The second day of our Valley City/Sheyenne River Valley adventure got off to a great start. We were up and enjoying the hotel’s continental breakfast by 8:00 a.m., followed by a morning swim in the pool for Giovanni. As he swam, Tony and I laid out our plans for the day: to drive along the southern route of the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway all the way down to Lisbon, where we’d stop for lunch and explore a bit.
I left Tony and Gio by the pool around 9:30, and returned to our hotel room to partake in a little social media before our departure. I hoped to get a quick update posted on the blog, send out an e-mail blast to our mailing list, and even post a few Tweets on Twitter.
Unfortunately, difficulties with the hotel’s internet connection, and general disobedience from my dinosaur of a PC kept me shackled to the desk in our room, and I could feel the morning slip away as I struggled to solve these problems.
Ignoring the eyes boring holes into the back of my neck from my two fellow travelers, I plunged forward in my battle with technology. I managed to get a couple blasts out by email before losing the connection yet again, but eventually I had to accept defeat. By this time, it was almost eleven-thirty.
Side note: Never again will I allow technology to stand in the way of travel and adventure. This was not an issue back in the days when Tony and I traveled for a living, but that’s because none of this social technology existed. While I love it in so many ways, it can also be a great distraction. Lesson learned.
We finally departed the hotel and were on the Scenic Byway within minutes. Referring to our Scenic Byway Map, we decided to stop at each Point of Interest along the way, as they are a great source for quick information about the area’s attractions. These stops included:
The Riparian Restoration Interpretive Site – here you can see the very dramatic effect that flooding can have on the riverbanks, and learn about what is being done to repair this damage. There is a nice variety of plants on display, which are used in the restoration process.
The King School – The last operating one-room school inBarnesCounty. Our material stated that there were desks and a blackboard inside, as well as a shop that sells country-style crafts. Unfortunately, nothing was open and we assumed this was because of the holiday.
The Daily Town Site – Daily has long since vanished from the landscape, but this site, along with theKingSchool, preserves its memory. There are abandoned farm buildings on site, and The information here provides a description of the different styles of barns built throughoutNorth Dakota. I am proud to say that I can now identify a Gable barn from a Gambrel Barn, from a Gothic Barn.
After visiting these sites, we’d hoped to get to Kathryn, a small town just a few miles south of the Daily Town Site, which is said to have retained its turn of the (last) century charm. However, since we’d gotten a later start to our journey than we’d originally planned *my bad, I know* we opted to keep driving on to Fort Ransom.
Side note: By this time, it was almost 1:00 pm. As we approached the course to Fort Ransom State Park, it had been several hours since breakfast and I wondered aloud whether we should divert to Lisbon for lunch, and then take in the fort upon our return journey. We decided to keep going, but in hindsight we probably should have listened to our hungry tummies.
It was very windy when we reached the Fort Ransom Historic Site marker. Living in Fargo, I thought I knew Ol’ Mr. Wind pretty well, but I have a new-found respect for him after just a couple days out on the prairie.
We followed the “America’s Byways” signs along the road until we reached the town of Fort Ransom, the self-proclaimed “Best Kept Secret in ND.” I have to confess, we did not realize there was an actual town here; we assumed that there was only the state park of the same name.
The town of Fort Ransom is a little hamlet, nestled tightly into the Sheyenne River Valley. There is a surprising charm to this little town of Scandinavian heritage. It reminded me of the type of small towns you see when driving through New England, and I wish we’d had more time to explore it. I still can’t believe we didn’t stop at the Uff-Da House – while our last name may be Nasello, Giovanni and I are both proud of our Norwegian roots. Uff-da, indeed!
We did take time to discover the Standing Rock Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church, and learn about its history. This was such a pretty church, and I wish we’d had the opportunity to go inside, but it wasn’t open.
Across the street from the church sits a lovely, white-washed school building with a charming red door. We were pleased to find out that this is the current Fort Ransom Elementary School.
Somewhere in our materials, or on one of the byway markers, I remember reading that Fort Ransom defied logic in its survival based on its small population and remote location. However, with a 10% increase in population from 2000 to 2010 (from 70 to 77), Fort Ransom lives on into the 21st century.
There was something about this little town that captured my imagination; maybe it was the houses tucked into the hillside, the little downtown area strangely abuzz with activity, or the lingering Norwegian atmosphere. I don’t know, but Fort Ransom is a town I’d like to get to know better.
We drove around some, and then set back on the Byway route. Shortly after leaving Fort Ransom, we encountered Viking Hill and the Viking Monument. The monument is tilted, so at first it appeared to be a strangely goofy-looking cowboy. However, after reading the information on the marker, we learned that it is indeed a sculpture of a Viking. Just to make sure, we got our binoculars out of the car, and sure enough, it was clearly a Viking.
The sculpture sits atop a steep pyramid hill, and we enjoyed reading about the theories that abound regarding the shape of the hill. One suggests that the mound is man-made, being built by ancient peoples thousands of years ago. Another theory is that the sharp angle was made by natural effects. Tony’s theory is the same one he has for the Egyptian pyramids: aliens.
Back in the car again, we finally entered Fort Ransom State Park and were delighted to find that admission was free in honor of Memorial Day (on regular days it is only $5 per car). The park has historic buildings to view, including a small cabin from the time there was an actual fort on site, as well as several farm buildings. Of particular interest to Tony was the separate building that housed the “Summer Kitchen,” as this is a practice still found today in Sicily.
There were a fair number of campers scattered about in RVs, motor homes and tents, and I’m sure they were taking advantage of the many activities the park has to offer: a good variety of hiking trails, fishing holes and canoe channels. We stayed along the beaten path, as we were unprepared to hike that day, and our rumbling tummies were starting to growl.
We returned to the car and continued on to the Fort Ransom State Park Overlook, which provided us with a beautiful and dramatic view of the valley. The force of the wind at this peak was unbelievable, and it reminded me of being out on deck during a storm at sea.
Near the Viking Statue, the Byway offers an option that continues on a gravel road,which I opted to take, assuming that it would lead us back onto pavement soon. We didn’t realize until (much) later in the day that the dash marks on our map are used to indicate a gravel road – information that could have helped prevent the tension of the next hour.
You have to understand how anchored in Fargo my family’s North Dakota experience has been up till now. As a child, I spent nearly every summer at the lakes in Minnesota, so a gravel road is nothing new to me. It’s just a road that hasn’t been paved.
But to my husband, the city-boy from Toronto (Canada’s equivalent to New York City), a gravel road can have a very different meaning. A gravel road can conjure up images from movies, which usually wind up with someone screaming, “Turn around! Turn around!” Inevitably, the car stalls and horrible things proceed to happen.
I hadn’t considered this possibility as I coursed along the gravel road toward the Sheyenne River State Forest (this was NORTH DAKOTA, after all). But, as the road narrowed and seemed to have no end in sight, Tony’s demeanor began to change from relaxed, to, um…oh, let’s say, alert.
We approached a fork in the road and I wanted to turn right, but there was a car in that lane (the only car we’d seen for a long time) just sitting in the middle of the road, and the driver refused to move so we turned left. A little farther down the road we passed an abandoned pick-up truck. I’m sure that, by now, Tony was imagining a major plot underway to trap us in the forest.
We traveled on, at this point barely speaking to each other, when we reached the top of a hill. Here the gravel road appeared to continue onto private property, and this was the limit for my poor husband. Now he was the one saying, “Turn around!” I have to admit, the energy in our car had become so bizarre that even my mind was starting to entertain some strange thoughts.
I turned the car around and accelerated out of the forest. As we came back toward where the pavement began again, Tony pointed to another “America’s Byway” sign that led to another gravel road. “Aren’t you turning there?” he said. I looked at him as if he were speaking gibberish, and just said, “No, we’re done with gravel roads for now.”
With empty stomachs and a sense of defeat, we left the Scenic Byway route and sped on toward Lisbon via ND Highway 27. We’d heard many good things about this small town, and looked forward to sitting down to a nice lunch among the locals.
We’re still looking forward to that lunch. Turns out, almost everything in Lisbon is closed on Memorial Day. And good for them, except by now we were weary, over-hungry tourists who had just narrowly escaped certain death by zombies.
We finally found the grocery store/gas station, located at the southern edge of town. It was open, and Tony went inside to inquire about possible places to eat as Gio and I filled up the car with gas. Ten minutes later, we found him there, chatting with the sales clerk who was busy calling all the area’s restaurants to help us find a place to eat. Her name was Stephanie Hanna, and she and her husband, Jon, own and operate the Hanna McNally Driftwood Inn Bed & Breakfast.
I’d actually tried to make reservations at their B&B for our trip, but they weren’t accepting any on the days we needed. I was delighted to meet her, and she explained that they were in the process of renovating the property and expressed regret that they couldn’t host us.
Stephanie was exactly what you’d expect to find in small town North Dakota– no zombie-serial killer-swamp creature here; just a good, old-fashioned, friendly North Dakotan willing to help you when you need it. Unfortunately, nothing within 20 miles was open, but we were grateful to have met Steph, and hope to visit her at the B&B sometime.
We grabbed some chips and drinks and reluctantly returned to our vehicle. We sat there, inhaling our snacks, and just allowed ourselves to change gears a bit. We consulted our map, and decided to set course for the small towns of Nome and Lucca. We’d seen Lucca on the map a few weeks ago, and as a family we’d already decided that we would try to visit any towns that have Italian names. (Did you read that,Verona? Because we’re coming your way sometime this summer!)
I warned Tony that we would probably encounter more gravel roads (what an understatement THAT was), but Steph Hanna had worked her small-town magic and my city boy was quickly acclimating to the rural environment. We set off in search of Nome and Lucca, and this is where I’ll end my post – because that is a whole other story.