Postcards from North Dakota

Today’s post is 2000 words, 29 photos, an 9 minute read. Enjoy!

Hi everyone,

Over the past seven years, I’ve written several blogs about North Dakota, my home state. My Traveling Partner and I both grew up west of the Missouri River – me barely five or six miles – she farther west, close to Montana. In this postcard (what I call a reminisce or a review), I’ll take you to western North Dakota by way of prose and photos. Let’s get started.

Winter in North Dakota

When I tell people that I’m originally from North Dakota, they shiver and say: “I’ve heard it’s cold up there in the winter with lots of snow.” To which I reply: “Yah, it can get a little chilly but you get used to it. Sure there’s snow but it’s not that much, it just sticks around for the whole winter.” They look at me dumbfounded! To be truthful, we’ve lived in Wisconsin for over 35 years. It snows and gets cold here for a couple of days, then the temps moderate and snow starts to melt. That rarely happens in North Dakota.

This past Christmas we were back in North Dakota to visit family. There was a lot of snow, the wind was blowing, and the cold was bone-chilling. It was a nice visit but I was ready to get back to milder weather! I guess my tolerance for the cold has waned some in the intervening years.

Here’s what winter looks like in North Dakota. It was mid-December when I took this photo. First came the snow followed by wind howling out of the northwest at 25-30 miles per hour. Folks who have looked at this photo said they could feel the cold. That was my goal.

The next three photos were taken in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park during the winter season. The top photo was snapped in the North Unit of the park.

I had the South Unit of the park to myself the day I took this photo. It was cold and windy so I rolled down the window of the Red Rover long enough to pop off a couple of quick shots before it got too cold. I’m guessing the shaggy coats were keeping the bison warm, it’s their kind of weather.

I took this photo not far from the Petrified Forest Trailhead on the west side of the South Unit of the park. Not many park visitors venture over to this part of the park, even in the summer. It’s a fascinating place with petrified tree stumps scattered around about a mile down the trail. Check out the park map and ask a ranger for directions. It’s worth the time and drive, summer or winter. By the way, I used a telephoto lens for this photo. He was giving me the stink eye so I kept my distance!

On my most recent visit last summer to the South Unit, I spotted an eagle in a tree about a quarter mile away. Again, used a telephoto so I wouldn’t scare away the bird.

Grassy Butte, North Dakota is located just off Highway 85 between the North and South units of the park. The Grassy Butte Post Office is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s now a museum, only open in the summer months. The Post Office was constructed in 1912 out of logs and clay. The original roof was made of sod. Over the years, I’ve stopped at the museum a couple of times to chat with the lone staff member. They always seem anxious to share stories and answer questions, there aren’t a lot of visitors. Besides the museum, Grassy Butte has a bar, a church, a repair shop with a gas pump out front, and maybe 50 people, that might be a stretch.

North Unit – Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The next two photos were taken at the same place, at the first turnout after entering the park. The top photo was taken on a spring morning, the bottom on a dreary winter day. The Little Missouri Scenic River and North Dakota Badlands are in the background.

I used a telephoto lens extended to the max for this photo of a small herd of bison and a couple of deer crossing the Little Missouri River. It was taken in the spring. The water level was low enough for them to pass from one side to the other. It must have been a dry year, usually the river is higher in the spring.

A small group of Longhorn cattle have been grazing in the North Unit for over 50 years. They were brought in as a historic demonstration to commemorate the open range era during Teddy Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota. The National Park Service is planning to gradually remove the longhorns and the wild horses from the park. This move has been met with a lot of fury and controversy. The NPS maintains that the horses and cattle are not native wildlife species and keeping them goes against the mission of the NPS. Advocates for keeping these animals argue that they are part of the heritage of the area and should remain. Even the Governor and Legislature weighed in by passing bills to support keeping the horses and cattle. We’ll see who wins “The Little Skirmish of the Badlands.”

South Unit – Theodore Roosevelt National Park

One of my favorite vistas in the South Unit of the park is the Wind Canyon Overlook. I stop there every time I’m in the park. The overlook is about a quarter mile hike from the parking lot. For some reason, I feel like I’m on top of the world when I look up and down the Little Missouri with the buttes in the background. The top photo looks in a southerly direction while the bottom photo looks to the north and west. 


Medora with a year round population of about 200, is the tourist town near the entrance of the south unit. One of the big attractions between Memorial and Labor Day is the Medora Musical. This is a high energy country-western variety show includes some scenes from the life of Teddy Roosevelt. The show is performed in an outdoor amphitheater overlooking buttes and valleys. At sunset, the view is stunning. People come from all over to take in the show, see the park, and shop at the gifts shops around town. A nice get-away. By the way, my Traveling Partner and I got our marriage license over 50 years at the old courthouse in Medora. Seems like yesterday!

On one my trips to North Dakota, I spent a day driving the backroads south of Medora. I met an occasional four-wheel drive pickup and saw a lot of cows and a few mailboxes but hardly any ranches near the gravel roads. I saw this view, and snapped a photo, one of my favorites. Since I didn’t want to trespass onto private property – they have guns in those trucks – I parked on the road so I could stand on the tailgate of my pickup to shoot this photo. It was worth the effort.

Hungry Man’s Butte

From the yard of the ranch where my Traveling Partner grew up, one can see Hungry Man’s Butte. It’s the highest point for miles around. We climbed it once, saw a rattler and left in a hurry! Here I present you with summer and winter views.

Nearby Hungry Man’s Butte is what’s left of Fayette, that once had a post office and general store. All that is left are a few crumbling buildings and some old bits of discarded farm machinery. It amazes me that my blog about Fayette is my most viewed post with over 2000 views. I have no idea why. 

About 100 miles north of Hungry Man’s Butte is the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service. This site is near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers and located about a half mile from the North Dakota/Montana state line. It’s worth a visit, the history and story of this frontier trading post is makes it a good stop for people of all ages. I included the photo of the teepees for those folks from the big city who think we still live in log cabins or teepees out here on the prairie.

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

Near where I grew up is another historic site that shows how one tribe of Native Americans lived and farmed along the Missouri River. They lived in semi-permanent lodges like the one depicted in the photo below. Prairie sod and cottonwood logs were used to build their homes. These homes were cool in the summer and warm in the winter. To learn more about this site click here.

Upriver from the Indian Villages and about eight miles from the farm where I grew up is the Garrison Dam. It was built after WWII for flood control and electric power generation. It’s one of six dams on the Missouri that created vast lakes, now used for recreational purposes, irrigation, and a source of water for many farms and rural communities. This photo was taken at the Tailrace where the warm water comes through the generating plant and flows back into the river. Thus, the steam rises from the water on a cold morning.

Just a mile down from the Tailrace is the old river townsite of Mannhaven where I own some lots once owned by my grandfather. Just south and west of the townsite, my family has a piece of property pictured in the photo below. One of my favorite places to visit when in North Dakota. I love the view of the Missouri River and walking the bluffs and valleys. For some reason, I feel free when I’m walking on this land.

My Hometown – Hazen

I grew on a farm about 15 miles north and east of Hazen. This town is where we shopped, sold wheat, and where I went to high school. I also spent many a hour dragging Main Street on Friday nights after football games. A good place to be from.

Once time when I was in Hazen, this rainbow appeared after a storm blew through the area. My camera was handy so I popped off a couple of shots in the late afternoon light. I sold a few prints of this photo. The elevator is now privately owned.

This photo was taken at the Hazen City Hall during a family reunion.

The Farm

The following two photos were taken on the farm where I grew up. The top photo is of some the rocks picked from the fields. Our farm was near the terminus of the glacier that mixed the soil and rocks together. One of the jobs I had between spring planting and haying season was to pick rocks off the corn fields. It was a never-ending job.

In this photo, a couple of volunteer trees breakup the horizon line. After the “Dirty-Thirties” farmers began to plan shelter belts to prevent wind erosion. With larger farms and equipment some of those tree rows disappeared. In its place, conservation tillage has taken hold to keep the soil in place.

New Salem Sue

Along I-94 about 35 miles west of Bismarck, North Dakota is the small town of New Salem, population of about 1000 residents. This is where I take the exit to head north to Hazen. It’s hard to miss the largest Holstein cow in the world, Sue. Made of fiberglass, Sue stands 38 feet tall and is over 50 feet long. That’s a big cow! She’s been standing there since 1974 as a way to advertise the then prominent dairy industry in the New Salem area. Now days, there are fewer but bigger farms. Sue stands keeping an eye on the interstate as people stare back at her.

I’ve gone on way too long. Hope you enjoyed just a bit of a tour around western North Dakota. I’d recommend a visit during the summer months when the sun is shining and hopefully the snow has melted!

Until next week, happy travels!


6 thoughts on “Postcards from North Dakota

  1. Tom, I’m always surprised at the lack of trees on the North Dakota plains. Not much to hide behind when the winds are howling. I enjoyed your whirlwind tour today.

    1. Thanks for checking in Wayne. That’s why most North Dakotans walk leaning forward, they need to account for the wind!

    1. Thanks for your comment John. I agree. I love driving the backroads of West River country especially west of Highway 85. Some beautiful country. Can never get enough of those views.

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