Having just returned from North Dakota, I got a hint what things will be like in January or February. Even early in November, much of the state was blanketed with snow and temperatures barely reached freezing during the day. At night, the mercury dipped down to single digits Fahrenheit (that’s in the -10º to -20º range Celsius). It may have been a bit colder than a typical late autumn day, but not by much. Winter comes early in North Dakota. Fortunately the highways were clear of snow, so the driving was great.
The trip started out well. Sadly it didn’t stay that way. A four hour delay in Chicago put me way behind schedule, and instead of arriving in Bismarck around 3:30pm, I pulled out of the airport rental car lot around 8:00 Friday evening. I postponed my stop at the county courthouse in Bismarck until the end of the trip, so only had one county seat to visit before reaching my hotel. Driving after dark especially at the end of a long day is not something I particularly enjoy, though sometimes circumstances leave no alternative. While I don’t mind starting out before sunrise, I prefer to enjoy the evening hours in whatever town I’m visiting. In the summer, it’s nice to stroll around town. If there’s nothing of interest within walking distance, relaxing at the hotel is always a possibility. That option is doubly good when it's so cold outside.
As it was already several hours past sunset when I started, I was unable to photograph the Kidder County courthouse in Steele, but at least I mailed my postcard noting the time and date of my brief stop. It was almost 10:00 when I finally reached the Fairfield Inn in Jamestown, one of only 12 Marriott properties in the entire state. This marked my first Marriott stay in North Dakota, and brings me up to 43 states plus the District of Columbia in which I’ve made a Marriott stay. A late dinner at a 24 hour diner wrapped up a much longer day than I had originally envisioned.
One interesting feature of the FFI in Jamestown is the “indoor water park.” It’s really just a couple of water slides, but I haven’t encountered anything quite this fancy at a FFI before. While water slides are not something I care much about, I’m sure families on a cross-country road trip during summer would love them. They were popular with the teens even this time of the year.
There were not a lot of sights to explore over the weekend. Combined with the fact that the outside temperatures generally stayed below freezing. I was content to remain warm in my rental car as much as possible, stopping only to photograph courthouses and mail postcards. One exception was on the edge of town in Rugby, the Pierce County seat. Where routes US2 and ND3 cross, I discovered a monument noting the location as the geographical center of North America. Flags from Mexico, Canada, and the USA fluttered in the brisk breeze, and a signpost gives distances to the remote corners of the continent. I’m sure during the summer months, a handful of tourists stop by for a photo op. On this day, I may have been the only one.
Despite the cold (or maybe because of it) the snow-clad scenery took on a quiet beauty. Though much of the time, clouds stretched from horizon to horizon, when Sunday dawned clear, the early morning sun created dazzling sparkles among the ice crystals, diamonds winking in and out of existence as I raced past. Even the pheasants strolling along the roadside seemed to pause frequently to take in the splendor. While I would not enjoy the daily threat of frostbite and windburn that accompanies full winter, getting a glimpse of the frozen lakes, trees, and prairies made the trip special.
All too soon, I was back in Bismarck and getting ready for my mid-afternoon flight home. Over the course of the weekend, I visited 20 of the state’s 53 counties and drove 996 miles. In addition to the FFI in Jamestown, I stopped at the FFI in Minot. There was not a thing special or remarkable about that location. The postcards mailed on this trip were the first from North Dakota, as my list visit to the state back in 2000, predated my county collecting hobby. Assuming they all arrive, the counties in blue are the ones I collected during this visit.
This trip wraps up my county collecting for the year. I’ll put together my year in review complete with maps showing my progress and some remembrances from the road. Look for that in a few weeks.