13 August, 2006

Trip Report, Day Three

(Tuesday, July 18, 2006)

Currently I Am In: Minot, ND.

Well, mixed results on the tent. The boys slept well, but I didn’t. Part of it was just nervous energy. I wanted to sleep, but couldn’t get myself to. The floor probably didn’t help, either. It was only after I decided it was time to go to bed that I discovered there were some uncomfortable rocks beneath where we’d pitched. And they just happened to be directly underneath where I was supposed to sleep. Probably wouldn’t have made much difference, though; even with the blanket and sleeping bag underneath, the floor was just too hard for me to get any real comfort. Sigh. Time was, I could have gone to sleep anywhere - floor of a tent, floor of a cave, a smoothed area on exposed rock - no problem. But now, my back protests anytime I try. I hate getting old. But the boys did have a good time, and as I said, they at least slept well. Next time I try this, I guess I’ll have to cheat and use an air mattress.

Last night as it was getting dark, Martin kept busying himself by running back and forth between our campsite and the gravel path. In the morning, I discovered what it was he had been doing:

He said it was a rock path, to help people find the way to our camp. Don’t you just love six year olds?

Anyway, we packed up and left the camp ground. I was hoping to go into Bimidji that day and at least get a picture of Martin and Liam standing in front of the silly Paul Bunyan statue, but at the last moment I just decided to skip it. Can’t really say why, but I just decided to press ahead rather than go back So instead, we headed west on U.S. 2.

When we started out at Bimidji, the land was predominantly green and wooded. Plant life was abundant. But as you push west, the land changes. The green gives way to tan and beige. The trees start to disappear, and become generally smaller in stature. The spaces begin to open up; the horizon starts to become visible. And the dirt starts to take on a dusty, drier, more granular quality. Welcome to the High Plains of the United States, the beginning of The West. And more specifically, welcome to the Dakota Territory. And all of this within the space of about a hundred miles.

About 20 miles outside of Bimidji, the forest starts to give way to increasingly more farmland. Corn and wheat, by the look of things. But soon even that gives way, and before long the predominant crop seems to be cylindrical bales of hay. That’s a sure sign you’re entering cattle country, where livestock is the predominant crop.

We entered North Dakota at Grand Forks, but didn’t see much of the town. Instead, we drove through and continued west. I was rather disappointed to find that US 2 doesn’t seem to go through many towns anymore. Instead, it has in recent years been laid to go around even the smallest of gatherings. What used to be Route 2 is now, more often than not, just another street in town, with the highway itself bypassing a mile or so away. I guess someone has determined that, for traffic control purposes, its better to have the highway go around the towns so people don’t have to slow down. *sigh* But I <i>like</i> slowing down and going through the small towns.

Still, I think this measure is eventually going to backfire on them. Why? Well, one of the things that has really piqued my interest were the number of towns in northern North Dakota that looked like they have had a significant amount of new construction recently. At Rugby, new neighborhoods had gone up, with brand new homes and streets that look only recently paved. At Devil’s Lake, I didn’t see a single building that looked more than 10 years old (I’m sure they were there, I just didn’t see one), and the one busy intersection I saw reminded me quite heavily of any slice of suburbia you’re likely to find, complete with numerous fast food joints and chain stores. Similar observations can be made up and down the entire length of US 2 between Grand Forks and Minot: towns are growing, new construction is going up, and with it new businesses to serve those new customers.

And where are these new businesses setting up shop? Why, right on Route 2 outside of town, and not in the “main street business districts” that Route 2 used to go through. They set up shop along the highway because they know that’s where the customers are more likely to pass now. Only boring people like me think of taking the “old Route 2" turn-offs and actually drive through the town - most everyone else just breezes by doing 70. So with new businesses setting up, the center of activity for the towns have started to shift away from the old business districts, and move “outside” where the main road has now been laid. And once those business start to set up there, you can bet other construction will follow - more businesses, new homes, etc. So in a generation or two, I’ll bet that many of those towns will have grown to encompass the areas adjacent the highway. The day will come when Route 2 is once more going smack dab, which will undoubtably necessitate yet another round of highway projects to once more bypass.

Anyway, that’s my observation of the day.

After Grand Forks, the land starts to become hilly. In truth, I don’t think its any more hilly than Northern Wisconsin. But the difference is, Northern Wisconsin is covered with trees and other wildlife. North Dakota is not, and that makes the topography much more noticeable. The Wide Open Spaces are becoming even more Wide Open, with hardly anything more than tons of the ubiquitous hay rolls and the occasional farm house to break things up.

U.S. Route 2, about fifteen miles west of Devil's Lake, North Dakota

Pulled into Minot around 4:00pm, found a room, got pizza for the kids, and am preparing to crash. Got to make up for the sleep I didn’t get last night.

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