Having an uneventful border crossing we were back in North Dakota and ready to see what the western side of the state had to offer. We were off going south on highway 29. First stop for the day was the city of Grand Forks, just a few hours south of the border. Julie and I had not done much research prior to going to Grand Forks. The only thing that I knew about it was that it was home to the University of North Dakota, one of the best college hockey teams in the nation. As it was a Sunday the town was pretty dead although since it was during the summer and school was not in session I’m not sure it would have looked much different regardless of the day of the week. We walked around the small downtown for about an hour before driving over to the university. The best part of the university (in my opinion anyway) is their hockey arena. A few years back the NCAA went through a period of making schools change their mascot if it was a Native American tribal name. As at the time UND’s mascot name was the “Fighting Sioux” they had an issue. At the same time their hockey arena was being built, which was funded mostly by former alums and boosters of the hockey program. The alums and boosters hated the idea of the university being called anything else but the “Fighting Sioux”. To hopefully persuade the state government and others to keep the name regardless of what the NCAA said they put the Fighting Sioux logo permanently on the building in over 2000 places. Unfortunately for the alums and boosters the legislation was passed and the name was changed to the Fighting Eagles. To this day however the Fighting Sioux logo is still on the hockey arena as it currently is too costly for the university to remove. After seeing this, taking a few pictures and getting some UND gear we said goodbye to Grand Forks.
Next up for us was the capitol of North Dakota, Bismarck. From Grand Forks it took the rest of the day to reach the outskirts of Bismarck. We had called ahead for a campground and just relaxed once we got there around dinnertime. The next morning we woke up and drove 20 minutes or so to reach the city. Bismarck is the largest city in North Dakota, which isn’t saying much but they do have a very unique capital building there. We parked in a neighborhood and walked over. Unlike every other capital building that we had been to so far in either the USA or Canada this building did not have a dome. It wasn’t shaped like a normal capital building at all. It had the appearance of a 1960’s office building (even though the building was built in the 1930’s). It was a long, tan, rectangular shaped building with a 19-story tower on one end with the top floor being an observation deck. It was also the tallest building in the entire state. We went in and opted for a self-guided tour, which turned out to be pretty neat. Most of everyone it seemed except for security guards were not working this day so we were able to walk through the building without any issues. As drab as the outside of the building was, the inside was quite nice as the main halls were covered in black and white Belgian marble. We wandered around the building eventually ending up on the top floor observation deck looking over the city. It was quite the view. From there we wandered back down to the city checking out a few stores and stopping into an Irish pub for lunch.
After lunch we had our route to discuss. On the drive today we had noticed some temporary Harley-Davidson motorcycle signs at highway rest stops urging motorcyclists to ride safe. As the Black Hills of South Dakota were our next stop I was curious to see if this was the same weekend that the huge motorcycle rally at Sturgis was. To my surprise it was. This year they were expecting in excess of 600,000 bikers. We were pretty sure that we didn’t want to be in the middle of all of that (in addition to paying much higher rates for everything since it was rally week) so we made a choice to skip the Black Hills for now and go to South Dakota’s capitol city. We would go to the Black Hills but later on in the trip.
Once we finished lunch we were on the road again now headed to Pierre, South Dakota. As there was no highway that connected the cities we took farming back roads. We were glad we did, as these roads were gorgeous. We went over huge rolling hills, miles of corn and to our surprise, miles upon miles of sunflower fields. We eventually made our way to Pierre staying at its sister town right across the river from it of Fort Pierre. We stayed here for the night at a family owned rv park – River View RV Park, which might be the best of the trip so far. The rv park is located on top of a huge hill in Fort Pierre which overlooked Pierre (pictures will eventually follow on our gallery page but this view is in the video for this segment as well). We spoke with the owner at length about her park and also learned that Pierre is not pronounced like you would think. Normally you pronounce Pierre (Pe-aire). Here in South Dakota you pronounce Pierre (Peer). We would have never learned this if we had not talked with her for a bit. After having a great time looking at the view we retired for the night excited to explore the town the next morning.
The next morning after waking up and reading some helpful info left by the owner on the town we discovered that it was the country’s 2nd smallest capitol city (behind Montpelier, VT) as well as a big fishing and hunting town as it was located on a river with a lot of open land around the town. Once we were ready to go we headed down into town. First stop of course was the capital building. This one unlike the one in North Dakota looked like a capitol building that we were used to. The only different part was that instead of a gold dome at the top, this one was black. It was also modeled after the capital building in Helena, Montana where most capital buildings are a version of the U.S. Capital building. We also went on our own self-guided tour of this building wandering from room to room and sitting down in the senate and legislative chambers. From the capital building we walked through the small downtown stopping at a bike shop, as I needed a new front tire for my bike. While waiting for the new tire to be completed we had lunch, and bought a few postcards. We were a bit sad that we would not be going to the Black Hills today but we had a new plan. We would be going straight on to Denver!
Next up….Our journey takes a different path and goes to Western Nebraska & Denver, CO!