north dakota’s big skies & the international peace garden

When I left Jamestown, North Dakota, I made my way north toward the Canadian border, en route to the International Peace Garden. I originally planned to go to Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge but decided against it as it was raining and it would have been 16 miles each way on a dirt road.

I fell in love with the flat plains, fields of sunflowers and corn, and the gray dramatic skies. It was a chilly 55°F.  Dirt roads disappeared off the highway into nowhere.  Alternately, the sky spit sporadic sprinkles or misted over completely.  I passed many homesteads engulfed by huge tracts of farmland, dotted with barns and silos.


map of U.S. license plates

Sykeston welcomed me amidst endless lines of telephone poles and vast golden fields punctuated with squat pointy silver silos.  Soon fog draped itself over the land.  Pretty delicate trees stood in a dainty line. It felt wonderful not to be hemmed in by trees, people or traffic.

When I was at the Nicollet place, the docent there said “we” tend to get claustrophobic when we can’t see great distances, like when there are trees, or tall mountains, or fog hemming us in.  I wondered who he meant by “we” – South Dakotans (of which he was one) or all humans. I’ve always loved wide open spaces and big skies and sweeping views.  I never see the point of walking in a forest.  I wonder if I might have some Dakota blood in me.

All around me were gold fields and green fields, black cows, lakes, wetlands and tall dancing grasses. I had read in My Ántonia of farmers planting rows of trees as windbreaks, as protection from the wind, and I saw them everywhere. Low hanging clouds moved swiftly across the dark skies, and corn in the fields shimmied in winds that carried flocks of birds into a scatter dance.  The clouds were like a low ceiling pressing down on the landscape, two great plains facing off, like warriors wielding shields.

I was welcomed to Harvey: “Not just a place…it’s an experience!” Near the Sheyenne River, I headed north on Route 3 for 43 miles.  I saw cylinders with the brand CROPLAN stamped on them. (CROPLAN provides quality seed to farmers). I crossed a bridge arcing over a long freight train lumbering across the land. Three big trucks with huge cream cylinders passed by me on the narrow two lane highway. The land wasn’t as flat as I’d imagined North Dakota; rolling hills were stacked with neat bales of hay and cattle dotted the hills.

There were more cream cylinders, this time Meridian. These were silver hopper bottom bins; I found they were multi-purpose storage bins, supposedly versatile and used for grain, seed, fertilizer and more.  I found myself curious about farming because I don’t know a thing about it.

I was out here in North Dakota with not a soul in sight so was shocked when a single car whizzed past me near a field of sunflowers, in a hurry to get to nowhere.

At 11:00, I landed in Rugby; known as the Geographical Center of North America. There wasn’t much to the town, just a Restoration Ministries, a field of school buses, the ubiquitous gas station/convenience store. The clouds were woven into long skeins of wool overhead.

I passed a man in a pickup truck stopped in the middle of the road; he was picking up a male hitchhiker carrying a huge backpack.  Rounded mounds were to my left, wind turbines to my right.  I watched as the corn grew all around me.  Lana del Ray sang, asking if it was the end of America.  I saw yet another kind of storage bin, a hopper bottom and bin package called Micada. These are retro-fit hopper bottoms for any existing grain.

Gold tipped grasses swayed as Rodriguez sang that his heart had become a crooked hall full or mirrors.  He sang that he set sail in a teardrop and I felt I had set sail in a raindrop today.  The leaves on the scattered trees were changing into yellows, greens and reds.

By 12:15, I’d arrived at the International Peace Garden. As the 3.65-square-mile garden sits on the border of Canada and the U.S., I drove past U.S. Customs but didn’t check in with them, and turned right before Canadian Customs.

The International Peace Garden was dedicated July 14, 1932.  It commemorated peace between the U.S. and Canada. To the south of the invisible border, wheat fields were everywhere, and to the north, the Manitoba Forest Preserve.  A place was chosen on North Dakota Route 3, the longest north-south road in the world, and about centrally located on the continent of North America. Lake Udall is on the U.S. side and Lake Stormon is on the Canadian side.

I started my visit in the Conservatory, home to more than 5,000 unique and rare species of cacti and succulents.

In the Formal Gardens were more than 80,000 annuals and perennials.


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden

The 9/11 memorial site pays tribute to more than 2,800 lives lost in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  On June 3, 2002, the garden received ten 10-foot girders from the World Trade Center wreckage.  The girders lie at rest at the 9/11 Memorial Site as an everlasting reminder of the human tragedy that occurred one quiet September morning in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

I hadn’t known about the 9/11 Memorial Site at the garden, but it seemed appropriate that I happened to visit on September 11, 2019. Apparently, they had held a 9/11 memorial that morning and were putting away the chairs by the time I’d arrived.


9/11 Memorial at the International Peace Garden


9/11 Memorial at the International Peace Garden


9/11 Memorial at the International Peace Garden


9/11 Memorial at the International Peace Garden


9/11 Memorial at the International Peace Garden

I went into the All-Faith Peace Chapel, where Tyndall stone walls were embedded with marine fossils and inscribed with quotes.


Peace Chapel


Peace Chapel

The Carillon Bell Tower was cast in Croydon, England in 1931, a year before the Peace Garden was dedicated. The 14 bells in this tower were a memorial gift from two sons to their late mother. The sons of Lady Arma Sifton – Sifton was once a big name in Manitoba business circles – purchased the bells in her memory for the First Methodist Church of Brandon, where they chimed for 42 years.

The bells range in size from 250 to 2,000 pounds, and were valued at $150,000 CDN in the mid-1970s, when Brandon’s Central United Church donated them to the Peace Garden.

The Peace Garden was able to provide a home for the bells because of assistance from North Dakota Veterans organizations.  In a great effort, they raised $48,000.  The Tower is dedicated to war veterans.

Apparently they ring every 15 minutes during the warmer months.


The Carillon Bell Tower

I walked back through the Formal Gardens on the way to my car.


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden

Today was one of the colder days on my Road Trip to Nowhere; I had to drag out my winter coat.


me at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden


Formal Gardens at the International Peace Garden

I drove the loop around the gardens and stopped in briefly at the North American Game Warden Museum.


North American Game Warden Museum

I stopped at some wetlands at Peace Garden Lake.


Peace Garden Lake


Peace Garden Lake


Peace Garden Lake

By 2:45, I left the International Peace Garden and entered through U.S. Customs back to North Dakota.  In about a half hour, I was in Bottineau, where I would stay the night.

I checked in early and then went out for dinner at Marie’s.  I enjoyed a martini with a cucumber and lemon.  I also had Poutine.  It said on the menu: “Our northern neighbors created and gave to the world this dish of french fries and cheese curds topped with brown mushroom gravy.”  I also enjoyed a Lava Cake for dessert: “Wonderfully warm, moist chocolate cake filled with creamy, semisweet chocolate ganache, topped with soft ice cream and raspberry puree.”


Marie’s in Bottineau, N.D.

The best thing about the day was the drive, and sadly I have no photos of that.  Woolly clouds hung over a rolling patchwork terrain of golds and greens: sunflower fields, wheat fields, corn fields, grasslands and wetlands. With that heavy cloud bank hovering overhead, it was a dramatic scene.  I was bowled over by the beauty of it all.  Sadly, these country roads had no place to pull off, and I wasn’t sure a photo would have done it justice anyway.  But, oh! It was stunning!

Here are my journal pages from today:

*Drove 230.10 miles. Steps: 6,814, or 2.89 miles*

*Wednesday, September 11, 2019*