A Visit to the Desert of North Dakota

North Dakota? Home to a desert? Who would have guessed that. North Dakota is fairly well known for it’s immense flatness and subzero coldness, which doesn’t quite fit the bill for what is traditionally thought of as a “desert.” Okay, so maybe North Dakota doesn’t quite have a desert, but it does have some pretty spectacular-looking Badlands in the southwest corner of the state.

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This past weekend, I went camping in the Badlands of North Dakota with this guy named Dan. Dan and I have been hanging out for the past few months, and I think I can safely say that he is basically my only friend in Jamestown at the moment. Well, technically he is my boyfriend but that’s beside the point. Not that I’m 100% clear on what the point here is. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been working here since May and I haven’t made any friends other than the dietitian (who was also my preceptor at the State Hospital this past spring) I work with. And even so, she’s more of an aunt-like figure in my life rather than a friend. Making friends is hard, especially when you don’t have a great affinity toward most people, like I do.

Okay so now that we have covered the fact that I don’t have any friends, let’s get back to the camping trip.

We stayed in a campground outside of Medora, ND. If you’re wondering where Medora is, just find I-94 on a map and go approximately 25 miles east of the Montana-North Dakota boarder. It’s a good distance (as in 130 to 330 miles) from basically all larger cities besides Dickinson, but even Dickinson is 40 or so miles away. Medora sits right on the southern edge of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Which is the only National Park in North Dakota. So that’s neat. National Parks are always fun. I honestly don’t know if people actually live in Medora or not, or if it is basically a summer tourist-trap town and people commute every day or live in housing during the busy season. Totally unsure. I guess I could have asked someone, but that would require interaction with another human being. So I’ll have to settle with never knowing. Which is fine.

Dan and I left Jamestown around 11 am on Friday morning. We arrived in Medora (after Google Maps took us on a super random dirt road that we definitely did not need to drive on, there were a lot of cattle on the road, which made for difficult driving. The scenery was breathtaking, however.) around 3:00 or so. And actually, we were planning on staying at Sully Creek State Park, which was about 2 miles south of Medora, but when we got there the park ranger told us that all of the campsites were full. Everything out there is non-reservable, and is on a first-come, first-served basis. Apparently there was some big bike race that weekend, and there were people from all over there to ride their bikes in either the 25 mile or the 100 mile bike race. Now, I enjoy riding my bicycle, but 100 miles seems excessive. If I were to hop on my bike right now, without any training, it would probably take me about 9-ish hours to go 100 miles. And that would be 9-ish hours without stopping. So, good for those people who spent their Saturday riding their bicycles for an inordinately large amount of miles; I spent mine sleeping in and looking at colorful dirt hills. But more of that in a moment.

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The colorful dirt hills.

Dan and I set up the tent, which was much easier to assemble than the tent that I had when I went on my road trip out west with Sara and Jennifer. And Dan had totally offered us his tent but we decided to go with someone else’s tent, which was great but it definitely leaked. Dan’s tent, we found out that night, does not leak, which is a nice characteristic for a tent to have. It also has a fancy little porch area, screened in, of course, in which all of the shoes and dirt from the shoes can gather. This porch area also get super full of water when it rains, as the rain fly does not cover that particular part of the tent, but the designers of the tent kept this in mind and made sure that there is a handy way of removing any puddles from inside the tent. So, to make a long story short, Dan’s tent is a good tent, and does not leak. Actually I think this is the first time I have slept in a tent and not gotten wet. And I’ve gone camping a lot. I guess we just had bad luck with tents.

Okay, so tent was assembled, and we were hungry so we walked to town. Oh, yeah. So since the Sully Creek State Park sites were all full, we asked the Park Ranger where else we might stay. He gave us a few suggestions, and Dan called these suggestions. We managed to find a place to stay, at the Medora Campground. Which was conveniently located about half a mile from its namesake. So, Dan and I walked to the town and wandered around a bit. We had already decided that we would eat at a place called Badlands Pizza, because Dan loves pizza and requires pizza at least 2 times per week. We got there before the dinner rush, and we had nothing to do for the next two hours, so we got a pitcher of Summer Shandy and drank that, and then we got a bottle of Moscato, which we also drank. I am not a beer person in the slightest, but Summer Shandy was tolerable. The wine, however, was delicious. We ordered a pizza with vegetables, and it was spicy, so I did not enjoy it. I’m sure the average person would have not thought anything of the spice, but as the saying goes: “Swedes think milk is a spice.” I guess that fits, because I do not like spicy food. But my mom, who is 100% Swedish though and through, loves spicy food, so much so that she probably doesn’t even notice when it is spicy and so I have to specifically request that she not make food spicy to which I receive an eye roll and a mini-lecture on how spicy food is good for me. Yes, I am aware of the health benefits of spicy food, but that doesn’t change the fact that it hurts my tongue. So, for now, I will avoid spicy foods, lest my tongue fall off in protest.

After pizza and beer and wine (does pizza go with wine? We weren’t sure, but we also didn’t really care.), we made our way to the Medora Musical. Since we had been drinking, we decided to walk. It was only like, a mile and a half, but this mile included a rather large hill, which we had not been anticipating. We were offered a ride, once, but we declined. The walk was good for us, and it only took about half an hour.

The Medora Musical is a musical (who would have guessed) that is held every night during the summer. They do a different show every year, but the same show every night. It’s kind of a big deal, like, multiple-billboards-along-major-interstates-in-North Dakota-and-probably-Minnesota-and-maybe-South Dakota-kind-of-deal. Yeah. So, it was an experience, and my first time attending the Medora Musical will likely be my last. The singers were good, but it just wasn’t really my style. Too much country. Which I probably should have expected, but to be honest I didn’t really know what to expect. Anyway, I can now cross the Medora Musical off of the bucket list of things that I didn’t know I would ever have on a bucket list.

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A nice photo of the outdoor amphitheater in Medora. I think they’re trying to channel a Hollywood-esk vibe.

So after the musical concluded, Dan and I walked back to our campsite. It was cold but we survived. Going downhill is incidentally much easier than going uphill. We made it to the tent, and shortly thereafter it started raining. Which is very pleasant when you know that the tent isn’t going to leak.

On Saturday, we got up and had breakfast and eventually got our act together enough to go do something. We decided to drive through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park since it was possibly going to rain more and we also had no idea what else to do in Medora. We could have played mini golf. Or real golf. But those require effort and besides, I’m not really good at golf, real or mini. So driving through the national park, to observe the beauty of the world while polluting it with carbon emissions from the vehicle, seemed the better option.

IMG_4380_1_1T. R. National Park is a lovely place, though. So many hills and so much dirt. Colorful dirt, though. I believe the rock that this area is known for is scoria. It’s a fancy red volcanic rock. Lovely. So, side note: I collect rocks, quite avidly. Not for any particular reason other than to clean them and place them in a jar with a label. I have approximately 70 some jars of rocks from places I have been. No clue what I am going to do with them, but for now I have a good shelf at my parent’s house in Minnesota for them to rest upon. Anyway, the national park. It was a good 40-ish mile loop around the South Unit of the park, and we stopped occasionally for photos. We stopped at this one place, called Wind Canyon. It was, you guessed it, a canyon with the Missouri River flowing through it, and several rock formations with fancy holes in them from the wind being powerful and windy and forming said holes. It was rather neat.

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Hey look, it’s Wind Canyon! And the Missouri River.
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The fancy holes made by the fierce wind.
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And the lovely rocks I was able to choose from.

Probably the most-neat part about this little area was the fact that we could get down to the river. It was about a quarter-mile trek along a cow-path, which quite possibly could have been fraught with rattlesnakes but that did not even cross my mind. I was super focused on collecting rocks. Now, I realize that this probably wasn’t the most legal thing I’ve ever done, seeing as I was trespassing  on protected land and such. But hey, needs must. I collected my rocks and we made our way back to the car, sans rattlesnake interference, and continued on our merry way. We drove around some (mega) curves and Dan was like, why do you speed up when you go around a curve and I was like, because it’s awesome. So that’s how that went.

Please enjoy these photos featuring the North Dakota Badlands.

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And because I can’t go anywhere without taking pictures of flowers and/or grass:

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Do you see the Missouri River hiding behind this scraggly-looking sunflower? 🙂

20170805_130531_1_1IMG_4383_1_1We made it back to our campsite and decided to nap, which turned into a 2.5 hour sleep. And then we were hungry so we went back into town for more pizza. And we had the same waiter from South Africa. And of course he remembered us. Also we happened to sit in the same booth as we had the night before. But the pizza was 100% times better, as we got a cheese and mushroom pizza, with half pepperoni because Dan needed to have meat on his pizza. Which means it wasn’t spicy, so my mouth was happy. We had more wine and got pleasantly drunk. We were walking around Medora at like, 10 pm and “apparently” I was being “rambunctious” because I was doing “crow pose” in the “street.” Improper use of quotation marks? Of course not. But maybe.

We made our way back to the tent and then it started raining, again. And the tent did not leak, again. Which was nice. And then Sunday came and we packed everything up and headed back to Jamestown. It was a good adventure in the desert-y hills of North Dakota, the existence of which I feel the majority of people are not aware of.

IMG_4418_1_1Another thing you may or may not be aware of:

IMG_4402_1_1NORTH DAKOTA GROWS ITS OWN CACTI. LIKE, WHAT? They were the cutest little cacti and I really really really wanted to take one but Dan said no. He said that it wanted to stay in the ground and that I would likely kill it during transport from its natural dirt home to a new fake dirt home. So I reluctantly moved on. After taking some pictures, of course. 🙂

The Journey Home.

We began our long and arduous journey home at 10 am, Pacific time, after a weird and somewhat cryptic conversation with the store keeper. We preferred his wife, she was a nice woman. This dude was odd as heck. Anyway.

We woke up at 9 and packed up the tent and repacked the car, and then we were off! On the road back out to Ilwaco, we saw A MAMA BLACK BEAR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. Oh boy did we get excited. And then, we looked to the right and there, in the tree, just chillin’, was a little black bear cub! We died, he was so cute. We sat there for about 3 minutes, and then he climbed away and we also climbed away, except we were in a car so it was more like we drove away.

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The little bebe black bear! Be still, my heart. 

We drove north on Highway 101 for a while, and then I think we took something that may have been a highway 18 or a highway 7. Either way, it took us to I-5, which led directly to I-90. After that it was a straight shot west; it could not have been any easier. We stopped on occasion to use the bathroom, to get some food, and to stretch our legs, which usually happened because the one of the first two were occurring. I drove from literally the coast of Washington all the way to Billings, Montana. A solid 17 hours of driving through two and a half states (I’m totally counting the 80 miles we drove in Idaho as a state) under my belt. After a brief stop in Billings, we continued on our merry way. Jennifer drove from Billings to Dickinson, ND, and then I continued dirving all the way back to Grand Forks. In retrospect, that was probably not a great idea, me driving for like, a bazillion hours with little-to-no sleep. But hey we didn’t die, so score one for us!

We made it back to Grand Forks around 5 pm on Saturday, and by 8 pm we were back on the road. Sara was driving this time; we packed her car and took off for the cities. I curled up in the back seat and slept for about an hour and a half or so, bringing my grand total of hours slept in the past 36 to about two. Woo!

The three of us made it to the cities around 1 am, and after Sara and I said our goodbyes to dear Jennifer, we made our way south to our MN home. We arrived around 3 am, and we didn’t even bother to unpack any of our things. We practically fell into our beds and passed out until 1 pm on Sunday.


The following week was one of rest and recuperation. Sara and I didn’t do much, other than go on long walks and watch American Horror Story: Hotel. If you haven’t seen it, you definitely should. Lady Gaga is queen.

And with that, the saga of our super epic road trip is done. It was a really freaking awesome week, full of mountains and forests and oceans, and while I did put 3700 miles on my Jeep I’m gonna go ahead and say it was totally worth it.

Thanks Jen and Sara, for proving to me that we are adult enough to handle a road trip on our own. Till the next one! 🙂


Oh yeah, here are some more photos of flowers. You’re welcome.

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I believe this is Foxglove, it was near the coastal trail but since I only had a dead camera at the time I had to come back before we left Cape Disappointment and snap a few photos. 
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This is Coastal Rhododendron, which is the state flower of Washington. Oh my, were they ever in bloom this year! So flipping gorgeous, in colors ranging from red to purple to orange to pink. 
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I don’t know what this is, but I’m okay with that. 
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Oh, also here’s some moss. I’ll just leave this here for you.

Cape Disappointment did NOT live up to its name. Which is a good thing. I think.

On Thursday morning we awoke to a wet tent. It had rained during the night, and our pillows and most of Jennifer were decently damp. Mildly annoying.

We ate a spot of breakfast, and then we got dressed and ready for the day. Since this was our only full day at Cape Disappointment we decided we were going to do every trail. Which is exactly what we did.

We started out with the coastal loop trail that brought us next to the Columbia River outlet, and we could see the town of Ilwaco, Washington, from across the.. bay? River? Giant water puddle? Unsure, but the logistics are unimportant. What is important is the fact that my camera died during the middle of this hike. I was quite saddened by this, but I quickly moved on and started taking photos with my phone instead. Thank goodness for the fancy cameras that smart phones have these days!

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A lovely shot of our trail. A bit too much mud, if you ask me. Not that you are. But if you were to ask, that’s what I would say.
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Over yonder water is Ilwaco, WA; a town where the only gas station does not have a bathroom. Like, what?
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Sara and Jen, taking in the sights.
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So this photo isn’t great, but I can’t tell you how absolutely excited I got when I saw this heron. I love herons. They are my most favorite bird. Not 100% sure why, they just are.

After moving through this trail, we headed over to a parking lot, where we parked the car (who would have thought!) and hiked up to the old Cape Disappointment lighthouse. We passed by the Lewis and Clark interpretive center, and we might have stopped there if it hadn’t been for the two-bus-fulls of smallish children who made a bee-line straight for the center. So we avoided that place like the plague. Which was fine, we did a bit of interpretations regarding Lewis and Clark on our own. I don’t think I’ll get into that on here; some things are just better left un-typed.

We made our way to the lighthouse, and it was a lovely old lighthouse.

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I just love the wonderful indigo color of the ocean.

20170601_112312_1_1So we hung out with the light house for a while before making the trek back to the car. We headed down to the beach to sit on driftwood while Jennifer ate her apple. At least I think it was an apple. Was it an apple, Jen?

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That’s just so much driftwood.
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A nice little panoramic shot of the beach.
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I haven’t included any flower photos in this post yet, so here you go. I have no idea what these flowers are but I just LOVE the purple-pink-ombre thing they have going on. Also that lovely little water droplet. Really just sets the mood, wouldn’t you say

So after our brief hiatus on the driftwood of the beach, we decided to move on and do the last trail. This trail would be the longer of the three that we were doing, and it definitely proved to be the most difficult as well. This trail would lead us to the North Head Lighthouse, and the path was fraught with salamanders and mud. The trail was in the process of being updated, and by that I mean there were piles of lumber hanging out in the woods. So in the mean time, we had to forage our way through this trail which had more tree roots sticking out than was necessary.But! We survived! It was only about a 2.5 mile hike, but it took much longer than it needed to because of the less-than-ideal trail conditions. The rain the night before also did not help to make the trail more ideal. Oh, well.

As we approached the ocean, we heard a curious barking noise, and then we all got so super excited because we were hearing SEALS! The fellas must have been hanging out on the beach, and were just chattering away! We ran about 10 feet in our excitement before realizing that running was a dumb idea, as it would likely result in us not getting there any more quickly and just ending up with a twisted/sprained/shattered ankle and/or knee. So we continued walking at a pace that was appropriate for this somewhat awful and slightly dangerous trail. After some more time passed, we did make it to the lighthouse. Which was also under construction. How typical.

20170601_131650_1_1There was a couple sitting on a bench near this area, and they had a pair of binoculars and were “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” at something. They turned to us and told us that there were a couple of whales out in the distance, and proceeded to borrow us their binoculars so that we too, could “ooo” and “ahh” at the whales. They were quite lovely; having never seen a whale in the flesh before, I thought they were quite extraordinary, as well. The couple (hailing from California) also pointed out the seals to us, frolicking down in the waves. Oh they were just so cute! Gosh.

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The Cape, from the vantage point of North Head Lighthouse.

20170601_131852_1_1After we had our fill of whale- and seal-watching, we decided to head back. We made a solid attempt at going down the cliff-side to get to the beach, which would have ended up being a shorter route back to the campsite, but the path got real sketchy real fast, so we just went back the way we came. That’s right, all 2.5 miles of death-trail.

That may be a bit melodramatic. In reality, heading back did not take nearly as long as it did heading to the lighthouse. That’s usually how it ends up being, though.

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Hopefully you enjoy the photo of this funky-looking plant as much as I do.

We made it back to the car, and with muddy shoes and wet socks we headed back to the campsite. Two-thirds of us took showers, and then we hopped back in the car and drove on down to the great state of Oregon. Astoria, to be specific.

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Proof that I’ve been to Oregon! Yay!

I had made the connection between Astoria and the fun-loving, adventuring-having 80s movie The Goonies, when we were eating Mexican food on drive from Sol Duc. Oh man, did we get excited. Because the movie was shot in Astoria, the house that Mikey and Brand lived in is actually still there, and is currently occupied by some crotchety people who don’t allow visitors.Once we crossed the excessively long bridge that linked Washington with Oregon, we made our way down the somewhat confusing streets of Astoria to the Goonies House. Where we immediately became intimidated by the signs that said “DO NOT APPROACH WE WILL CALL THE POLICE” and so we parked about three blocks away and got as close as we dared. Which wasn’t very close.

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The Goonies House is the white one in the background. Like, the way background. In the middle. Because we didn’t dare to get any closer.

After our excursion to the Goonies House, we needed to find food. We ate at a place called the Wet Dog Cafe; not a super appetizing name, but that didn’t really matter because the food was absolutely amazing. I had a salmon burger. Super double yum.

To top off the night, we decided to get some ice cream, so we found this little place that puts potato chips on top of their ice cream sundaes. An odd yet delicious combination.

After the ice cream, we decided to get gas, because it was cheaper in Astoria than any place we had seen in Washington. So, I pull up to the pump, get out, and proceed to put the card in the thing. Then all of a sudden, this guy jogs out to my Jeep and was like, “I’ll get that for you.” Which leads me to stare at him blankly, because I am perfectly capable of filling up my own gas thank you very much. Had this happened like, 5 years ago I would have been like, heck yeah you can definitely fill up my gas and I’ll just take you with me so that you can always fill up my gas. But it wasn’t 5 years ago, it was right now, and I was confused. The man, his name was Stephen (but may have been pronounced like Steven), said to me, “Did you forget you were in Oregon?” Like I was some sort of person who forgets where they are. No, I did not forget I was in Oregon, I was apparently just very ignorant of the state-wide law which banned civilians from pumping their own gas. They have special people who do that for them, to prevent explosions I think.

Needless to say, I was mildly embarrassed and thoroughly confused when I got back in the car, which caused Sara and Jennifer to also become thoroughly confused. Jen used her handy-dandy phone to look up why in the heck I was unable to pump my own gas, and that’s when we discovered that we were in one of two states that ban people from this activity. Weird. The other state is New Jersey. Who knew!

After the gas-pumping fiasco, we made our way back to the campsite and promptly went to sleep, on our more-damp-than-dry pillows.

Ah well, there could be worse things!