Category Archives: THE WEST MISC

Enchanted Highway/ND, more Badlands and tribal territory in South Dakota

(From our September trip) We drove 6.5 hours south through gorgeous wide open country, ranch land , Indian reservations and South Dakota Badlands to Valentine, Nebraska, just over the South Dakota line and from there 40 minutes east to Sparks, NE where we are suddenly in a huge cabin (sunny brook cabin) by the side of the river — quite a change from the past three nights lodging where we had only a room to ourselves and the rest was shared space.

A highlight was the early part of our trip when we drove down a two-lane highway south from I-94 to Regent, ND through vast open fields of pasture, sunflowers and corn. The road was dotted with about six huge fantastic cut metal-and-welded metal sculptures, designed by a guy looking for a way to boost the economy of his small struggling town of Regent. It seemed to work because we weren’t the only ones opting for this road (there were other options) and pulling off every few miles to stare in wonder at massive metal sculptures — a grasshopper, flock of geese, fantasy fish, a farm family and of course Teddy Roosevelt on a bucking horse. Regent has a handful of worn buildings, several empty, one with a local history museum and one with a good gift shop where we bought a small replica of one of the Enchanted Highway’s metal sculptures. That will spice up our garden back in Iowa.

We made a u-turn in the small northern South Dakota (that’s confusing terminology) town of Lemmon, after driving past a local butcher, LemmonMade.

Me: Wait,wait, slow down, what was that?

Dirck: (half-heartedly) you want me to turn back?

Me: Yes please.

Dirck: (3/4ths-heartedly) Okay.

Turned out to be a great find. We loaded up on fresh brats, ground meat and teriyaki beef jerky— from what smelled outside like very nearby livestock. When in the Dakotas…

In South Dakota, we found a tiny picnic area by a small lake to eat lunch (now starring the beef jerky) and continued on almost empty two-lane highway through several reservations (standing rock, Cheyenne river, pine ridge, and rosebud.) We saw only a few signs that we were in tribal territory including a handmade sign reading “Indigenous Lives Matter,” a casino area inside a gas station/convenience store and a Covid -19 checkpoint at the Pine Ridge Reservation manned by several no-nonsense Native Americans wearing masks, the only masks we saw during our 6-hour drive. (We didn’t go through the checkpoint and probably couldn’t. Tribal communities have been hard hit by the virus and are taking it seriously. The checkpoint was a sign we were driving the wrong direction. Fortunately briefly). We also passed a fat ass tractor flying a Trump 2020 flag and a few other trump signs.

Now we are in our rustic cabin by the Niobrara River, which we discovered has no plates, cups or silverware – apparently removed due to Covid. This place isn’t cheap so not good. We fortunately were warned to bring our own bedding and towels, also a preventative Covid measure, which doesn’t make that much sense science-wise. We had some plastic plates and plastic ware in the car so we managed to eat our brats (purchased at the roadside butcher in Lemmon, ND.) We also wisely grocery-shopped at the IGA in Valentine before the 40-minute drive to this remote location. It’s on a beautiful isolated bend in the river which we will paddle on tomorrow morning.

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Hiking in the North unit of Teddy Roosevelt National Park, Bakken Oil field/watford City – North Dakota

The North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an hour drive, yes north, of the South Unit, which we found unusual. The two dramatic swaths of Badlands are separated by flat grassland where cattle graze. The North Unit struck us as more remote and dramatic than the south, with fewer bison, deer and prairie dogs but higher more colorful canyons with buttes and mesas in more varied colors – grey volcanic ash that looked blue at times and deeply grooved tawny formations.

We walked the fantastic 4.2 mile Capstone Coulee trail (or we walked 5.6 miles and climbed 31 floors according dirck’s phone) around the base of some formations and, most spectacular, atop some formations on a high ridge with glorious panoramic views of the Little Missouri River way below. We also scampered across the midsection of the formations, atop softer than expected rock. We had the trail almost to ourselves and the sky was bluer and less hazy today. The north unit also had more patches of forest (some that we walked through) with orange and green-leafed trees, juniper bushes, yellow wildflowers and delicate purple asters.

We drove 10 miles north through boom (and now a little less booming) oil country to watford city, past oil patches, bright orange flames shooting up from the ground here and there, lots of temporary housing, new bars and amenities.

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Spirit of the Badlands, Little Missouri Saloon, Teddy Roosevelt National Park -south unit, Chateau de Mores National Site – Medora, ND

Great day in the North Dakota Badlands. We are staying right in them — in a secluded contemporary log cabin/glass house perched at the top of a canyon with stunning views of pointy buttes and flat-topped mesas as far as the eye can see, all crumbly tans, grays and rust with yellow and green-leafed trees, rust-colored bushes tucked into valleys and beautiful blue birds, also rattlesnakes we’ve been told by our host here at the Spirit of the Badlands, a private home with 3 options for guests. (We are in the cozy “den.”) The place has a wrap-around porch lined with plants and the 2-story side facing the canyon is floor to ceiling windows. Spectacular place for morning coffee and evening stargazing although our sunny sky is hazy, not blue, due to the devastating fires on the West Coast.

View from the porch

We spent the morning driving through the south unit of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park, stopping for several short easy walks through the Badlands on trails named Wind Canyon and Coal Vein. Not a lot of tourists. But lots of bison, flat-eared mule deer, wild horses and prairie dogs, up close and personal. We followed the 36-mile loop but the end of the loop was closed so we re-looped. No problem and stopped to picnic at Cottonwood area. Glorious views and vegetation that reminded us a bit of Tucson hikes but not cactus or desert, more the colors (tawny and brown).

In Medora, a small western town which is pleasantly untouristy (at least now), we ate burgers on the upstairs balcony of the Little Missouri saloon and met two other tourist couples. We could tell by the masks. Locals, including wait staff, don’t seem to wear them despite the “Mask-up ND” electronic signs along the interstate. One couple, from North Carolina, is driving around the west in lieu of a trip to Europe (same as us); another from Austin appeared to be driving around indefinitely, working remotely 9-5 on weekdays from wherever they pull up in their R-pod trailer. Why not? It’s a new day for working remotely, thanks to the pandemic.

In Medora, we toured the Chateau de Mores, a 26-room summer home /ranch built in 1883, perched in a valley with panoramic badlands views and learned the interesting story of the French Marquis de Mores, a young adventurer who grew up in mansions in Sardinia and Cannes and who came here at about age 27 to create a meat-packing plant he hoped would rival Chicago’s. It didn’t. He left after 3 years and was murdered in the Sahara at age 37. Medora is named after his wife, who came from a prominent New York banking family and was a damn good hunter.

In downtown Medora, as we sat on a glider on the porch of the Rough Rider Hotel, the local Teddy Roosevelt impersonator stopped by to chat. Nice fella (and a former DeKalb Illinois GOP political operative…he’s more popular here).

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Hildebrant farm market, Bismarck capitol, Sue the cow – driving across North Dakota

We loaded up on bagel & lox and cold brisket sandwiches from BernBaums and excellent Minnesota Apples (sweet tango and zestor) from hildebrant farm market in Fargo before setting off on our drive west for 4.5 hours to Medora. Made for some fine dining along Interstate 94. Not too much to see en route except for nice rural scenery— vast fields of sunflowers, wheat, soybeans and corn and the occasional farm dwelling. We stopped in Bismarck to see the North Dakota State Capitol which was remarkably unlovely — looks like a tall grey institutional apartment building.

West Fargo

En route we passed an enormous cow named Sue on a hilltop and could have seen an enormous bull if we pulled into another town. A handy brochure from the Fargo visitors Centor to.d us what to look for. I really wanted a free “Save the Best for Last” t-shirt, the clever State tourism campaign but this isn’t our last of 50 states to visit (I now have 3 remaining – Alaska, North Carolina, and Kentucky.)


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BernBaum’s, Red River trail, Zandbroz, in Fargo, Hjemkomst center’s Stave Church & Viking ship in Moorhead

Beautiful day in Fargo, a little cool for biking but bright clear sky and off we went toward the river, passing pretty old Island Park (which did not appear to be an island) and then reaching the Red River trail, which we took south past, hugging the narrow river most of the time, gliding through green parks with willow trees, a few nice homes, cool old bridges. We rode down to I-94 and Lindenwood Park, (near Roger Maris drive, which the baseball fan among us appreciated. Maris, a Yankees outfielder, grew up in Fargo.) I think we could have gone further south on the Moorhead side. We are spoiled by excellent trail info in Polk County.

Lunch was at BernBaum’s the fantastic local Nordic-Jewish deli (a pleasant surprise) which has a great menu with old favorites (very good chewy bagel with not too salty lox) and updates on old classics (a cold brisket sandwich to die for, on toasted rye with pickled this n’ that), plus the best little homemade rugelach. I will be back to stock up before we drive west tomorrow. The deli also had local cheeses and salume. Wish we had such a place in Des Moines. Reminded me of Russ & Daughters in NYC. We passed an Orthodox Jewish man walking on the bike trail so I gather there’s a customer base here. (One of the few people I know from Fargo is Jewish.)

We picnicked by the river downtown where there are gentle rapids — perfect minus the bees, one of whigh dive-bombed into our can of locally-made hard cider (Terra cider). We rode more, this time north on trails on the Fargo and Moorhead side. The river bends so often that I forgot which side we were on at times. Very pretty and easy ride.

Downtown Fargo was very quiet on a Sunday (and a Saturday night). We peeked into the fantastic Hotel Donaldson, which looks like a remarkable place…my favorite combination of old restored architecture and contemporary art. The restaurant and bar looked very cool. Closed temporarily, I think, due to a Covid issue. Next trip. We also popped into Zandbroz, a huge store full of lovely things: part independent book store, vintage store, paperie and giftshop.

We also visited the Hjemkomst center in Moorhead, touring a Stave church much like the ones we saw in Norway and a remarkable massive wood Viking ship that was built by a local teacher. After his death, four of his kids and a handful of others sailed the ship all the way to Bergen where the king of Norway greeted them. Wow! We also enjoyed an exhibit of contemporary quilts from artists all over the world.


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Fargo at last!

Well it’s not Paris, where we are supposed to be right now but oddly our sweet little Airbnb in a 110-year-old house south of downtown has a poster comparing Fargo to Paris (and London and Moscow.)

We had an easy 7.5 hour drive here under cloudy occasionally dripping skies. We crossed the Red River and quickly found Broadway, which is lined with old brick buildings housing sweet little independent shops and restaurants. Apparently this renaissance is about 20 years old and the Hotel Donaldson helped paved the way. Once a near-derelict building, it was transformed into a 17-room hotel, each with local artwork, and a cool restaurant, which wasn’t open, we gather due to a Covid situation. We stopped at a store called Unglued that has local artisans work and a Scandinavia store next door and walked down to Nichole’s pastry shop and an art gallery on Roberts Street. The town reminds us at times of Wichita and Omaha and even Des Moines’ East Village. We ate a good dinner at Rustica Tavern, across the river in Moorhead, Minnesota. It was one of the few places that offered outdoor seating. Most people seem to be wearing masks but gather that will change as we drive west.


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Shake shack at the Las Vegas airport!

Well that was a nice surprise and dining option during a long layover. The Vegas shake shack opened last October, about the time we stumbled upon one just about to open at the Minneapolis airport. Apparently it’s a trend, with shake shacks at airports in Nyc (jfk and laguardia), Phoenix, Dallas and Los Angeles (LAX)!

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North Dakota destinations!

After a travel story I write about the Midwest is published, I often get invites from tourism folks in the Midwest (and beyond…my favorite was an invitation to a Bora Bora hotel….) Here’s some North Dakota ideas from a PR person there. The state is actually on my list because it’s one of the few I haven’t visited and it’s not that far from Iowa, where I live… One heads up: the U.S. News report mentioned below ranked Iowa as the Number One “Best State” overall. North Dakota was #4. (For what that’s worth…).


North Dakota’s rich history lends itself well to the emerging art scene found in nearly every corner of the state. Recently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the number one state in the country for the highest quality of life, North Dakota is the perfect place to mingle with locals, stroll city streets and enjoy fascinating art and culture venues. Here are a few ideas:

  • Bismarck: Experience the beauty and wonder of new art galleries and exhibits, including The Capital Gallery and the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. Spend an afternoon exploring the center’s interactive exhibits filled with high-tech displays, such as life-sized dinosaur casts, exquisite Native American textiles and early farming tools of European homesteaders.
  • Fargo: The largest city in North Dakota, Fargo boasts a vibrant downtown fit for art lovers, craft beer lovers, film fanatics and curling enthusiasts. You can see Olympic gold medalist John Shuster and his team in action during the 2018 Curling Nationals in Fargo from March 3 – 10. A few weeks later at the Fargo Film Festival, a four-day celebration kicking off on March 20, you won’t want to miss the electric atmosphere and occasional peep of a movie star. You may even see Alison Becker – NBC’s “Parks and Rec” star – this year! After a day well spent at the festival, relax at Hotel Donaldson, an artsy boutique hotel with beautiful works of art, incredible food, rooftop yoga and some of the best views of downtown.
  • Grand Forks: Grand Forks is a charming college town with remarkable art galleries and fascinating food venues. Get your caffeine-fix at Urban Stampede to sip on freshly brewed java while taking in the world’s smallest art gallery. Then, head to the North Dakota Museum of Art, where you can see one of the Museum’s permanent collections which includes more than $1 million in African, Egyptian, and contemporary art.

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C14 — the decent food gate at Las Vegas airport

I appear to be at the gate (C14) where the decent dining options are which may be handy for future long layovers (Ian almost done with a three hour one after arriving bleary-eyed from a 7:20 am flight from Burbank) at Las Vegas Airport. When we were last here about 10 days ago we searched in vain for a good dinner option.

Now I am sitting, stomach already full from a decent and relatively healthy açaí fresh fruit bowl at Jamba Juice, in front of several seemingly viable options including a BBQ joint, a “tequileria” and LAS/MRT that appears to have a good tuna sandwich.

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Here’s a REAL SIMPLE story I wrote about our family trip to Jackson Hole!

As seen in the April 2017 issue!  Click here (or read below)

How to Plan a Vacation With Adult Kids

But last June, the six of us—our son and daughter, plus my step-daughter and her new husband—gathered in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a result of advanced diplomatic skills, detailed consultations, and a little nudging. I started by nonchalantly making the case that a family vacation kinda made sense, since we were already trekking to Jackson Hole for my cousin’s destination wedding. Why not add a “just us” trip? Then my husband and I sweetened the deal by offering to foot much of the bill, especially for our 20-something son and daughter, so everyone could afford to come.

We were careful to get the kids’ input, reserving the bossy-parent card for crucial things, like making the final call on a cozy Airbnb cottage with a view of the Tetons. Yes, we had many group e-mails about syncing up flights, but major details (general dates, for example) were already determined by the wedding, which gave us more time to discuss the fun stuff.

And that’s where the benefit of traveling with adult children comes in: I could step back from my usual trip planner/tour guide role because the kids stepped up. Cooking break- fast and dinner became a group activity, which is how I found myself learning to make grilled kale. Our son-in-law turned out to be the kind of traveler everyone wants on a group trip. Enthusiastic and curious, he’d done his Jackson Hole home- work and suggested what ended up being our favorite hike in Grand Teton National Park. It also produced a new favorite family tale: the one where we set off on a gorgeous trail but left all our water in the car.

Although we came up with a general game plan each morning, we were not overly ambitious, and attendance was optional. We typically wound up together—but not always. And that was fine. The cottage was affordable (paying for everyone’s separate hotel rooms would have been less so). And while there was spectacular scenery, wildlife viewing, and cookouts, what I loved most was being able to do something I no longer take for granted: hang out as a family. We had the rare opportunity to catch up and relax in this stage of family life. It was a trip that felt different, almost more special, than the cherished trips we’d taken when our children were little. And on one of our lunches out, the kids even picked up the tab.

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