Monday, August 04, 2014

From Minnesota to Montana

Holy cats, what a day.

We left Bemidji around 7 and were in Grand Forks, North Dakota, hunting for souvenir keychains for Ana, within a couple of hours.  (She's trying to get one from every state.  We failed as to Minnesota but had better luck in N.D.).  In Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, we saw fields of corn, wheat, sunflowers just coming into bloom, and sugar beets (Caleb, do you remember Sesame Street: "Beets, beets, sugar beets, beets, sugar beets, sugar beets bee-eets"? It's been playing in my head all day.)  All along the highway, the fields of crops are gracefully interspersed with reed-filled sloughs, ponds and small lakes, each one dotted with hundreds of ducks, terns, and other waterfowl.  (Almost no geese, which is very refreshing.)  It is absolutely beautiful, nothing like the flat, featureless terrain I thought we would encounter.  We thought we spotted loons, and maybe grebes, and there were lovely large white soaring birds with pterodactyl bent-back necks, long yellow bills and black-tipped wings that mystified us until Dad figured it out: pelicans.  Who knew they lived in the Midwest?  But they do.  We found ourselves here:

It's one of a complex of gigantic lakes, including Devil's Lake, south of Route 2 in North Dakota.  We looped south and drove across a causeway that bisects Devil's Lake so that the breeze kicks up choppy waves on the eastern half, while the western half lies calm and blue.

I walked out on a dock at Pelican Lake just in time to spot this guy scooting out from under the dock with his head poked out of the water like a sea serpent, swimming sinuously and swiftly away from me as fast as he possibly could.  I looked him up: a garter snake.  Who knew they could swim?

These trees in Devil's Lake were full of nests and black birds that we decided were cormorants.  The lakes were all bordered with dead and dying trees, submerged roads and half-collapsed barns and sheds sagging under the water.  It seems that there has been much more rain than normal for a number of years, and the lakes are growing fast, consuming agricultural land, houses and barns, but making recreational areas in which fishermen rejoice:

Not long after leaving Devil's Lake, we found ourselves here:

But despite having gotten this far, only a little farther on toward Minot, we realized that we must have gotten turned around.  All that driving, only to end up right back home again.

Not far beyond Norwich, we spotted Claire's comment from yesterday about missile silos.

Missile silos??

This is what smart phones are for.  We found this:

Seriously?  Nuclear missile silos??  Well, as it turns out, yes.  Google Maps not only showed us all of those, but it led us along Route 2, helpfully guiding us by showing our little blue-arrow car as we drew closer and closer and finally drove right up to this one, just off the highway:

 Only in America can people find the precise coordinates of dozens of deadly weapons of mass destruction on their smart phones, drive right up to within 50 feet of one of them and take lots of photos, without being shot or arrested or even, apparently, noticed.  If not for Claire, we'd have whisked right past it without even noticing.  Good grief.

After Minot, the bucolic charm of North Dakota changed abruptly as we drove into the midst of a 21st century gold rush, only for oil.  We were driving into the Bakken shale, where, with the help of geologists, hydrofracking, drill rigs, trucks, trains and technology, up through the ground came a bubbling crude.  Oil, that is.  Black gold.  Texas tea.  And the first thing you know, old Jed's a millionaire.  Wells everywhere.  Derricks everywhere.  Trucks everywhere.  Sand piles everywhere.  And I do mean everywhere, for miles and miles and miles.  It was staggering.

That's just one.  We must have seen dozens of new drill rigs, and that's not counting the many more dozens of derricks already busily dipping away, or the piles of sand ready for fracking or the simple numbers of trucks zipping past us one after another on the highway, sand trucks, water trucks, trucks lugging equipment, white pickup trucks (why are they always white?) with logos on the doors and the flares in the distance of new wells.  You keep passing RV parks that obviously have nothing to do with recreation, with campers crowded close on bare lots, or "apartments" made of containers with windows in them stacked one on top of the other like legos -- too many workers for there to possibly be enough places to live.  In Tioga, ND, we saw this new apartment building or hotel, with a chaotic mass of RVs and campers and temporary cabins jumbled behind it, plus several white trucks (why are they always white?):

Tioga also had a brand new humongous truck stop, full of every single thing a person could want, including prepared food, a drop-off laundry service, Wi-fi, showers, oil by the barrel

Plus, a hair salon (help wanted!) and this charming piece of home decor, for only $149.99:

And then there was this:

A few years ago, Tioga was probably a lot like sleepy little Norwich, ND, or Norwich, NY, for that matter.  Now it's a boom town.  It was more than a little overwhelming.  We drove south to Lewis and Clark State Park by the Missouri River to calm down a little.  But even there, the shale boom has arrived.  The entrance to the park is framed with drilling rigs:

We wandered around by the water, wondered if a houseboat that was wallowing in the surprisingly sharp waves not far off shore was sinking, fended off improbable swarms of dragonflies filling the sky by the hundreds like miniature helicopters, and read the signs about Lewis and Clark, who traversed this soil not so long ago when hydrofracking and smartphones and blogs were unheard of.

 Then, a little restored, we drove west to Williston, ND, just in time for the end-of-the-work-day rush as jillions of wildcatters and roustabouts returned from the rigs in search of dinner and motel rooms.  The roads were jammed with white pickups, SUVs and trucks (why are they always white?) and we didn't have a reservation.  We fled.  Now we're in Culbertson, Montana, in a nice little old-fashioned motel hard by the road where the courtly owner-manager is as helpful as he can possibly be and is glad he isn't in Texas, babysitting the grandkids with his wife, but wishes he was flying his private plane (which needs repairs) instead of checking in one guest after another after another into his motel who's fled the prosperity and bustle of North Dakota looking for a little peace and quiet.  We walked a short way up the highway to the Casino bar and the driver of the first pickup truck who passed us, with a big joyful black dog in the truck bed, waved at us as cheerfully as though he'd known us for years.  It's quiet, cool and comfortable here, with a loud air conditioner ratting overhead in a room with decor that calls up the best of the 1970s, only with excellent wifi.  Whew.

Tomorrow, Shelby, Montana -- and then Glacier.


Claire Newbold said...

Yes Minot ND was the sight of my first missile silo too. I was just reminded of this a month ago when 60 minutes sent Lesley stahl into one of them to report There are 450 of them in 5 states where you were. I remember feeling something similar to culture shock when I was told what they were. We were there in the middle of winter at night and it was spooky. Fascinating that you can get that close.
Thanks for the post guys!!

Luke Murphy said...

Awesome. You guys are doing some real exploring!