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Category: North Dakota

Final Day: Prairies, Bison And A Surprise Encounter With a Nuclear Missile Launch Site

Final Day: Prairies, Bison And A Surprise Encounter With a Nuclear Missile Launch Site

The last day on this trip was really only a half day. After doing my usual packing routine, making sure I left nothing behind, I took a look at myself in the mirror – a solo adventurer for possibly the last time in my life…

…and then I was off.

My main target today was the Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve. This had actually been a national park at one time – and let me tell you something – I don’t suppose I’ll be in Devils Lake again anytime soon, but this is one hell of a free experience.

First a couple of stops along the lake. Apparently, the thing about Devils Lake is that it regularly expands and contracts, swamping forests and occasionally houses.

Hey guys, long time no see.

After that, it was on to Sully’s Hill which is effectively a safari exclusively for big plains animals like elk and bison. Back in the early 1900’s, as these giants were being hunted to near extinction, Teddy Roosevelt set up what are effectively safe havens to ensure these species would survive. Now they let you drive around amongst them – for FREE! Ariel and I had been to one near Denver a few years ago and it was really cool. This one might have been even better. It was basically deserted and also included forest drives, a prairie dog town (!!!) and a scenic overlook of Devils Lake.

Sully’s Hill Forest Drive.

Really cool stuff.

From there, it was time to head to the airport. With four hours until my flight and only about 90 minutes of driving to get there, I was free to take my time. This meant I could go a little out of my way and stumble randomly across a decommissioned nuclear missile silo.

A random nuclear missile bunker.

So so so cool. And more than a little terrifying in our current geopolitical environment. They actually have a ton of these all over the Dakotas, Wyoming and Colorado. I’d been to one in South Dakota on my big roadtrip in 2010. That one was unreal because they let you actually go into the control room where “missiliers” (the guys who actually push the buttons) sat for years waiting for the orders to destroy the planet.

This wasn’t that, but still a cool find in the middle of nowhere. And it was also fascinating that it was right next to yet another sunflower farm.

The rest of the day passed without incident. I stopped a few times to take in the scenery and just appreciate the splendor of this beautiful country of ours.

This is an open road song.

And then, it was over. I returned my trusty Hyundai Sante Fe to the rental car company at Fargo, went through security, boarded the plane and headed home, to Ariel and Sammy…

Final tally: 3 states, 1 Canadian province, 4 international border crossings, 1,276 miles 1 border incident

Now Ariel and I leave for Alaska on what is OKPROBABLYACTUALLY going to be the last adventure we go on before the baby.

Stay tuned for that as we take one last trip before our family grows.

Day 3: An Anti-Climactic Conclusion, A Detainment, And An Amazing Sunset

Day 3: An Anti-Climactic Conclusion, A Detainment, And An Amazing Sunset

Keeping with the Paul Bunyan theme of the last post, the morning of Day 3 started with a trip to his….grave?

The inscription reads: “Here Lies Paul – And That’s All”

I don’t know. This was pretty amusing considering there’s about a 99.9999999% chance this guy never existed. But it was somehow a little moving. Paul Bunyan is awesome. Is this really where he’s buried?

No. It isn’t. But still.

Anyway. So I finally made it to the northernmost point of the contiguous United States – Northwest Angle, Minnesota. This was a pretty great moment because I’ve been to all of the other extremes as well as the geographic center of the United States.

The northernmost point in the contiguous USA. Or close enough to it.

So this was it.

It was……not so exciting. I mean it was cool to cross this off the list. But the location itself was not so inspiring. I mean it was fine. But it’s not even the “real” northernmost point, which is unmarked and requires a guide or a boat to get to. No thanks. This was good enough for me. It was also a pain to get to, with gravel roads making the last 30 miles of the journey through Canada and back into Minnesota a slog. It was pretty cool to use the video phone to check in with both US and Canadian customs as I went in/out. Still…not the most exciting moment of my life. Not even the most exciting on this trip (the first moments in Minnesota or the headwaters of the Mississippi would take that crown).

Oh and in a final insult, the only restaurant in town can only cook fish that you catch yourself!

Jerry’s Restaurant: The very first BYOF establishment I’ve ever been to.

It’s not really their fault, there’s some regulation issues with them catching fish from the lake. But what the hell! I did have a nice conversation with the bartenders there about life in “the Angle”. It’s crazy, but from 6th grade onwards, kids have to cross the border back into the “mainland” of Minnesota each day to go to school! It’s two hours including a customs inspection EACH WAY. EVERY DAY. UGH!!!!!

From Angle Inlet, I had a decision to make. Do I head right back into the US and make for North Dakota or gun it across Manitoba into Saskatchewan to get credit for the province. After an hour of gravel roads though, and realizing that it would take me about ten hours out of my way (AND through Canada which means either international roaming charges or no phone for an entire day) I decided to play it safe.

That’s just about enough of this…

Turns out it was probably for the best, because crossing back into the US at the Roseau border crossing was a bit of an adventure. I’ve crossed in and out of Canada lots of times by car and never had any issues. Apparently though, my story about Ariel being away for the weekend, prompting me to fly to Iowa and drive all the way up to the Angle and back was not too believable.

The border patrol woman had me drive off to the side and then politely asked (ordered) me out of the car. It might have been my imagination but I’m pretty sure she had her hand close to her hip (i.e. close to her gun) the entire time. She also made a point of stating that my door was unlocked which allowed her to open and inspect the car. Now I had nothing to hide obviously, but when I realized that this whole time they still had not returned my passport, I started to get nervous.

I had to wait in the facility with another agent while she performed a thorough search of my car. She even got the mirror pole thing to look underneath. And the whole time she’s doing that, I’m standing inside, at a counter (like at a deli), while the other agent is politely asking (interrogating) me questions. Now he didn’t CALL it an interrogation. And it wasn’t like in the movies with the bright lights and all that, but he was asking me lots of questions – in a way that was designed to just sound like a chat – but was clearly looking to poke holes in my story.

Like he mentioned to me that he saw I’d been to the Dominican Republic “a few times” – that’s not true. I was only there once and my passport was clearly stamped as such. He asked me where I lived, what I did for a living, where else I’d been in the United States. Did I eat anything while I was in the Angle? What was it? Where did I eat it? It was all very non-confrontational, but just knowing what he was doing (and what she was doing in my car), made me feel like I DID have something to hide, even though I didn’t.

And I kept thinking about what the female guard said when she had me get out of the car. I’d mentioned that Ariel was at a bachelorette party this weekend which is why I was free to travel on my own. She asked me if she was ALREADY my wife, how is she at her OWN bachelorette party. Which of course, she wasn’t. She was at her FRIEND’S party. But I guess the agent mis-heard that and therefore thought I was lying.

Again, I knew I had nothing to hide, but all kinds of visions of crooked cops planting evidence flashed through my mind. Had I actually done something wrong that they saw on camera as I approached without knowing about it? What if they didn’t like my (always problematic) attitude/demeanor and decided to teach me a lesson?

And I still had not been given my passport back…

Eventually, the agent came back and just inserted herself into the conversation I was already having with the other guy…who FINALLY gave me back my passport. We had a discussion about where I was going next (Devils Lake, ND) and what they both thought of the area. In the end, I had to ask if I was free to go. No one told me I was in the clear until I asked. And I just knew that they still didn’t believe anything I told them. And really why would they? What kind of weirdo comes ALL THE WAY from New Jersey to go the freakin’ Northwest Angle? Having been there, I can understand their skepticism.

Welcome home…well maybe “welcome” isn’t exactly the right word here.

So that was not so fun to deal with, but hey adventures aren’t all pony-rides in May-sunshine right?

Finally I was back on the road. And finally after two miserable, grey, drizzly/rainy days, as I headed west I could see a literal end to the overcast.

It was amazing, like I had been driving through the Holland Tunnel for two days and suddenly burst out in to the light. Only instead of Jersey City, I was greeted with one of my favorite landscapes in the world.

My mighty steed for this trek, a maroon Hyundai Sante Fe….

As the sun went down I stopped by the side of the road…next to a SUNFLOWER FARM. One of the greatest places I’ve ever watched the sunset.

Another hour of driving and I settled in at the Rodeway Motel at Devils Lake for the final night of the trip. All missions complete, back in America, my thoughts now turned to home as I turned in for the night.

And that was Day 3.