50 in 50: Done.

I started writing this post in mid-September, but the days have conspired to keep me busy and sap my energy. Today, since I’m now 51, I will finish this post:

Last week [early September], in my 50th year of life, Laura and I visited my 50th state: North Dakota. The desire to visit all 50 eventually has been on my mind for a few decades, but the idea of getting my last state in my 50th year (before I turn 51) came to me on the day before my birthday last year when we visited Maine (48) a week before, followed by New Hampshire (49) the day before I turned 50. I thought: “Hey – I just did the 49th state in my 49th year, so maybe I can do one more this year.”

Sure enough, that last state was North Dakota. I’ve now completed my state travel map which now shows as all red. I’ve been to every state and some island territories, such as Guam, St. Thomas, and St. John, as well as DC which doesn’t really count as a state. In the course of that visit, I’ve added yet another airport to my list. It’s a very nice airport with a beautiful sky painted on the ceiling.

Fitting since it’s certainly one of the “big sky” states. Fairly flat with very few trees. Sort of like this:

Many said, or rather asked sarcastically, “What is there to do in North Dakota? There’s nothing there…” We discovered, to our great benefit, that there is quite a lot to do – at least, there is in summer. I cannot speak to winter in the Dakotas – I can only imagine that it’s rather bleak and brutal. During the summer months (or month? – I imagine that it’s not quite as long as in the more temperate zones) there is much outdoor activity to be had.

Theodore Roosevelt spent much of his time recovering from the death of his wife and his mother in the western wilderness of this state developing an appreciation of the wild landscape. This appreciation led him to create many new national parks later in his terms as president. In the western part of the state, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is broken into two “units” one in the north and one in the south. Separated by the high plains, these two different sections of badlands are like mini “grand canyons” carved into the flowing grasslands. Each one was different in feel and had unique charms.

The north unit was smaller, but we felt more interesting. We drove through the entire length of the park and were able to see most of it in a few hours. A more thorough experience could be had by camping and hiking through the various trails (we only hiked one – we are novices when it comes to hiking). At one point, we were able to see the “concretions”, or strange spherical rock formations mixed in to the landscape.

While examining these, we came across a lone bison wandering the nearby grass. It was a big, old, mangy bull and it had cornered an older couple just by wandering by. It seemed to be looking for a boulder to scratch its belly.

Later that day, we ventured to the edge of the state to see the Fairview Lift Bridge. Long decommissioned, it’s now open to walk across and into the tunnel behind it. It was a unique experience and I have to give credit to my cousin Matt Phillips for suggesting a visit.

We then headed across the border into Montana for dinner, and then headed back to our hotel through dark empty roads. Empty, that is, except for deer. We counted over 50 deer we had to slow down for and avoid. That made the trip take a bit longer than it should have.

Next, we visited the south unit where there was the Painted Canyon, through which we hiked, and then took the trail to the Petrified Forest on the western edge of the park. That trail took the most time since there was so much to see. The terrain changed so much between desert valley, hilly cliff trail, high plains grasslands, and painted desert canyon with petrified wood scattered throughout the area.

This picture does not do it justice, but it’s the best sample of a few varieties of the petrified wood (foreground) scattered around looking like wood chips and the carved out walls of the canyon.

We visited Minot and toured the Scandinavian Heritage Park and visited local restaurants. All in all, a great time was had by all. We are certainly well pleased that we chose to travel there and spend more than a week galivanting across the “empty” state. Now we know that we have to go back.

And we certainly won’t think there’s “nothing” to do there.