Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: A Need for North Dakota Print

Written by Adrienne Smith

Feb. 4, 2015: North Dakota? Why North Dakota? These were the questions I fielded when I announced my intention of spending a few days in this "exotic" locale. My choice seemed entirely rational, as it was the only remaining state in our federal union that I had not visited. But why in the winter? Well, after seeing the bleak, snow-infused scenes in the 1996 movie Fargo, it seemed only right to go there when winter was at its peak.

So, packing every warm item I could think of in my ever-trusty, continuously overweight bag, I flew to Minneapolis via Las Vegas (which is an entirely separate story) and drove the 240 miles from there to ND’s largest city, Fargo, itself. The weather did not entirely oblige. Snow fell in brief, dramatic outbursts, but MN and ND highway departments seemed to know how to keep abreast of the storm. It was, however, with great relief that I made my triumphal entry into Fargo, just in time for dinner and bed.

I had planned to drive to the northwest corner of the state the next day to see the Baaken Field, the source of huge new quantities of oil and gas, but having discovered how tedious the drive had been from Minneapolis, and reading about the high percentage of crime and men in my intended destination, Williston, I decided that prudence and fears instilled by one-too-many episodes of Law and Order-SVU dictated that I aim for a nearer destination.

As I gazed out of my motel room window at the gray sky above and grayer snow below, I thought that I had made a huge mistake. But once I hit the highway for the 220-mile drive to Bismarck, I was overcome by ND's stark beauty. Mile after mile of flat, snow-covered land. Lone silos and farms. Isolated shacks. Absolutely stunning! A photographer's dream! And a perfect antidote to the hecticity of New York life.

Arriving in Bismarck, I raced to the state-run museum for a quick education about ND's history. My ticket-taker, one Vic, spent so much time describing the museum to me that I was afraid it would close before I actually made it to the first exhibit. But, as I was to find, this was typical of the incredible friendliness of these Great Plains people.

The next morning, I returned to view the state capitol, the tallest building in North Dakota, which is more like a mini Empire State Building than a typical governmental center. It has no dome, no exterior glitz. Constructed in the 1930s, its interior is, however, a dazzling display of Art Deco, with sculpted bronze elevator doors, gorgeous wood inlays in the senate and house, and fascinating lighting in the chambers representing the sun and moon. Its verticality is intentional, as it actually uses more of its interior space than any other state capitol, an important feature in a region of severe weather.

I have a fear and loathing of tours. They always go on too long and hold you as a captive listener to completely uninteresting facts. So, stepping up to the information desk on the first floor of the capitol, I asked if I could tour on my own. A sweet little old lady told me I could but that she would be happy to accompany me. Out of a rare flash of politeness, I consented. What followed was the fastest, bestest exploration I could have hoped for, complete with tidbits I would never have discovered on my own. Ascending to the top window-filled 18th floor, she showed me the magnificent 360-degree, 30-mile vistas out at the state. And then she took me to a tiny picture of endless bodies lying on a snow-covered area in front of the capitol. Those funky North Dakotans! On a wintry day in February of 2007, nearly 9,000 people assembled and lay down on the lawn to achieve a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for most snow angels in one place simultaneously. My elderly guide proudly even pointed to her body amid the hundreds and hundreds of forms. Oh, the glory of it!

Then it was back to the first floor again, with a gallery of famous North Dakotans, some of whom I list here: Angie Dickinson, Warren Christopher, Roger Maris, Bobby Vee, Eric Sevareid, Ed Schultz, Lawrence Welk, Peggy Lee. Who would have thunk!

North Dakota may, statistically, be the least popular state in the Union to visit, but I was having a ball!

Pictured here: A picture of 8,962 North Dakota snow angels setting a new Guinness World Record in 2007.

Photo by Adrienne Smith