LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — A Quirky Blue Highways Trip

My husband and I took off this week from our duties at Red Oak House for a quirky blue highways trip. We zigzagged across the area between Bismarck and Grand Forks and had a thoroughly wonderful time, on a cerulean-sky-puffy-cloud kind of day.

We departed from Red Oak House on Wednesday morning and headed north to Wilton and then east. It wasn’t long before we took a gravel road detour to drive along the McCluskey Canal in the West and East Park Lakes area. Speaking for myself, I did not like driving along that canal and was relieved when we got back to the real prairie. Then to Mercer, Pickardville and McCluskey, the geographical center of North Dakota and the center point for all of the street and avenue names in ND.

Time for lunch in one of our favorite stops in Hurdsfield.

Here I had the best fleischkuechle I’ve had in my life. The nice lady at the Hurdsfield Dairy King confirmed that she gets it from Golden Fleischkuecle in Stanton, N.D., and I do declare she cooks it to perfection. If you are interested in this N.D. delicacy, you can read more about it here in this article by our friend Lauren Donovan.

When I poked into it with my fork, a delightful fragrance wafted up to me and I dug in! After the meal, of course, we treated ourselves to ice cream.

Next was picturesque Sykeston, where we stopped to admire St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church.

Jim made the Station’s of the Cross at the lovely hand-carved wooden sculptures.

On we proceeded, with a gas stop in Carrington, the home of one of the most beautiful old courthouses in the state. After quite a bit of driving through a landscape dominated by cultivation, we arrived in the Grace City area, and the pleasure of a more varied landscape of rolling hills and pastures.

A stop at Juanita Lake, in the James River drainage, located in the wonderfully named Rolling Prairie Township of Foster County, was in order where we stretched our legs and took more photographs.

Although the winds were on both days very brisk, we managed to see all of these birds:

  • Northern shoveler.
  • Blue-winged teal.
  • Mallard.
  • Yellow-headed blackbird.
  • Red-winged blackbird.
  • Robin.
  • Grackle.
  • Killdeer.
  • Ring-billed gull.
  • Rough-winged swallow.
  • Cormorant
  • Canada goose.
  • Western grebe.
  • Mourning dove.
  • Lesser scaup.
  • Swainson’s hawk.
  • Redhead duck.
  • Pelican.
  • Northern harrier.
  • Eastern kingbird.
  • Great blue heron.
  • American wigeon.
  • Canvasback duck.
  • Rock dove.
  • American coot.
  • Cliff swallow.
  • Brewer’s blackbird.
  • Gray partridge.
  • American crow.
  • Song sparrow.
  • Meadowlark.
  • Tree swallow.
  • Cliff swallow.
  • Western kingbird.
  • American avocet.
  • Yellowthroat.
  • Yellow warbler.
  • Least flycatcher.
  • American redstart.
  • House wren.
  • Brown thrasher.
  • Clay-colored sparrow.
  • Bobolink.
  • Ruddy duck.
  • Pheasant.
  • Red-tailed hawk with a snake in his talons.
  • Black tern

A side trip to the ghost town of Juanita was agreed to.  You can read more about Juanita, N.D., on the excellent website Ghosts of North Dakota.

Although it is difficult to see because of the vegetation, this building pictured below is named the Dewey School.  Interestingly, Ghosts of North Dakota does not describe this building, and I was unable to see the entire date the building was completed due to the dense overgrowth; however, there is more information here about the Dewey Township.

The name Juanita has a very interesting story, according to the book “North Dakota Place Names” by Douglas Wick. (Yes, we keep this particular book in our car.) “This GNRR (Railroad) station was founded in 1911 in SW 1/4 Sec. 34-147-63, Florence Twp., on the Surrey cutoff line. The name came from the nearby lake, which had been known as Townsend, Smith and Belland before being named Wanitah by newspaperman A.L. Lowden in 1900. Wanitah is thought to be an Indian name, but for some reason the townsite planners changed the spelling into the Spanish for Juanita, which is the feminine version of Juan, or John, a Hebrew name meaning God’s gracious gift … The Post Office … closed May 7, 1985.”

After Juanita, we crossed over into the lovely Sheyenne River Valley watershed. At this point, it was time to hightail it to Grand Forks for our dinner engagement, but we were lured into yet another stop by this charming sign.

Here we found an example of a beautiful N.D. country church, the Beaver Creek Lutheran Church. Although it was not open, we wandered the grounds.

In Grand Forks, we dined at Guiseppe’s with a party of good friends and made new friends. The occasion was the visit of old friend, Myron Just, former N.D. agriculture commissioner (and while comissioner, Jim’s boss), and his fiance, Ellin.

New friendships were made with Bob and Nikki Seabloom of Grand Forks.

Now it was time for four members of the party to head back west, past Gilby, where we spent the night with Suezette Bieri and Mike Jacobs at their home, Magpie Ridge. We dreamed fine dreams in their house filled with books.

The next morning, we fulfilled the other purpose of our trip, which was to deliver to Mike and Suezette 14 of our heirloom tomato seedlings, for their garden.

We headed north, toward Pisek (est. 1882) for a visit to the spectacular church in this community with Bohemian roots, St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church, established in 1886.

We were dumbstruck by the beauty of this holy place in this quiet prairie town.

In this church is found the most valuable painting in North Dakota, pictured below.

Painted by the famous Czech artist, Alfons Mucha (1860-1939), in recent years the painting was sent to Canada for restoration at substantial cost. It now looks like a brand-new painting.

Much more information on the church and painting can be found here.

Pisek has other interesting old buildings, and the Pisek State Bank (1903) is a fine example. Pisek, located in Walsh County, is further described in Wick’s “North Dakota Place Names.” “It was named by Bohemian settlers for their hometown, which bears a Bohemian name meaning sand.”

Heading west again, we see one of the finest examples of what is locally known as a “sand beach,” more accurately described by my way of seeing things as a huge sand dune. The picture below just doesn’t adequately capture how dramatic the dune rises from the prairie, but it gives one a hint of the effect as the dune rises about 50 feet from the flat valley, running as a ridge along the horizon.  A good description of the sand dunes of North Dakota can be found in the eminent geologist John P. Bluemele’s excellent book “North Dakota’s Geologic Legacy: Our Land and How It Formed” and in his book “The Face of North Dakota.”

This sand dune marked the end of our time in the Red River Valley, as we traveled back into rolling prairie landscape of the Sheyenne River Valley, where all of the plum trees were in full blossom and the farmers were busy with spring planting. The air was filled with their sweet perfume.

Here we spotted a perfect illustration of the effects of the ever-present North Dakota winds in these tree skeletons pictured below that have permanently bowed toward the eastern horizon.

On we traveled to Aneta, the turkey capital of North Dakota, where the community holds a huge annual turkey feast in the middle of the main street.

Now it was time to visit some of North Dakota’s state historical sites in Griggs County.

After Lake Jessie, we had some difficulty locating our next destination, Camp Atchison. (Wick describes it as four miles south of Binford, but in reality, it is 2½ miles south). We missed the site on our first pass by, however, we were undaunted. I delegated Jim to inquire with some friendly N.D. farmers who had stopped their fieldwork for lunch.

The farmers misunderstood our destination as Lake Jessie, and we realized this when we followed their directions and understood we’d now driven a big circle and were back where we’d started.

A call to the State Historical Society in Bismarck got us the directions we needed for our stop at Camp Atchison Historic Site. “This was the campsite used July 18, 1863, by the Sibley Expedition. It was located on the northeast shore of Lake Sibley … named for Capt. Charles B. Atchison, an aide of Maj. Gen. John Pope, who was on temporary assignment to Gen. Sibley.” (“North Dakota Place Names.”)

We learned our lesson to also carry our copy of “A Traveler’s Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites” in our car along with the Wick book.

From page 68, “… the 1863 Sibley Expedition. Prior to July 17, the principal thrust of the expedition had been toward Devils Lake where alleged Indian participants of the Dakota Conflict of 1862 were rumored to be living (see ‘Sibley and Sully Expeditions of 1863) … On July 18 a nearly ideal base camp site was found on the northeastern shore of Lake Sibley. The site could be easily defended, had ample water, grass, and wood nearby, and was near known trails and landmarks, such as Lake Jessie and Devils Lake.”

Now it was time for a hot pork dinner in Cooperstown at the Coach House Inn & Cafe — be sure and sample their fresh baked goods — followed by an exploration of the grounds of the Griggs County Courthouse, which until very recently was the oldest courthouse in use in North Dakota. (A new one has just been opened.)

Our last historic stop was the Ronald Reagan Minuteman State Historic Site, where we enjoyed a fascinating tour of a slice of our nation’s history we’ve both driven by hundreds of time and not seen behind the scene, a remnant of the world’s Cold War history.

Our route homeward took us through the Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge, where we completed the auto tour and added to our aforementioned bird list.

Here we could readily see the benefits of a recent controlled burn. Note the contrast between the new green grass on the right and the dense, old weedy growth on the left.

That darned wind was still blowing, but I found some beauty in the waving of the green grasses on that otherwise serene prairie, and managed to capture it in this video.  Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge Wind Art

Time to head for home with one last terrific stop in Robinson for water bottles and snacks. One of the best parts of this trip for me was that I’m a western North Dakota gal through and through and thus do not know every corner of the state like I probably should.

When my husband first got to know me, he laughed when I showed him that my copy of the North Dakota state map was only the western half. As state maps are wont to do, it was tattered and falling apart, and I saw that I had no need for the eastern half so I’d thrown it away because it was just a nuisance to me. I readily admit that I have many untraveled paths to explore in our state and my husband is a wonderful traveling companion.

Robinson’s claim to fame is that it is the Geographic Center of North America.  This emblem is found on the floor of the local watering hole. How cool is that?!

Home for supper. Can you tell my husband was the director of North Dakota Tourism at one time in his career?

“Life always gives us

exactly the teacher we need

at every moment.

This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light,

every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee),

every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression,

every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath.

Every moment is the guru.” —  Charlotte Joko Beck

3 thoughts on “LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — A Quirky Blue Highways Trip”

  • Fred Schumacher May 29, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    NDSU anthropologist Tim Kloberdanz did some research on the origins of the fleischkuechle tradition in North Dakota and determined it came from Zap, ND and dispersed from there. The Germans from Russia in that area came from the Crimea, where their neighbors were Turkic Tatars. It’s clear to me that fleischkuechle is a form of börek, which is a thin dough wrapping some kind of filling. Cognates are the Georgian chebureki (lamb dumplings), Polish pirogi, Balkan burek, Russian piroshki. Tatars were pastoralists, who would trade meat for wheat with German farmers. A deep fried food eliminated the need for an oven.

    1. Lillian Crook June 13, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      Thank you for that. Very interesting. I’m familiar with Koberdanz’s work. Great stuff.

  • Old Gym Rat June 2, 2017 at 1:21 am

    Thanks kids, I enjoyed the trip.


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