How close are you to visiting all 50 states? Well, if you have a few states missing, chances are North Dakota is on the list.
In fact, a surprisingly significant portion of North Dakota tourism is marketed for that express purpose — to entice those Americans to venture north and check off their 50th in “Nodak” – as the kids like to call it.
The fact is, North Dakota is not easy to get to. And if one of the primary attractions for tourists to visit is simply saying that they did so, you can see how North Dakota’s visitors’ bureau has its work cut out for them.
But North Dakota offers more than just a checkmark on a 50 state bucket list.
North Dakota was not my 50th state. It was probably 47th or 48th. I don’t remember exactly because it’s been quite a few years since my 50 state milestone. I’ve been a Proud American Traveler for a long time, after all.
But I don’t get to North Dakota all that often and was looking forward to a recent three day visit that would take me from one corner of the Roughrider State to the other.
Like most folks, my trip started in North Dakota’s biggest city, Fargo, made infamous by the Coen Brothers’ 1996 movie, Fargo, which wasn’t actually filmed in Fargo.
At the Fargo-Moorehead Visitors Center you can recreate the film’s most memorable scene by posing with the actual woodchipper from the movie — complete with a (hopefully) not actual human leg jutting out the top.
Also at the visitors center, you can officially join the “Best for Last Club,” open exclusively to travelers who have made North Dakota their 50th state. Membership privileges include an official certificate, a t-shirt, a picture in front of the “Welcome to North Dakota, 50th State” plaque and a round of applause from the friendly folks manning the center.
Personally, I was much more excited about two other Fargo attractions – a world-class craft brewery and one of the only spectator sporting events left in the world right now.
In one of the greatest under-reported tragedies of this entire coronavirus fiasco, all Minor League Baseball was cancelled this year — except for a handful of teams playing in the Independent Leagues unaffiliated with the majors.
As luck would have it, the Fargo RedHawks are one of those teams.
And unlike the other sports that are now just beginning to restart without fans in attendance, the RedHawks are welcoming fans.
There is nothing like a warm summer night and the sounds of the crack of the bat at your local minor league ballpark to welcome a sense of much-needed normalcy.
A Coronabro and Mask Free Zone
Attending an in-person sporting event during a global pandemic where virtually every other event in the world has been cancelled seemed a bit radical at first thought.
But the reality of a Tuesday night at Newman Outdoor Field turned out to be perfectly compatible with social distancing.
The RedHawks roped off every other row and encouraged fans to keep their distance from each other. But those efforts weren’t really necessary. The crowd of about 800 maskless fans happily dispersed throughout the 4,000 seat stands and enjoyed a great night of small town baseball.
Unfortunately, the RedHawks got shut out 5-0 by the arch rival cross-border Winnipeg Goldeyes.
In a state tailormade for social distancing, it makes sense that Fargo hosts perhaps the only spectator sporting event in the entire world right now.
Far from being radical or dangerous, sitting outside in the fresh North Dakota air watching baseball and drinking beer is the perfect Tuesday night activity during a pandemic – and is as socially distant as possible from the scoldings of Coronabros like Chris Cuomo, Anderson Cooper, Dr. Fauci and Scarf Woman who seem to so revel in destroying our lives.
How North Dakotans Get Through Those Long Winters
If you are a beer lover like me, no trip to Fargo is complete without a visit to Drekker Brewing Company, one of the top craft breweries in the world.
Drekker’s new taproom in the old Fargo train station on the edge of downtown is a great place to try a Tickle Monster Imperial IPA or perhaps a more subtle Broken Rudder Red Ale.
Another excellent place to try local beer is the aptly named JL Beers, a local institution that has turned into a regional chain of Upper Midwest burger and beer joints. As I’ve previously reviewed, JL Beers serves one of the top ten burgers in America accompanied by homemade potato chips with your choice of dipping sauce.
Speaking of homemade North Dakota potato chips, no trip to Fargo would be complete without taking home a box or two of Carol Widman’s famous “Chippers” – fried up slices of North Dakota red potatoes drenched in milk chocolate — the perfect co-mingling of sweet and salty in one tasty bite.
It’s a Bison, Not a Buffalo
Fargo is the home of the North Dakota State Bison (the Alabama Crimson Tide of FCS college football) who were winners of eight out of the last nine National Championships. This is Bison Country (pronounced BI-zon — get it right).
So I couldn’t leave Fargo without tasting the big wooly animal. HoDo, the restaurant in the historic 1893 Hotel Donaldson downtown was the perfect place to do it.
Bison is leaner than beef. Generally, that is a bad thing. Less fat equals less flavor. But in the hands of a skilled chef who doesn’t overcook it, bison can be juicy, sweet and delicious.
Hodo didn’t disappoint with a perfectly pink and juicy bison burger accompanied by more fresh-cut North Dakota fried potatoes.
After a couple days in Fargo and a few pounds heavier than my pandemic shelter-at-home weight, I headed west to Jamestown, home of the National Buffalo Museum, to snap a picture of the “World’s Largest Bison” and the replica “writer’s shack” dedicated to hometown hero Louie L’Amour, America’s most famous author of western novels.
Social Distancing Since 1889
Then I headed northwest to the city of Minot, the most remote city of its size in the United States.
Driving across the plains of North Dakota was serene.
I’m not going to oversell North Dakota as a scenic destination. Eastern North Dakota, especially around Fargo, is flat as a pancake. The two lane highways stretch toward the horizon for miles, straight as the ubiquitous rows of July sweet corn.
But there is beauty in North Dakota’s solitude.
A global pandemic when we are supposed to be far apart from other human beings seems like the ideal time to check North Dakota off your list.
Do it now. There is no need to save North Dakota for last.