Our first two days back on the road and heading west started well and seemed to help us achieve our balance goals. The first day we made it from Green Bay, WI to central North Dakota. The free campsite we’d picked turned out to be exactly what we needed. Our day ended by watching the sunset over the rolling grassy hills of North Dakota.
We pushed to cover a lot of ground the first day so that we could spend some time seeing the sights on day 2. We started with a detour off the main interstate to a lesser traveled 2-lane road named The Enchanted Highway. This fantasy filled road is home to 7 metal art sculptures. We’ve long been fans of metal art. Dr. Evermor’s Sculpture Park outside of Madison, WI is one of our favorite places to visit. Plus we love weird, quirky, and sometimes creepy attractions. The Enchanted Highway was right up our alley (or should I say road?).
A local artist created the sculptures. He has primarily self-funded the entire project and its maintenance for the last 28 years. And he’s still creating new ones. The sculptures are comprised of numerous individual pieces all designed and put together to form a full scene. Each has a unique theme. And they’re huge! The sculptures are placed along a 32 mile stretch of a country highway. It’s an easy detour off the main I94 drag. The Enchanted highway leads you to the town of Regent, ending at the Enchanted Castle which offers lodging and dining.
The goal of the highway is to draw people to the area and specifically to Regent. We stopped at all of the sculptures along the way. This was a Saturday morning in the height of the summer travel season. Amazingly enough we only saw two other cars the entire drive. Sadly, the highway doesn’t seem to be drawing the crowds. The strangeness of the scenes was amplified by the solitude and quiet surroundings when we visited. We could hear the metal creaking and groaning in the wind as well as the flap and caws of the birds roosting in the towering art. If you find yourself near I94 about 2 hours west of Bismarck, ND take an additional hour for the Enchanted Highway. I guarantee you’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Our second detour was a drive through the southern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We’ve wanted to visit the North Dakota badlands for some time. The landscape in North Dakota is much more diverse than we knew. Heading west on I94 it starts with flat farmland as far as you can see. Slowly curves start to appear throughout the fields and small roads. The curves grow into full rolling hills, some now covered in wild grass and flowers. Suddenly the hills become jagged rock formations with desert like vegetation. The change to rocky wilderness is so abrupt that it leaves you a bit disoriented. Where did the fields and cows go? Did we just teleport? Scotty? Come in Scotty!
The North Dakota badlands were a special place for Teddy Roosevelt. He bought and operated a ranch there in the 1880’s. Tragedy is what motivated his move. Both his wife and mother died on the same day the year after he’d first visited the Dakota Territories. Roosevelt found comfort and healing in the rugged landscape. His experiences at the ranch also shaped the person and eventually president that he became.
During his time on the ranch, Roosevelt saw many threats to the natural land including over hunting and overgrazing. This made conservation and preservation key issues for him. After returning to politics and becoming president, Roosevelt did much to protect the natural lands of America. He established the US Forest Service, numerous national forests and monuments, and helped create 5 national parks. Overall he helped to protect and preserve over 230 million acres of land. Theodore Roosevelt NP was established in 1947 to honor the former president and allow everyone to experience the wild lands he held so dear.
It’s easy to see why Roosevelt loved the area. The rocky terrain has a solitude and peace that few places do. While the environment looks harsh it’s teaming with life and strength. The rivers carve their way through imposing rock formations exposing multi-colored bands of ancient sediment. Horses graze throughout the meadows. Prairie dogs scamper about their towns. And bison lounge in the heat. Sorry if I’m starting to sound like an ad for the National Park Service. We’ve watched just a few Visitor Center videos recently;) The park was a wild and lovely place and a perfect afternoon detour.
Stan Springs A Leak
Our final destination for the day was another free campground in eastern Montana. As we pulled into the grounds, Stan started to sputter. Tom parked him and we heard a gurgling, popping sound. Not what you want to hear at the end of a long day in the heat. We opened the hood to find that Stan’s radiator had sprung a leak. We’d just driven hours through no service and no apparent towns. Somehow Stan managed not to overheat until the exact moment we were pulling into our campsite. While the radiator was a problem, it could’ve been a much worse problem. We were able to buy supplies yet that night, patch Stan up, and continue ever westward in the morning.
Has anyone ever been to the Enchanted Highway or Theodore Roosevelt National Park? Any favorite little known detours in your area?