andrew burke





Road Trip 2012: North Dakota

Posted on: 2012-08-11

In May 2012, my mother-in-law gave us her old car - but we live in Halifax and the car was in Edmonton. So we flew there and drove it all the way back to Halifax. We had great weather and I had a new camera. This is part 6 of a series of blog posts about the trip.

(All of the photos are hosted on Flickr - click on any to see bigger versions and browse the full set.)

We spent the night in Estevan Saskatchewan, only a few miles from the Canada/US border. I had to stay up late to deal with some client emergencies, so we took it easy the next morning - but made sure not to miss the complimentary breakfast. Our hotel in Estevan was a brand new chain hotel, the kind that serves as the temporary home for travelling salesmen and IT contractors across the continent - but because of all the mining and industry in the area this one was full of blue-collar workers instead. Rather than the neckties-and-khakis crowd discussing sales figures, the boots-and-denim crowd was discussing how to avoid sleeping out on site more than four days in a row. They were probably making better money than most travelling salesmen too.

We finally headed out near noon and drove south towards the border. We passed huge machines digging for coal:

Cranes digging for coal south of Estevan Saskatchewan

(That might look like a normal-sized crane in the picture - but it's huge.)

Further south we passed areas that had been dug up in earlier decades and were now being reclaimed by nature. The leftover mining mounds now looked like little ranges of short hills in the otherwise super-flat prairie.

When we reached the border, we were the only car among dozens of transport and industrial trucks. We waited for a while in a long lineup and then discovered that these trucks were all parked for further processing, and there was no line at all at the actual border crossing booth.

We crossed into the USA without any problems (besides embarrassment) and headed south into North Dakota. As we drove further into the country, the sky turned at first cloudy, then dark and ominous, and finally it started to look downright scary:


Scary Bubbling Clouds in North Dakota

Thankfully we didn't get much rain and hardly any wind - but we certainly didn't linger to find out how bad it might get. Our car was going faster than the weather, so we left it behind soon enough.

(It turned out that these clouds weren't an omen after all: the weather was sunny and warm for almost our entire time in the USA, and the people we met were lovely.)

I found northern North Dakota felt a bit poorer than southern Saskatchewan - although southern Saskatchewan was surprisingly rich, and I'm not sure how well, say, Nova Scotia would compare to it either.

We stopped at a big suburban strip mall area off the main highway for lunch at McDonald's (where we could also borrow the wi-fi), but first we needed to get some US cash. Since it was a midwestern strip mall, the only ATMs available were "drive-thru" - but our car was parked some distance away, so we ended up getting cash out of the drive-thru ATM on foot, feeling very much the awkward foreigners.

Funnily enough, North Dakota is sort of my ancestral homeland: my mother's father's side of the family (Iverson) is Norwegian-American, originally from a very small prairie town, but they moved to Moorhead around 1900. I look a little bit Scandinavian, although not as much as a lot of the people I saw in this part of the country.

It was another day for drive-by photo opportunities, like this gorgeous vintage car being towed back to (funnily enough) Ontario:


There were also several areas where stands of trees had been partially flooded, leaving great-looking skeletons in the water:

Flooded Trees

We had planned on camping near Fargo, but the weather was still looking damp and stormy and I was exhausted from staying up very late the night before - so we decided to get a hotel for the night. In previous road trips, this would have involved driving around suburbia until we found a hotel that looked nice and then asking them for a last-minute room - something that can be surprisingly exhausting and frustrating, especially if you're already tired. But since it's 2012, we pulled over where the 3G signal was strong and I found a good last-minute deal at a nice-looking Ramada on - on my phone.

This was my first big cross-country road trip since ubiquitous mobile internet became commonplace, and it has completely changed how we travelled. Maps if we ever got lost, Wikipedia for background on things we saw nearby, email and Twitter and Facebook for keeping in touch, and for finding a last-minute place to stay.

As I paid for the hotel reservation (once again on my phone), a friendly farmer in a pickup truck stopped next to us and asked if we were having engine trouble or anything - people are very friendly and helpful around here.

We got to the Ramada just as heavy rain started. We rested a bit and then had dinner at a Granite City restaurant/brewery across the street. The beer was good and the food servings were hearty, although the waiter had a bit of trouble understanding Shannon's vegetarianism ("Does the soup have chicken stock?" "It's vegetable soup!" "Yes but does it have a chicken stock?" "Oh, yeah I think it does.")

After dinner, I went down to the hotel's nice lounge, tried a few local beers and some single malt scotch, and caught up on the last few days of news and email on my iPad.

RSS by the Fireplace

(Apple should really have an iPad ad that includes a big comfy leather chair, a fireplace, and a glass of single malt.)

I asked the affable young bartender about one of the beers and he said it was like another local brand which I didn't know - so he asked where I was from and I said "Nova Scotia" and he admitted he didn't know where that was, so I said, "first you go to Maine, and then northeast into another time zone".

I think I blew his mind a little.

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