Getting busy in Bismarck, ND

It was a bit of a letdown when we arrived at our super-tight and dusty campground near Bismarck, after seeing all of the fantastic open farmland during the drive to get there.  It seems many of the RV parks in this part of the country are heavily used by seasonal workers, and are definitely not “destination” parks.  But rather than complain about the place (which Steve did here), we got busy exploring the sights and attractions around Bismarck.


Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

This state park has three big historical stories to tell.  First, the Mandan Nation, an agricultural Indian tribe, lived here from 1575 to 1781.  Their “On-a-Slant Village” is described as a planned community set above the floodplain on the west bank of the Missouri River.  It was named because of its slope toward the river, and at least 86 round earthen lodges were discovered here in the late 1800’s.

When Lewis and Clark arrived in 1804, the village had been abandoned due to multiple smallpox epidemics and attacks by other Indian tribes.  The existing reconstructed earthen lodges provided a realistic backdrop on which to learn about the Mandan lifestyle and culture.

on a Slant Village
Reconstructed On-a -Slant Village

Next, in 1872, an infantry post was built atop a hill overlooking the Mandan village. Designated as Fort McKeen, it was established on the Missouri River bluff to protect surveyors and work crews from indian attacks.  Blockhouses and cornerstones of foundations mark the locations of buildings on the fort.

A blockhouse with a view!
These slots all around the blockhouse provided lookout spots and places from which to shoot at the enemy
Blockhouse at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
View of Missouri River from a slot in the blockhouse

A year later a cavalry post was built on the flats below, and the fort was renamed Fort Abraham Lincoln.  Its most famous resident was Lt. Col. George Custer.  By 188o the fort’s importance declined and it was abandoned and dismantled.  We missed the tour of the Custer House during our visit, but were able to walk around it to admire the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in rebuilding it.

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Reconstructed buildings at cavalry square with Custer house in the center

The third story describes how the (CCC) came in during the 1930’s to begin restoration of this important historical site.  They reconstructed a portion of the earthen lodges at their original locations, and rebuilt several buildings making up the Cavalry Square, including the Custer home.  At the heart of the state park is also the beautiful museum which the CCC built as well.

Scattered Corn
Scattered Corn helped the CCC design and reconstruct the earthen lodges

CCC at Fort Lincoln State Park
Thumbs up for the CCC boys, known locally as Badlanders.

North Dakota State Capitol

This is our third capitol building visit, and we were excited to learn how the North Dakotans built theirs.  The capitol is also known as the “Skyscraper on the Prairie,” for it stands proudly in the heart of Bismarck with no other buildings even coming close to its 18 floors.


Our tour guide talked about the colorful history of the building.  The first one built in 1883 burned down due to oily rags in a janitor’s closet.  A $2 million limit was set for reconstruction of the building.  The tight budget caused a disruption when the laborers went on strike, demanding a pay raise from 30 cents to 50 cents an hour.  Martial law was then declared and National Guards were posted to maintain order.  The building was finally completed in 1934 and occupied in 1935.

Memorial Hall, North Dakota
Memorial Hall – 40 ft. high, the columns and large window frames are bronze.  The light fixtures are 12 ft. long and shaped like wheat, each containing 109 bulbs
Legislative Hall, North Dakota State Capitol
Legislative Hall where state politicians take a break from their sessions
Elevator Door, State Capitol North Dakota
Bronze elevator door with symbols depicting history and industry

The guide also told us the state’s claim to fame is being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, for on Feb 17, 2007, 8,962 North Dakotans became snow angels outside the capitol building.

guinness Book of World Records
8,962 North Dakota snow angels on the capitol mall

But on this summer day we saw only green on the grounds, as viewed from the 18th floor observation deck.  This floor has both modern and historical displays of the capitol and its history, and on this very clear day we had a 35-mile view of Bismarck and the surrounding area in all directions.


State Museum at North Dakota Heritage Center

We were wowed when we entered the state museum – first of all because it’s free! – and secondly because it was sort of a “mini-Smithsonian” museum for the state.  It tells the stories of North Dakota from its earliest geologic formation to more current times.  It was recently reopened after a year of renovation which cost $52 million, and it’s the only museum of its kind between Minneapolis and Seattle.

We spent several hours viewing three galleries – the Adaptation Gallery tells the fascinating story of the geology and life in North Dakota beginning 600 millions years ago; The Innovation Gallery is devoted to the earliest people of North Dakota; finally, the Inspiration Gallery is about North Dakota’s past, and its ongoing story of the state and its people.

ND Heritage Center
The glass atrium is designed similar to an earthen lodge, constructed with 20 poles.  Outside are large round stones called cannonball concretions, stone formations which can be found in the badlands

One display contained the mummified remains of a duck-billed hadrosaur nicknamed “Dakota,” one of the rarest collections of dinosaur fossils ever found.  It was located in Marmarth, North Dakota in 1999.  I was fascinated by the overviews explaining how this dinosaur was found, and the process of getting it out of the Badlands and to the museum.

Dakota Dinosaur
Fossilized remains of a duck-billed hadrosaur
These examples of Teredo-bored petrified wood are unique to North Dakota

This museum is definitely worth checking out if you happen to be passing through the Bismarck area.

Lastly, we were happy to find some nice walking/biking trails that ran along the Missouri River in Bismarck.  Like several of the cities in this part of the country we have visited recently, Bismarck has dedicated a lot of land to open space for public use, including miles of trails.  Way to go!





  1. Living museums are some of my favorites to visit. The Mandan were smart building on the slope so they wouldn’t get flooded out; it also probably helped as any attacking enemy would have a more difficult time coming up a slope.

  2. Bismarck has a very interesting capital at 18 stories…wow. That’s one of the capitals we haven’t been to yet. At some point we’ll be visiting Bismarck to see the state capital and when we go, we now haw other places to see while we’re there, thanks to you.

  3. Back a long, long, time ago I took a tour of Fort Abraham Lincoln and the Custer house when I went to Bismarck, ND with the Army National Guard for an Enlisted Association conference. I would guess it was back in the late 1990’s.

    I remember while taking the tour of the Custer house one of the biggest mistakes a junior officer could make was to talk about Custer graduating last in his class from West Point.

    Also while we were there they had a steak dinner where they would boil the steaks on spades in vats of peanut oil just like they did with the soldiers of long ago. It was a very good tour and I can not wait until I can take the family there next time.


  4. Looks like a very interesting place to visit, Mona Liza. Love the photo of you and handsome Mr. Badlander. How useful it must be to have slots through which to shoot at the enemy. 😀

  5. You found lots to do as always. Love the fact that more and more cities seem to think open spaces are important.
    The pictures of the capital building are beautiful…especially the Memorial Hall.

  6. A new man AND a new purse! That’s an awful RV Park. However, the beauty of this lifestyle is everything’s temporary.

  7. Thanks for the memories:) We did all these things except we missed the last tour of the day at the capitol and had to walk around ourselves. We enjoyed the Hall of Fame and were so surprised by all the famous people that came from ND. A nice city that very few visit.

  8. That is definitely a bleak looking RV park. But you found some very cool things to explore! The Mandan village looks so interesting, and the State Museum looks fabulous! Beautiful architecture and displays. Love the photo of you with the CCC dude. 🙂

  9. This campground looks like others we saw and experienced during our time in ND. That Mandan Village looks very interesting and the architecture in the state capitol and Memorial Hall are beautiful.

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