Most of us love North Dakota because of the sunsets, fishing, hunting and open roads. I love the open roads.
We may not have the longest open road opportunities, but we are certainly up there toward the top. You can look at a map of the state and find long, straight highways just about everywhere.
In my opinion, there is nothing better than getting out on the highway, turning up the car stereo and rolling down the hardball.
For the past 22 years, I’ve been a 52-mile-per-day commuter, either to Minot or to Kenmare. That’s about an hour on the highway at least five days a week. That’s been my sanctuary. That’s been my time to think.
In fact, I’ve been a commuter in North Dakota my entire adult life. First, it was 250 miles from Hazelton to college at the University of North Dakota. Also, for 35 years, I drove across the state, and for a time two states, to attend National Guard drills.
But since retiring from the newspaper world, I don’t always have that opportunity any longer. So, to make up for it, I took a trip to Missouri in June and loved every minute of it, especially driving backroads across the states of Kansas and Nebraska.
There’s a lot of music that’s perfect for the open road. Roll on Down the Highway by Bachman Turner Overdrive, Highway Isolation by Streetheart, Eastenders Down the Highway by Eastenders, Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, Rockin’ Down the Highway by the Doobie Brothers, Highway Star by Deep Purple, Ventura Highway by America and numerous others all indicate the yearning for people to hit the open road.
Not only is it tranquil most of the time and is a time to think, but there’s a lot you can see across North Dakota’s highways. People from outside the state make comments that North Dakota is boring. Unfortunately, those people travel two highways; Interstates 94 and 29. Most of those highway distances aren’t the most exciting, but there are exceptions.
The city of Fargo, Medora, the Badlands, Pembina, the Sheyenne River Valley at Valley City and more.
But in reality, it’s the backroads where the attractions are located. Take those backroads like I did across Kansas last summer and you might be surprised at what you see and who you encounter.
One in-state example I can think of is N.D. Highway 46 that goes from Streeter to I-29. It runs parallel about 20 miles south of I-94 and North Dakota Tourism considers it the straightest road in America.
That highway is 121 miles long and I can tell you from traveling it from south of Jamestown all the way to I-29 that indeed it is straight. When you turn east off U.S. Highway 281 south of Jamestown, you will go 50 miles without a turn.
U.S. Highway 85 going north and south from the Canadian border into South Dakota in the west is another good example of a scenic route. It takes you through Williston, Watford City and the north and south units of the Badlands.
N.D. Highway 43 is another good example that I’m sure not many people are even aware exists. It’s only 23 miles east-west parallel to the Canadian border and takes you past Lake Metigoshe and the Turtle Mountains.
Right now is a great time to travel that stretch because that’s some of the greatest autumn beauty this state has to offer.
There are many others, pick one; N.D. Highway 21 from south of Mandan to N.D. Highway 22 south of Dickinson, N.D. Highway 200 west of Carrington that takes you over the McClusky Canal, N.D. Highway 57 that takes you around Devils Lake, N.D. Highway 1 from Valley City to Cooperstown and others.
There are also scenic byways and backways. North Dakota has 13 of them. Byways are paved roads and backways are gravel roads. Three that come to mind are the Des Lacs National Wildlife Scenic Backway at Kenmare, the Sheyenne River National Scenic Byway south of Valley City and the Rendezvous Region Scenic Backway at Walhalla.
North Dakota does have a lot to see, you just have to take the right road. One thing I would recommend when you do, take your camera and get more than just memories.