plaques were well done and not political

The view from the top was through a window and
not clear, there is no outside viewing deck

These figures are meant to signify the "New Pioneers",
the young people who will carry with them the heritage of
North Dakota into the next 100 years. 

(They sort of look like aliens looking for the star ship)

The North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum is located on the grounds of the State Capital and is another amazing museum to visit.  After about two to three hours in these huge intensive museums your mind starts to overload, at least mine does and you need a break.  The nice thing about this museum is that there is no admission charge, so you can leave and return on another day for more at no cost.

This was a more interesting building, but still no prize

There was a section on dinosaurs who once roamed North Dakota

Children's nursery rhyme figures crafted by WPA artists, 
Tom the pipers son and mother goose

A home built 1900 Holland car by Samuel Holland.  He built
six similar cars for sale

Ukrainian immigrants in 1890 on the Bismarck trail platform

Opportunity and prosperity for all in North Dakota

Twinkles at the wheel of a grain harvestor simulator, it was pretty cool,
you turned the steering wheel, worked the throttle and by watching the
screen could go back and forth across the field harvesting the crop.

Bismarck was founded in 1872, initially called “Missouri Crossing” as it was the place where the Lewis and Clark expedition crossed the river in 1804-06. In 1873 the Northern Pacific renamed the town Bismarck in honor of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck in hopes of attracting German settlers and German investment funds in the railroad.  Many settlers came for the cheap land and opportunity, but the investment money did not.  Bismarck quickly became a freight shipping center for the gold mining activity in the Black Hills.

The site of Camp Hancock was located on what is today Main Street and existed from 1872 to 1877, mainly to protect the railroad.  Nothing of the fort is left today except for one old sod brick building, now sheaved in wood siding that is the oldest building in Bismarck.  Veteran Baldwin steam locomotive, # 2164, built in 1909 sits under a canopy adjacent to the existing BNSF railroad tracks.  The beautiful Northern Pacific Railway Depot is also on Main Street and currently undergoing restoration, but there are no passenger trains today.

The oldest building in Bismarck has served many
purposes, it's last was as a US Weather bureau station 

Church of the Bread of Life built in 1880 

Baldwin Locomotive # 2164 retired in 1955

Downtown Bismarck appears to be having a revival with several nice restaurants, the old Northern Pacific Rail Depot under renovation and several vibrant stores.  Twinkles found an excellent quilt shop and we had lunch at a very good Irish pub, the Blarney Stone.  (I don’t understand why these Irish pubs can’t come up with more original or creative names). We also thoroughly enjoyed a nearby bar "The Starved Rooster" with a selection of craft beers and a good looking food menu. In the same area is Bismarck’s first and only micro brewery, Laughing Sun Brewing Company, which has live music a few times during the week.

Downtown Bismarck view

BNSF run regular freight service through town

Another street view with the Blarney Stone Pub on left

The former Northern Pacific Depot 

The former McKenzie Hotel

They have an alley where they have unleashed the street artists

The bluffs along the Missouri River were the original homeland of the Mandan Indian Tribe on which there are seven documented villages.  We first went to “Chief Looking’s Village” which sits on a bluff overlooking todays “Keelboat and Steamboat Parks” on the Missouri River.  Looking at it now, it’s difficult to visualize that this was once a vibrant village area.  The Mandan were excellent farmers who also made use of the nearby Buffalo herds.  It is believed that they abandoned these villages after repeated attacks from other tribes moving into the area and from the affects of European diseases for which they had no immunity.

The Chief Looking Village site

Afterwards we go downhill to Keelboat and Steamboat Parks which have a multi purpose trail going along the river to downtown Bismarck.  There is a replica of a Lewis and Clark expedition keelboat, several Indian sculptures and the reproduction of a riverboat named the Lewis and Clark that gives excursion cruises on the Missouri River.

A replica Lewis and Clark Keelboat

A replica Riverboat called the Lewis and Clark

A few miles north is another Mandan Indian site, the Double Ditch Village.  It is also an earthlodge village on a bluff overlooking the river that was inhabited by about 2,000 people at its peak for nearly 300 years from 1500 to 1780. This area was heavily populated back when the Indian tribes were vibrant.  They say that as much as 90% of these tribes died from smallpox and other diseases introduced by Anglos coming into the area.

View from the air shows the lodge circles of the village

You don't see much from ground level

A CCC built shelter on the grounds

Bismarck’s sister city of Mandan sits across the Missouri River with an historic downtown district and a lively railroad yard.  Mandan has a large 4th of July rodeo and street craft show event on the weekend.

Mandan downtown view

Interesting buildings

Another interesting building 

The former Lewis and Clark Hotel

In June 1872, Fort McKeen was built in Mandan as a post for the 6th Infantry.  In October of 1872 the name was changed to Fort Abraham Lincoln, the fort was enlarged and became the post of the 7th Calvary under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Custer.  It was from there that the 7th calvary left for their crushing defeat at the battle of Little Big Horn.  The fort was abandoned in 1891 and became the Fort Abraham State Park in 1934.  The State Park was constructed by the CCC who also reconstructed a portion of the Fort, Custer’s House and several Mandan Indian earthlodges.

This site was originally the “On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village”.  Archeologist tell us that the Mandans were peaceful farmers who resided here from 1575 to 1781 in large wood and earth lodges.  This was a large village of approximately 86 lodges and 10,000 - 15,000 people.  Like other neighboring villages, they were decimated by European diseases and then attacks by other incoming tribes.
The On-A-Slant Mandan Village was really great as was the nearby CCC built museum building with exhibits on the Mandan tribe and their culture, the Lewis and Clark’s Expedition and the history of Fort Abraham Lincoln.

A painting by noted artist George Catlin of the On-A-Slant Village

Recreated Earthlodges on the site

These Earthlodges are very roomy inside

We were advised to take the historic Fort Lincoln Trolley that runs 9 miles from Mandan to the State Park, as it is a scenic ride and saves you from paying the State Park daily entrance fee.  They have a historic Bismarck trolley car that operates on select weekends, but the “fake Trolley” was still an interesting ride on really scary looking, poorly maintained track, over three old iron bridges along the Heart River to the State Park.

It gets up to about 18 MPH and the breeze felt real nice 

But the track was quite scary especially with the trees on one side
and the steep drop into the river on the other

On checking back in at the campground office we find there is a campsite available for Sunday and the Monday.  We decide to move to Walmart for the one day not covered on Saturday. 

There is live music to be found in the Bismarck and Mandan area, but the only place that appears to have music often during the week is the Laughing Sun Brewery.  It’s very small room and I’d say not really well suited for a full (loud) band, but is great for a solo or acoustic groups.  I enjoyed seeing Jeremiah James and the Prairie Drifters play and had a good conversation with the well traveled bass player who had once worked in Tucson.

Jeremiah James and the Prairie Drifters

Mandan's Rodeo Days and 4th of July celebration craft show had near perfect weather and a large crowd.

They had a good selection of food and I had my share

The Barrel Ride was a huge hit

So here I am in the amidst all the weekend 4th of July campers in another developed, crowded campground, I’m really getting tired of these weekend warriors.  I need a break to a remote, wild, free, desolate, boondocking campsite.  But, I’m in the wrong part of the country, it’s difficult to boondock here as we are in an area that doesn’t have much BLM open public land. Everything here is either a wildlife preserve or leased for ranching or oil/gas production.  Possibly in the north woods of Minnesota I will get my wish ?

The next stop is the Downstream Campground in Riverdale, North Dakota;
Twinkles and Slick

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