We began the approximately four and a half hour drive from International Falls to Fargo, North Dakota later than planned. When we finally arrived at our campground in Fargo, it was late afternoon. I was worried that there would be no space left for us. Luckily, the campground had plenty of room. The campground that we chose in Fargo was Lindenwood Campground. It is actually in a city park, but the area for campers is for paid campers only. It was right on the Red River as you entered into the city. Because it was at the edge of Fargo, it did not feel like you were in a city at all.
Be aware that there is construction in the area, and we drove down the same road a few times before figuring out where to go. It felt like we were in the scene of National Lampoon’s European Vacation where Clark Griswold continues to drive in circles around the roundabout. “Look kids, there’s Big Ben!”
The campground itself was very nice and quiet. We enjoyed our view of the river. The bathrooms were really far from our camper though, which was a pain. Actually, we never did find the camping bathrooms that we were supposed to use. We even stopped into the office and got a map, and still didn’t find them. We ended up having to drive through the entire park (all one way streets) to get back to the beginning of the park and use the public restrooms. They weren’t the cleanest, and there were no showers in that part so we stayed stinky. I would still recommend that campground as a cheap stay in the Fargo area. Unfortunately, we were tired from our drive and did not get to visit anywhere in Fargo.
The next day we packed up and left for Bismarck. We had found out about a ghost town that was about an hour outside of Bismarck called Arena. We drove miles away from the interstate, into the middle of nowhere, and found it. Louie and I are very interested in old ghost towns and urban exploration. There is something so special about abandoned places.
Arena was founded in 1906 and was a small town. During it’s height, population reached 150 residents. Most people left during the Great Depression, although a post office in the town remained in operation until 1996. The last known living person in the town was rumored to be a man who moved into the yellow house on site and lived there until the 1980’s. Since then, nature has begun reclaiming the remaining buildings in the town. Directly across from the original road is an old grain elevator. It is amazing that it is still standing. We didn’t go inside, but it really is a sight to see.
The first building we approached was an old school house. It is not original to the town, and was moved there at some point. I didn’t go inside, but the Louies did and you can see their findings on our Youtube video.
Across the street from the school house is a house that has definitely succumbed to nature. I attempted to walk over to look into the house, but the weeds are so overgrown that it was impossible while wearing flip flops.
The next house we came to on the road was a house up on cement blocks. This house was not original to the town, and was placed there sometime in the last few years. Who, how, and why are all a mystery. The roof of the house was surrounded by wasp nests, literally hundreds of them, so I stayed away. The Louies took a quick look inside. Unfortunately, the house was too high off of the ground to be able to get into.
Next is the yellow house, which still contains many of the belongings that the man who lived there in the 1980’s left behind. There is a couch, old televisions, kitchen cabinets, and more. We are unsure why many of the belongings were left behind, but it is very interesting. Because this town is so far away from anything, it has not been vandalized. Everything that you see is exactly how it was when it was left many years ago.
The last building, and what I thought was the most beautiful, was the abandoned church. It was formerly St. John’s Lutheran Church. Almost all of the items were removed from it, but there is still some remnants of carpet on the ground. The building is also losing it’s foundation and there is a lot of glass and nails inside. The view outside the windows of the old church is a beautiful sharp contrast to the dark and dingy interior.
As we left Arena to head back to the interstate, the road that we were on suddenly lost it’s pavement and we were driving on gravel roads. We would sporadically pass farms or large trucks, but for the most part we were alone. The gravel road continued for 15 miles, when suddenly pavement reappeared right before the interstate. We discovered that many of North Dakota’s roads are gravel roads because the locations are so isolated. It really was an amazing experience to head into the back roads and find this old town. I can’t wait to find another ghost town in the middle of nowhere.
Once we reached Bismarck, we stayed at another campground that was run by the parks department, General Sibley Parks & Campground. It was located on the edge of town near a dead end road. I had read online to ask for campsite #87. That campsite was taken, so we went with #86. It was near the back of the campground in a very secluded spot. It was a pull through and our view overlooked the small river. It was like we had our own private riverfront property. We loved our site so much that once we set up we decided to stay an extra day and relax. Only two negatives to this site: 1. The bathrooms were far away. We did have porta potties next to us, but a proper bathroom and shower were a drive through the entire campground to the entrance. 2. There was no water hookup, only electric. We took for granted how great it is to have running water near us. We ended up going to Walmart and buying gallon jugs of water for us and the cats and bottles of water for drinking and brushing our teeth.
The first night we had a couple of strong thunderstorms blow through. There were a couple warnings for hail and high winds. We did have to take shelter in the suv around 4 am when the lightening got bad, but were soon back into our camper enjoying the sound of the rain. Our campsite was protected from the wind by the many trees surrounding it. We really loved this campsite as a place to just relax after a few long drives.
After our stay in Bismarck, we left for our true destination in North Dakota. Along the way, we headed off of the interstate to see a portion of the Enchanted Highway. The Enchanted Highway is a 32-mile stretch of road with a number of large sculptures along the way. The sculptures were created by Gary Greff beginning in 1989 to keep traffic coming through the small towns and away from the interstate. The sculptures are HUGE and definitely worth a detour. There is a road and some even have a picnic area leading to each sculpture.
We decided to stay in Medora, which is right next to the entrance for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We were hoping to get a spot for four nights at Medora Campground, which is almost within the park boundaries.
Medora is a small town that is set up to look like an old West town. During the summer it is full of tourists roaming the streets, but it really is a cute little town. I half expected tumble weeds to roll across the road.
At first, we could only get a reservation for one night due to a cancellation. Our site was more expensive because it was a full hook up site. We were squished in between two large travel trailers. But the view was worth it. The next day, Louie arrived at the office right as it opened to try to get us three more nights. Luckily, due to another cancellation, we were able to move into a new site that had just electric and water so it was cheaper. AND…it had a direct and unobscured view of the hills in the park.
But, we were not wanting to take down our entire camper to move it a few rows away and set it up again. So, we folded in one bed so we could attach the hitch and Louie stood inside holding the roof as we pulled our almost fully popped out pop up across the campground. I was only going about 5 mph, but inside the camper Louie was trying to hold everything as it jostled about. What a sight we must have been! People were outside and giving us strange looks and pointing at our camper. They must have thought that we were crazy. And that we drove down the road like this all of the time. Truth is, we are crazy. But that’s beside the point. We accomplished our move with minimal work. Would we do it again? Hmmm…maybe. Would I recommend it? Nope, never. And yes, it was a little embarrassing.
We also decided that we needed to have a “real meal”, so we went to Boots Bar and Grill just down the road from our campground. I ordered a pizza, Louie a buffalo burger and Lil Louie an elk burger. Food was good, service was great. They forgot to bring Louie’s meal, and when they did the waitress took it off of our bill and brought Louie a free beer to make up for it. All without us asking. But the greatest thing was that they had Rocky Mountain Oysters on their menu. AKA bull’s balls deep fried in a coating. Louie decided that he needed to try them. They came with a bbq sauce. I’m not going to tell you his reaction to eating these. You need to watch the Youtube video for footage of it. It will be worth your time, trust me.
Every other day we went to the local gas station/store and bought a build your own sub sandwich. For $5.50 you could add as much meat, cheese, veggies, and sauces into either a wheat or white sub bun or a wrap. For a dollar less you could have a croissant. It was such a great deal and so nice to have some fresh food.
Our big trip was into Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This park is such an underrated gem. We did the South loop scenic drive which took us a couple of hours. We could have spent longer on the drive if we had done more hikes, but it was almost 100 degrees outside and with the arid landscape, the sun just beat down on us. It was so strange to go from the green, cool weather in Minnesota to the dry desert-like landscape of North Dakota.
Our driving tour took us over hills that looked like the Badlands of South Dakota mixed with rocky hills and a few trees. We saw wild horses and herds of buffalo. There are also multiple prairie dog towns along the way.
We had wanted to visit the Petrified Forest, but due to the heat we ended up not going.
On Sunday, we went to a Catholic Church that was about 30 minutes away. It was the closest Catholic Church with a Sunday mass. The church was beautiful and most of the small congregation seemed to be farmers. There was even an announcement that there would be a prayer service for rain due to the farmers experiencing a drought. It was a really unique experience to be a part of a small community, even if only for an hour or so.
North Dakota really surprised me. I have to admit that I would have never really thought about visiting if we were not on this adventure. But I can say that it is a really amazing and beautiful state. I would love to go back again someday to explore more of the cities and even maybe a few more ghost towns. And TR National Park is not to be missed. We had a great time, but we were glad to be leaving the hot desert like landscape for Montana!