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North Dakota (USA)

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Country: USA / Country Region: North Dakota / World Region: North America

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      13.01.2006 21:25
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      North Dakota is an undiscovered expanse full of cultural and natural secrets.

      I ended up in North Dakota to do a postgraduate degree (long story) and lived there for two very satisfying and enjoyable years. It's a hidden gem so I thought would make a good subject for a review.

      ********GEOGRAPHY/SCENERY
      It's flat. Really, really flat and the sky is big. I don't recommend it if you're agoraphobic but personally I like the sense of space and freedom. Kathleen Norris (see below) says it's like an upside-down ocean and it's "where angels drown". The Red River runs along the eastern edge of the state, and the Badlands in the west are beautiful, just sit and watch the sunset over this mini version of the grand canyon (very mini) - they're called the badlands because of the difficulty of negotiating them in olden times with a wagon and peeved Native Americans around every corner.
      The weather is very…definite: you get winter and you get summer. There's also about a week in May and one in September that's lovely. Winter is as cold as a very cold thing (like -30C and below freezing for months at a time) - you have to plug your car battery into the house overnight to stop it freezing (but don't do what I did and forget to unplug it before you drive away). Summer can be wet and stormy but generally turns hot - and the mosquitoes come out to play. I realise this may not be selling it, you have to be comfortable with chemical insect-repellent slathered all over your exposed extremities if you want to be outside for extended periods, and in any case the towns tend to be coated with the same chemicals chugged out the back of trucks every few days. I think this is the state's worst weakness and, sadly, not one it can really do much about.

      ********PEOPLE
      So friendly! It helps to be a Brit in America generally, you just have to start speaking and they love you, and ND is no exception. Most of the immigrants were Scandinavian so the state is very blonde, which can be a bit creepy in a Stepford wives kind of way. The university in Grand Forks, for example, is only about 4% ethnic minorities, and most of those are Native Americans, so it's weirdly white. And yes, they really do talk like Frances McDormand in the movie 'Fargo'. There are a number of areas where Native Americans live, mostly Sioux and Lakhota. The University of North Dakota sports teams are called The Fighting Sioux, not without controversy. But I'm ashamed to say I never witnessed any football or ice hockey at the multi-million dollar stadium, so I can't comment on that (actually I'm not all that ashamed, except that I feel my review is somehow incomplete).
      The majority of the immigration occurred relatively recently (compared with the rest of the US - I guess it was the only place left to settle). The first arrivals lived in 'sod houses' - named after the materials used to build them, not after the opinions of the first settlers. There's a cool museum just over the border in Steinbach, Manitoba that recreates that era and is definitely worth a visit.


      ********STUFF TO DO
      Truth be told, there is plenty to do in North Dakota, it's just that people tend to focus on awkward questions like 'What is it known for'. The Black Hills & Deadwood? No, actually that's South Dakota. Mount Rushmore? Again, South Dakota. Even the movie 'Fargo' (located in North Dakota) was filmed in Minnesota. North Dakotans even adopt the Minnesotan football team - the Vikings - as their own.
      North Dakota is not big on nightlife - it does outside stuff best - you can hunt and fish to your heart's content (even go to Walmart to buy your gun) if that's your thing.
      There's an ArtFest in Grand Forks in June. I went to this year's art festival and was impressed at the creativity. Artists and craftspeople from as far as Idaho and Wisconsin displayed their wares.
      I recommend going camping at Icelandic State Park in the north of the state. If you're lucky, you'll see (a) fireflies and (b) the northern lights like I did. Fantastic. Almost made up for choosing the 'primitive' camping zone, as we inexplicably did, complete with the hole in the ground loo and fire pit to cook in.
      I also enjoyed a trip to the 'Saint Lucia' Greek restaurant in Fargo, but if you live in Europe, it's probably easier to go to Greece. Fargo also has an old movie theatre complete with a guy that plays the organ on stage before the movie and sinks down below the stage before it starts. I think they must resurrect him each time to do it, he looks that old.
      There's a sort of wild west show in Medora, ND. I've never managed to go, but you can also check out www.ndtourism.com for this and other events.

      ********GETTING THERE
      Plane - You can fly into one of North Dakota's little airports: Grand Forks International Airport is a shed (a very nice shed) outside town that gets its fancy title from the weekly flight to Winnipeg, Canada. Personally, I quite like to fly to Minneapolis because it's darn cheaper: currently around £520+ at expedia.co.uk from London in June, as against its cheapest price of nearly two grand to go to Fargo and back (although you could find that cheaper I think).
      Train - is my prefered mode of transport into ND from Minneapolis - it can be as little as 20 quid on the Amtrak train that leaves the city late in the evening and arrives in Grand Forks, ND at some ungodly hour of the morning. Nonetheless, the seats are built for American-size bodies so being a wee thing I can curl up in them.
      Automobile - it's about 5 hours drive from Minneapolis to Fargo on the Interstate. Car is definitely the best way to get about in ND - you can hire cars at the airports and in the main towns (Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks).

      ********BOOKS
      If you're interested in seeing North Dakota (and if you've got this far, there must be some degree of interest) I recommend 'Dakota: a spiritual geography' by Kathleen Norris. Without doing a review within a review, let me just say she conveys a great sense of place. Plus there's the work of Garrison Keillor such as 'Lake Wobegon Days', and ND writer Louise Erdrich.

      ********IN SHORT
      If you're the slightly adventurous type, buy your cheap levis at the malls in Minneapolis, to get that out of the way, and take a trip to the Northern Plains. It's cheap, scenic, and has all the wide open space you can handle.

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    • Product Details

      North Dakota is both a Midwestern and Western state in the United States. It is the northernmost of the Great Plains states and is the northern half of The Dakotas. During the 19th century, North Dakota was considered part of the Wild West. Formerly part of Dakota Territory (named after the Dakota tribe of Native Americans), North Dakota became the 39th state in 1889.