The Backroads and Byways of North Dakota

wpid39857-2015-08-19-SD-1670594.jpgPrior to our entry into North Dakota for the first time, I used to think of it as a faraway place up north, a state blanketed in snow, cold and desolate.  Thanks to the movie Fargo, that’s what I’ve always pictured North Dakota to be.  But with the recent oil boom and the advent of fracking, I also imagined the entire state with oil wells scattered all over the place – just like what I saw in Pecos, Texas.

Highway 14, North Dakota
Heading toward Bismarck on highway 14

But as we drove along I was pleasantly surprised by what we saw.  The landscape was dominated by agriculture – wheat, alfalfa, oats, canola, flax, and corn – providing a scenery unique to this state (in my humble opinion).  Of course, we saw similar landscape in Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska, with miles and miles of corn fields.  But North Dakota displayed unique, vibrant and diverse farmlands that were quite colorful.  And as the old saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Devils Lake, North Dakota
“Prairie potholes” filled with beautiful clear water along highway 19

Summer comes alive in North Dakota and I tried to capture it, doing some “drive-by shooting” as Betsy cruised along.  These photos were taken as we traversed highways 2, 19, 14, 85 and I-94 at different times of the day.  For those who have driven here, bear with my exuberance as it doesn’t take much to get me happy and excited!

Wheat Harvesting in North Dakota
These folks are harvesting either wheat or durum wheat

For a little fun I included some North Dakota facts gathered from the Visitor Center:

  • Did you know that the parking meter was invented in North Dakota?
Highway 85 S
Highway 85 displays layers of crop colors
  • North Dakota has 63 wildlife refuges – more than any other state – and all are managed for waterfowl protection.  Farms and ranches provide food and habitat for 75% of the state’s wildlife.
Sea gulls
Seagulls along Devil’s Lake on Highway 2
  • North Dakota has the highest number of millionaires per capita of any state, and there’s not a yuppie to be found here.
Highway 85 S
A millionaire’s junkyard along Highway 85
  • North Dakota has more golf courses per capita than any other state.  Take note, my golfing friends!
I94 S highway
Cruising down I-94 – there’s a golf course out there somewhere!
  • By 2000, 99.5% of North Dakota’s original grassland had been turned into farms and ranches.  This state leads the nation in the production of many crops, including wheat, durum wheat, sunflowers, barley, dry edible beans, canola and flaxseed to name a few.
Highway 2 W
Rolling hills along highway 14
  • In 2012, North Dakota was the fastest-growing state in the U.S.  It’s growth was largely due to an oil boom in the Bakken fields in the western part of the state.  After Texas, North Dakota has become the highest petroleum-producing state.  In just five years it has gone from a quiet agricultural state to a rapidly industrialized energy powerhouse.
Oil Wells along Highway
Oil wells amidst wheat fields on highway 85
  • Despite its oil boom, agriculture and farming are still North Dakota’s top industries. An average farm here is 1,300 acres, and approximately 30,000 families own farms in the state.
Black Butte, ND
Black Butte is a 3,465 ft. mountain peak seen from the Enchanted Highway
  • North Dakota is the least-visited state in America, and we were very glad to be here.

Highway 14S North Dakota

Highway 14 E North Dakota

  • North Dakota farmland would cover over 12 million city blocks.  Farmers here produce enough wheat each year to make 12.6 billion loaves of bread.

Wheat Farm along Enchanted Highway, ND

  • North Dakota leads the nation in sunflower production, raising about half of the nation’s total.

Sunflower Fields, North Dakota

Sunflowers in North Dakota
Sea of sunflowers

And then there’s the Enchanted Highway –

One of the facts I mentioned above was that North Dakota is the least-visited state.  Gary Greff, a retired school teacher and metal sculptor from the town of Regent, created and built several metal sculptures along the Regency-Gladstone Road.  He did it in the hopes of putting his hometown prominently on the map, and to coax travelers from nearby I-94 onto the quiet highway.  He began his work in 1990, and so far seven sculptures have been completed.

Greff is credited with naming this 32-mile stretch of road the Enchanted Highway.  All of the sculptures face north, toward the oncoming traffic from the interstate.

Deer Crossing, Enchanted Highway
“Deer Crossing” was constructed out of used oil well tanks and erected in 2002
Giant Grasshoppers
“Grasshoppers in the Field”
Fisherman's Dream- Enchanted Highway North Dakota
“Fisherman’s Dream” includes 6 large fish of different sizes, including a 60 ft. leaping trout going after a giant dragonfly.
Pheasants on the Prairie, Enchanted Highway North Dakota
“Pheasants on the Prairie” is a giant rooster and hen with their three chicks
Geese in Flight, Enchanted Highway
“Geese in Flight” has been listed as the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records.  It can be seen along I-94
Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again, Enchanted Highway
“Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again” is a 51-ft. tall wire sculpture made out of steel pipes

I didn’t make it to the “Tin Family” sculpture at the 32-mile mark, for I was getting hungry and wanted to catch up with Steve, who went on with Betsy to our next RV park.

If you find yourself driving along I-94 in western North Dakota one day, steer your car onto exit 72 and get enchanted by these giant sculptures.  And while you’re at it, be sure to drop some money in the donation boxes, as Gary is doing this fine work in his spare time and at no charge.

And there you have it, a little chunk of summer in North Dakota!













  1. We really enjoyed driving across North Dakota. The fields of sunflowers are just gorgeous. So glad you are having this experience, too:) I don’t remember any of the other sculptures but we did see the “Geese in Flight.” Beautiful! Thanks for sharing the others.

  2. Those sunflower fields are beautiful. Thanks for all the fun ND facts. And as pretty as it is, I still wouldn’t want to find myself there some winter…. brutal.

  3. We too loved North Dakota although I feel very sorry for the people now with all the fracking ruining their drinking water and no one owning up to that’s what’s doing it. I loved the sculptures especially Geese in Flight. Hope you are going to the National Park. We spent two wonderful weeks there. I’m actually very sorry North Dakota gave up all their original natural prairie for farmland.

  4. Very interesting information about North Dakota. I didn’t know it was the least visited state – we’ve been there! Love the sunflowers! I’m with you. I love driving through farmland and seeing the huge fields of crops. I’m also guilty of taking pictures out the truck window!

  5. So interesting, ML. I would never have guessed that North Dakota is the least visited state. We’ve never been there (well, I haven’t been since I was a child on a family road trip), but your beautiful photos are very enticing. Very cool sculptures, gorgeous fields of sunflowers, and picturesque farmland. We’ll definitely put North Dakota on our list!

  6. The Enchanted Highway is one of my favorite finds. Amazing metal sculptures. The Prairie Family shouldn’t be missed (you will have to return some day!). We were in ND in 2003, almost a decade before the oil wells appeared. A return trip is on my list!

    Your sunflower shots were terrific. Thanks for sharing.

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