Monday, September 7, 2015

North Dakota, Part One

We left the beauty of Spearfish and headed north to North Dakota, destination Medora. We heard about Medora from a fellow parent at our kids' gymnastics class. She told us about the lovely painted canyons there and the country music theater there, the Medora Musical. Along the way, we passed gorgeous farmland, including fields and fields of sunflowers.
Sunflower fields along our drive.
My photos don't do them justice because we were driving as I took them, but rest assured that they were amazing to see. We checked in to our hotel in Medora and decided to take a drive to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Northern Unit, near Watford City, ND). Again, we were just amazed with the topography there. The hills/canyons were beautifully striped with layers of color. 
Canyon views in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit.

Hiking trail leading in to canyons.

Layers of color on the canyons.

We stopped to take a short hike. It was really funny, as we started out along the path, we couldn't help but notice the bison dung all about. It made me wonder whether or not we should really be out there hiking with our kids. Luckily, the only wildlife we spied up close was a bunny.
After the hike we drove the rest of the way through the park. It was just incredible. We again got a great look at a bison up close. 
Bison on the road side.
It just doesn't get old for us east coasters to see those huge beasts along the road. So cool! We took in all the vistas and then headed back to Medora. We also couldn't help but notice the oil rigs along the way. Oil is booming in North Dakota. Oil rigs dot the landscape, but not so much that they are ruining the views.
Once back in Medora, we had dinner at the Rough Riders Hotel, and then Lily and I got ready for the Medora Musical. I ordered tickets for all of us, but the weather was chilly with threats of rain. We weren't even sure the show would go on, as the theater is an outdoor venue built in to the side of one of the canyons. Plus, our littlest one was so tired, we knew she wouldn't make it through the night.
My little cowgirl in the gift shop at the musical.
We went to the Medora Musical which was really fun. The show started in a mist of rain, but largely the rain held off. The performance was tweaked to keep the performers safe (not so much dancing on a slippery stage). It was a fun night of country music, which isn't my favorite, but being in North Dakota, it was hard not to enjoy it. It was a bit of a hokey show, but it was also patriotic and celebrated the glory of North Dakota. Lily absolutely loved it, and it was hard not to see it through her eyes and get captivated. We had a great night!
Medora Musical ampitheater built in to the side of a canyon.
View of canyon behind the stage.
Performers in the show.
The next day, we checked out Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit) in Medora. It was even more spectacular than the North Unit! We absolutely loved it! 

Panoramic photo of Theodore National Park South Unit.

We could see herds of bison roaming free in the valley where the Little Missouri River winds through. We stopped here and there to walk and take in the sights. It is no wonder that Theodore Roosevelt fell in love with the Dakotas. I am so glad that he had the amazing foresight to protect this grand area. We took a longer hike along one of the trails. 
More views from Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit.
More views from Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit.
Family photo in TR National Park.
Hiking trail.
More views from Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit.
More views from Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit.
Family selfie in the park.
It was gorgeous terrain, and our girls did a great job hiking close to four miles. It wasn't hilly, but we walked quite some time and it was warm. We loved it. On our drive out of the park, we encountered a bison traffic jam! We caught some close up video of these huge beasts. What an experience! 

We made one last stop on our way out of Medora to view the painted canyons. Then we hit the road for Bismarck.
Painted canyons in Medora.
Another view of the painted canyons.
Bismarck is the capital city of North Dakota, and rather than being very urban, it is largely suburban. It is a really nice city with lots of parks and biking/walking trails everywhere. We checked out some of the parks in the area including Pioneer Park which runs along the Missouri River and the Overlook Park above it, site of an ancient Native American village. 
Playing along the Missouri River & waving to trains.
Overlook park above the Missouri River. 
Play area in the overlook park.
We enjoyed walking the paved path in Pioneer Park, stopping along the way to check out some of the sculptures and beaches along the river. Much of the history of Lewis and Clark is celebrated along this stretch. Later, we found the upper overlook area which provided spectacular views of Bismarck, Mandan and the Missouri River.
Another view from the overlook park.
The next day we met up with friends of ours from home. Patrick (our friend from home) is originally from Bismarck, so when I was planning to run a race in North Dakota, I recruited Patrick and his family to join us. Pat's wife, Patti, is a great friend of mine, and their daughter Julie has been a babysitter for our kids since they were born. Julie and her boyfriend Joey were along on the trip, too. We all met up in Bismarck on Wednesday afternoon, and that evening, Pat's sister, who still lives in Bismarck, had a party at her house. She was celebrating her daughter's high school graduation along with Pat & Patti's visit. It was great to be a part of a home party with friends and their family. It was like being at home on the road. We had a great time with everyone and wished Pat's niece well wishes on her college time in Fargo.
Holland Runabout circa 1900 in the Heritage Center in Bismarck.
The next day all of us went to the Heritage Center in Bismarck. What an amazing museum! It is free and contains all kinds of artifacts and history pertaining to North Dakota. The museum is organized by time periods, presenting everything from prehistoric fossils and dinosaur bones to the recent oil boom. We all loved the exhibits, ranging from animals to technology to farming and history and energy. It was a great day. We had lunch at a diner and then took some time to relax after.
Our gang at Kroll's Diner in Mandan.
Friday, we left Bismarck for Fargo, the site of my second race. It was largely an uneventful drive out there, save for a giant cow statue on the side of the road in a town called Salem.
Fargo was an interesting place. The hotel where we stayed was located in an area completely surrounded by new construction. Everywhere around condos, apartment buildings and gorgeous homes were either just newly built or were still under construction. A huge medical center was also being built. When I ventured out to get my necessities for the race, I discovered mile after mile of strip malls and shopping centers. There really weren't any tall buildings, just loads of retail. It felt kind of weird for a city.
That afternoon when we arrived, the girls and I needed to go pick up our numbers at the expo center where the race start and finish lines were. The girls were running in the girls only race that evening, while my race was the next morning. We easily picked up our numbers and found that the expo center was within walking distance for me the next morning. That was good news. The girls swam in the pool for a bit that afternoon before their race. Pat & Patti arrived shortly after we did, and they joined us for the girls race at 6:30 pm. 
Our runners dressed and ready!
Warming up pre-race.
Stretching out.
Ready to get started!
The race was a one mile out and back route that departed from the expo center. There was great excitement in the air for everyone, as this race was the first girls only kids race that had been offered at this marathon event. My girls were nervous and excited as they stretched out and warmed up. At the starting mark, they took off with my littlest one gunning away from her big sister. We could see all the runners all the way to the turn around, so it was pretty easy to keep an eye on approximately where our girls were. Lily finished in about 8:40 and Ella at 9:22. 
Lily crossing the finish!
Ella crossing the finish! 
Two happy runners with their medals.
Pretty excellent for their first one mile race. They collected their medals and we all went to dinner at a great Italian restaurant called Toscana in the old part of Fargo. Nestled in what (I guess) would be considered downtown Fargo, this restaurant was amazing! I wished I could've ordered one of the heavier, creamier pasta dishes, but the night before a half marathon is not the time to go experimenting with unusual foods. I stuck to my standard spaghetti and marinara, and had it topped with grilled chicken for protein. The food was so incredibly delicious. Great place! The downtown area was lined with the kind of brick buildings you'd expect to see in an old time western town, but now they were updated and contained retail, restaurants and bars. It was cute and quaint. 
The girls and Julie at dinner.
After dinner, it was back to the hotel for bed for me and my runner girls. I knew I'd be up early the next morning for my half marathon fun. Craig stayed up with our friends playing cards in to the wee hours of the night. 

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