October 21, 2014

Not So Busy in Bismarck

After three cold and rainy nights with no, or minimal, hookups, I decided that I was ready for a full-service campground.  I’m somewhat schizophrenic when it comes to selecting campgrounds.  My usual preference is parks in beautiful, natural settings, not private campgrounds with closely-spaced RV sites.  However, those private parks are sometimes exactly where I want to be.  Particularly when it’s rainy and cold, I want full hookups and nice showers.  Also, if we’re going to stay somewhere for three nights or longer, full hookups are nice so we don’t have to drive somewhere to dump and refill the fresh water tank.  Full hookups can be worth the extra money just for the convenience.

We had read about the Bismarck KOA, which looked nice, and it was.  The park has lots of mature trees, and it’s close to everything we wanted to visit in Bismarck.  When we arrived on October 1, we asked for a full hookup site and paid for three nights.  The other advantage of many private parks is the availability of a laundry.  When it’s time to do laundry, I look for a private park so I won’t have to find a laundromat.  That’s an important convenience factor for me.

We really enjoyed our stay at the KOA.  Our site contained several apple trees, and we could pick all we wanted.  Robins and squirrels were feasting on the apples on the ground, providing quite the entertainment for Kitty.  After just one day, we decided to extend our stay to five nights.  Bismarck would be a perfect place to catch up on errands, do a little touring and relax a bit.  Besides, we had great Wi-Fi here, as well as multiple TV stations for Tim.
An Apple a Day . . . 

So Many Critters to Entertain Me

What Are Those Birds Eating?

Although the weather wasn’t the greatest – it was still rainy, cold and windy – we did venture out.  We stopped at a Subaru dealer to replace one of the headlights and then continued to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, since the park’s main claim-to-fame seemed to be the Custer House.  General George Armstrong Custer was living at the fort when he left for the ill-fated Battle of the Little Bighorn.  I’m not a fan of Custer and really had no interest in visiting his house.  However, the fort was much more than Custer’s house.

The most fascinating part for us was the On-A-Slant Village, a 400-year-old Mandan village that thrived for 200 years.  The Civilian Conservation Corps reconstructed six of the original earthlodges, which reminded us of the one at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic site.  We were able to visit the interior of the ceremonial lodge, and Tim was particularly impressed with the quality of the ongoing upkeep of the floor and walls.  It appears that the village remains a sacred site to the Mandan.

On-A-Slant Village

Earthlodges Reconstructed by the CCC

Interior of the Ceremonial Earthlodge

View from the Entrance of the Earthlodge

I even enjoyed exploring the remains of Fort Abraham Lincoln and walking by the reconstructed Custer House.  I wasn’t too upset, however, that the house was closed.  The foundations of the houses on Officers’ Row, as well as several other buildings, were also visible, reminding us of the layout of several other forts we had visited.

Fort Abraham Lincoln

Custer House

On Sunday we spent the afternoon at the North Dakota Heritage Center.  The museum is completing a major expansion, but two of the new galleries were already open.  The Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time traces the story of early North Dakota life and geology, featuring life-sized skeleton casts of several dinosaurs, including the ancestor of today's bison.  The Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples focuses on the arrival of the first people to inhabit North Dakota and features artifacts that tell the story of early life on the Northern Plains.

That Was a Mighty Large Bison

Tipi in the Early Peoples Gallery

Tim and I were impressed with both galleries and their exhibits.  I especially enjoyed making connections between the exhibits and several of the historic sites that we had visited during the last few weeks.  

The center is located next to the North Dakota State Capitol, a 19-story Art Deco tower often called the Skyscraper of the Prairies.  Unfortunately, the interior was not open, but we were able to walk around the grounds.

Skyscraper of the Prairies

When our Monday departure date arrived, we decided over breakfast that we really weren’t ready to leave.  Maybe we were being lazy, or maybe it was the weather, but we really didn’t care.  How nice it was to have the flexibility to change our minds.  We had the same reaction the following morning.  Just one more day seemed the way to go.  Our original three-night stay morphed into seven nights.

Just what did we do with our extra two days?  I worked on updating the blog, which was woefully behind (and still is – but, I’m almost caught up!).  It felt very satisfying to add several more posts and reflect back on our journey so far.

We also searched for a copy of Ken Burns’ “Lewis and Clark” DVD.  Ever since we decided to follow the Missouri River and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, I had been looking for the DVD.  I had so enjoyed Burns’ recent series “The Roosevelts” and wanted to see his perspective on the Corps of Discovery.  The DVD, however, was nowhere to be found.  The gift shop at Fort Union Trading Post sold its last copy before I made the decision to purchase a copy, and the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center had also sold out of their copies.  We looked for a copy in Bismarck to no avail.

So, as an alternative, I asked Tim to download the audio book for “Undaunted Courage,” the classic volume on Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery.  This would be my first audio book, and I thought it would be a great option for our driving days.  Besides, I’m not sure I would have taken the time to read the book’s 521 pages.

We enjoyed our month-long stay in North Dakota, but it was time to move in a southerly direction.  Up next would be our home state of South Dakota.  Stay tuned.


  1. Hope you have enjoyed "Undaunted Courage". Stu and I have both read it and loved it. I'm so glad you decided to follow this trail as now I can see pictures too. Thanks guys! LV

    1. I am really enjoying "Undaunted Courage." It is helping me gain a better understanding and appreciation for what we're seeing.


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