Earlier this month the Rocky Mountain International staff along with about 40 international tour operators, and over 80 regional suppliers were in Bismarck, North Dakota for the 23rd Annual International Roundup trade show.
Following the whirlwind event, four Post-Familiarization Tours took off in separate directions throughout the Real America region where several tour operators and a few of the RMI staff were able to join, the tours included; Retrace the Steps of Legends in Western North Dakota; Hidden Treasures in Montana; Great Faces, Great Places in Montana; and Heading to the Valley in Eastern North Dakota – the tour I had the pleasure of being a part of.
I joined the lovely Marjolein Fraanje from the Benelux region on a post-fam tour throughout the eastern part of North Dakota. From the teeny tiny town of Cooperstown to the famously known town of Fargo, our tour took us through some of the coolest sights to see!
‘The World’s Largest Sandhill Crane’ – Steele, North Dakota
It was an early morning, but we hit the road at 7 A.M. to depart for our first post-fam stop: Jamestown. On the way, we couldn’t help but stop at a little station in Steele to grab ourselves some caffeine. While there, we learned a little about the 40-ft tall Sandhill Crane they call ‘Sandy’ (these long-necked birds are known to be highly prevalent in ND) as well as a bit about the charming little town. Of course we had to snag a photo in front of the goofy bird.
Dakota Miracle & the World’s Largest Buffalo – Jamestown, North Dakota
After a 100 mile journey, we finally arrived in Jamestown to meet up with Searle Swedlund of Jamestown Tourism. He gave us a morning tour through “The Buffalo City,” beginning with a walk of downtown. He showed us the newly installed Blades of Grass sculpture, each weighing about 75-pounds, that were created to embody the strength that the community once showed following a devastating fire. “As the forceful winds that come through, each blade of grass depends on the other to lean on and be supported.”
Next up was North Dakota’s oldest courthouse: The 1882 Stutsman County Courthouse. This historic preservation was rescued from demolition by the Jamestown community in the 1980s and has since gone through a minor facelift, allowing the piece of history to open up to the public for tours.
Lastly, we took a visit to Frontier Village – home to the World’s Largest Buffalo and the National Buffalo Museum – where we learned a bit more about the authentic pioneer town and its preserved buildings, and even tried to get a closer look at their famous white buffalo, Dakota Miracle. Unfortunately, she was too far off in the distance soaking up some sun with her crew for me to snag a decent photo, but that didn’t stop me from trying.
Fun Fact: Jamestown was the hometown of famous western author, Louis L’Amour
Bridges over the Sheyenne River – Valley City, North Dakota
A quick drive east landed us in Valley City where we met up with Mary Lee Nielson of Valley City Tourism for a lovely picnic lunch in Medicine Wheel Park. We had the pleasure of meeting up with the original creator of the Native American solar calendar found there now – Dr. Stickler. He walked us through the science of the Medicine Wheel and even noted that it was indeed an authentic creation – hosting several Native American ceremonies in order to properly bless the solar calendar.
On to the Rosebud Visitor Center that hosted North Dakota’s Agriculture Hall of Fame to honor the original pioneers who made agriculture a mainstay of the state, and we were able to take a peek at an 1881 Superintendent’s railcar with its original furnishings.
Valley City is known for their many bridges, however, one in particular: the High Line Bridge. This bridge is one of the original lines of the Northern Pacific Railroad that descends east across the Sheyenne River. It’s known for being the nation’s highest single-track bridge standing at 3,860 feet long and 162 feet above water. Due to the depth of the valleys that surround it, the bridge had to built high enough to avoid the grades on either side of the river.
The Famous Fargo Wood Chipper – Fargo, North Dakota
Although locals will tell you they’re not too keen on the movie Fargo (also now a TV series) that made their sweet town Hollywood famous, it’s still a super intriguing aspect that draws in travelers from around the world to visit. We had to snag ourselves the classic photo with the original Wood Chipper used in the movie, now found at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor’s Center. I even learned something new – they also have the original movie script!
After departing to visitor’s center, we ventured on over to the Heritage-Hjemkomst Center that serves as a home to the Hjemkomst Viking Ship and the Hopperstad Stave Church. The Hjemkomst ship, meaning “Homecoming,” was built by Robert Asp in 1974 before being diagnosed with leukemia. On June 8, 1982, his three sons and daughter carried out his dream to sail the ship to Norway after passing away. The ship arrived in Bergen, Norway on August 9, 1982.
Found right outside of the Heritage Center is the gothic-inspired full-scale replica of a 12th Century Hopperstad Stave Church. The church is completely constructed of wood: cedar, redwood, and pine. It’s dark, slightly eerie, but mostly just impressive. The attention detail in the carvings and its history are something worth experiencing for yourself.
America’s “Ace in the Hole,” Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Historic Site – Cooperstown, North Dakota
Now we’re getting into some real American-pride right here 🇺🇸. We visited the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site – which consists of two sites – that tells the story of the Cold War years in ND. Each of these sites played an important role as part of the US’ nuclear deterrence strategy during years of the Cold War. Both sites were on continuous alert (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) for nearly 30 years.
The first, the November-33 Launch Facility, once known as “America’s Ace in the Hole,” was a self-contained steel missile silo and underground launch facility – the “card” that the US never had to play. The second, the Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility, was an above-ground Launch Control Support Building as well as an underground Launch Control Center.
Pro Tip: If you’re claustrophobic, taking the underground tour to the Launch Control Center is probably something you’ll want to opt out of. The old school elevator ride took nearly two minutes to arrive below ground, and once you were down there, there was no getting out…kidding. There was, but it would take approximately two minutes to be able to see daylight again unless you wanted to emergency exit climb your way out of there on the escape ladder (which I was prepared to do at any given moment).
It was very surreal standing where men and women once stood awaiting orders to launch these sophisticated weapons, should the country ever need to depend on it.
Famous “Chippers” Chocolate and the Ralph – Grand Forks, North Dakota
If you’re into good eats as much as I am, this place is your ticket. For lunch, we stopped at a place all of the locals love – the Red Pepper. If you visit, you have to order The Grinder and get all of the works on it…not that great for your overall health, but so good for the soul.
After lunch we visited Widman’s chocolate shop, a local handmade chocolatier and candy store that’s been around since the late 1800’s. They’re famous for their “Chippers,” a chocolate covered….potato chip. Sounds odd, but oddly delicious.
Earlier in the day we were lucky enough to score a tour through the $104+ million Ralph Engelstad Arena – North Dakota’s home to all things hockey. The story behind this building is honestly just amazing. Long story short, a local man named Ralph Engelstad – a man who never forgot those who helped him through life – struck it rich, heard that his hometown hockey arena was ruined in a flood, and decided to donate a ridiculous amount of money to the school help rebuild it.
It is one luxurious arena, you’ll just have to experience it yourself. I left a fan, even with a tee from the college hockey shop inside, and I plan to come back to experience one of the live hockey games myself.
Pro Tip: It’s tricky to get tickets, but an insider told me the best time to look up tickets is during major holidays (when all of the students are gone on break and a few thousand seats get freed up to the public).
Fort Totten & Sullys Hill National Game Preserve – Devils Lake, North Dakota
Next up on the post-fam was Devils Lake, ND, which included stops at Fort Totten State Historic Site and Sullys Hill National Game Preserve.
Fort Totten was a military post built in 1867 before it was converted into a boarding school for Indian children in 1890. Most of the original buildings are still intact, and are now used to showcase several different museum exhibits honoring its past.
I’m incredibly intrigued by wildlife and the outdoors, so Sullys Hill National Game Preserve was one of my favorites. It’s a 1,674-acre national wildlife refuge that’s home to several different wildlife and migratory birds. Although I was the only one that wanted to hike up the 200+ stairs to the top of the hill, it was 100% worth it… even though I was 100% out of breath once I reached the top. The views were incredible (see photo below).
Scheels and the Red River Zoo – Fargo (Pt. II), North Dakota
In order to catch my flight back home, I had the pleasure of visiting Fargo once more before departing the Legendary ND.
I met up with a few of the Fargo-Moorhead CVB crew members who toured me through a few more Fargo staples, the Fargo Air Museum, Scheels All Sports store and the Red River Zoo.
After departing the visitor’s center we ventured onto the Fargo Air Museum where we took a look at some of the coolest historic flyable airplanes – yes, flyable! The rotation of historic airplanes include a P-51 Mustang, a DC-3known as Duggy “the Smile in the Sky,” a TBM Avenger, Corsair, and many, many more. It’s any history or airplane buff’s dream. We even ran into a former WWII Veteran who gave us his own play-by-play experience of what it’s like to ride in a Black Hawk helicopter.
Next we visited Scheels. I had never heard of this place, but apparently its huge. Okay, it is MASSIVE. There’s even a stinkin’ Ferris Wheel inside. This store has it all; watersports gear; camping gear; fishing gear; athletic gear; a shooting range; a game simulator; and anything outdoors or fun-related.
Last, but certainly not least, we visited the Red River Zoo that featured all sorts of exotic animals from areas around the world with similar climates. From monkeys, to pandas, to camels, and more, this zoo had all of the cutest/most unique animals. And the staff there is so passionate about the animals, it’s endearing. (Also, there’s a carousel – because why not?!).
Thanks for reading my diary log. Cheers!