North in the Dakotas

This past summer, we took a route along the northernmost edge of the American prairies, a line on the map that has appealed to us for a long time, and this was the year to follow it.

What in the world could possibly be of any interest up there in the flat “emptiness” of the north, you wonder. Well, perhaps in the winter, when it’s all covered under several feet of snow and the land stretches out in miles of white, there is less to see (though I doubt it), but in the summer, all you have to do is open your eyes and be mesmerized.


Blooms from crops burst color all over the countryside, in mid-July. We were surrounded by millions of acres of these vivid yellow fields where a crop duster kept buzzing us:


As the yellow seemed to fade, we started seeing a pale blue across the land:


Over breakfast in a small town cafe, we sat at the counter where the locals chatted with us over their coffee.


“What are the yellow crops?” we asked.


And the blue? Flax.

I don’t know about you, but we love finding out what we’re seeing out the window, especially in agricultural areas. Maybe it’s because we grew up in the farmlands of Ohio, surrounded by corn, wheat, and soybeans.

Being away from those hearty crops for awhile before seeing them in these orderly farms has made them beautiful. Even the rows of silos looked more photogenic than they once did:

The North Dakota oil rigs have been getting a lot of attention lately, and we glimpsed them from afar…


… but they were harder to spot than I would have guessed, leaving us to admire the more picturesque views we had along ND Route 5…


… and to discover some hidden gems in the small towns along the way:


Taking our time, we relished the wide open spaces, long stretches of highway without other vehicles, and local restaurants and shops kept in business by loyal customers and neighbors — authentic America.


About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
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8 Responses to North in the Dakotas

  1. Thanks for the tour, guys! Canola and flax, who would’ve thunk it? Now I know where they come from! I’m enjoying the view along with you. I’ve been to SD (Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, Deadwood, etc.) but never made it to ND. Have you ever been to Big Bend NP in Texas? That was one of my favorite places. Been there several times hiking, bird-watching, and just enjoying the splendor of the Chisos Mountains, desert, and fantastic canyons cut by the Rio Grande. I hear it’s now a very “iffy” place to go because of drug smuggling, illegals crossing, etc. Ah, for the good old days! Happy Trails! –Mike

  2. Fabulous post, thanks! I love that you identified those crops for us. Now I’ll know what they are when we drive through ND in July 2015. I worked long and hard to identify the yellow crop in Kansas this early October as fields of late soybeans with leaves that had turned yellow with the fall. Cotton in Alabama, however, that was obvious. I’m a fan of your blog! Looking forward to more.

    • Ellen says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Val! I just added my e-mail address to follow your blog — can’t wait to catch up with it. Maybe because we grew up in agricultural Ohio, we get curious about what’s growing in the fields we pass. Along a stretch of Rt 99 through central CA they actually post signs along the fences to tell us what’s growing — avocado, or almonds… Very cool. We appreciate those reminders that this is where our food comes from — sounds like you do, too!

  3. Ellen says:

    Hi, Mike! Big Bend is on our list. We keep trying to get there, but love Arizona so much we seem to stop here… then it gets hot and north we go. We heard about the issue of the illegals — “Don’t buy anything by shouting across the river,” is the advice we’ve been given. A different world, to be sure!

    • The Chisos Mountains are absolutely beautiful, and that was where I camped whenever we visited. Hope your rig will make it up there (I believe there are size limitations). I have one more book before I get to yours. I’m looking forward to it!

      Funny, but I once considered writing a mystery series about a full-timer solving mysteries at various places he visits. You beat me to it!

      Happy Trails!

      • Ellen says:

        Michael — We’ll look into the Chisos Mountains suggestion; we can get places in our Class C motorhome we couldn’t with our larger 5th wheel, so maybe we’ll fit. A few people have told me they’d considered writing about full-time RV sleuths; wish I could say it was an original idea, but after I started writing them I found out others have gone before me. Like you, I’m working my way through my TBR (to be read) list and will be getting to your new Mac book soon 🙂

      • Thanks for the update. Hope you can make it to the Chisos campground. I remember being there in August and it was chilly up there. Driving down to see the desert/canyon site, it was hot as Hades!

        Too bad you can’t cross over into the quaint little village of Boquialla (sp?). Except for propane to run appliances, it was like being in the 1800s. Great place to visit. Walk a few steps down and enter a thick-walled adobe bar and the temp cooled dramatically. Nice people and great prices!

        Where are you two adventurers at now? Where are spending the winter? Happy Trails!


      • Ellen says:

        Thanks for the suggestions, Mike! We’ll see if things are different when we (eventually!) get down that way — the village sounds great. We’re currently in the Sonoran Desert near Yuma, where it’s been unseasonably cool — highs in the mid-50s during the day. We’re wearing hoodie jackets for our daily jog — but still great to be outdoors this time of the year!

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