Fairview Liftbridge

Cartwright Tunnel

Grassy Butte Post Office

Peaceful Valley Ranch

Marmarth Opera House

Let me tell ya about 5 unique structures or unusual buildings the badlands you’ll find only in the North Dakota Badlands. They were built for a specific use to help make life easier.  Each one testifies to what hard work and sweat create.  Just imagine working all day on projects like this for $1.00 to $2.00/day.

Fairview Lift Bridgefairview lift bridge

It takes a lot of imagination to picture a steamboat coming down the Yellowstone River. Low and slow. But they did it. Steamboats were replaced with trains, and the Federal government paid workers to build a railroad bridge to replace steamboats. One section raised to allowed river traffic to pass.

Except that didn’t happen here.

Officials used the Fairview Liftbridge only once. That’s when it was tested to see that it worked. Then it was never used again. That’s because railroads replaced steamboats even as the bridge was being built.

It’s an amazing gargantuan structure, an unusual sight in the badlands that you can read more about here.  It’s open to the public with parking picnic table and rest benches, a fenced walking path across the bridge emptying into the tunnel beyond. Click here to read more.

How to get there: Head west on Highway 200 from Watford City about 40 miles.

Cartwright Tunnel

The Cartwright Tunnel has a slight bend in the middle. Flashlights illuminate the way.

Pick and shovel.  Mules pulling carts and dynamite. That’s what it took to build the Cartwright Tunnel.  It was hand-built.  Dug from the top down, and that alone makes it an unusual building in the badlands and in the world.  Most tunnels are built from the end, not top-down; the Cartwright Tunnel had to be large enough to accommodate rail cars. Click here to read a bit of the history of the tunnel.

The tunnel is about a quarter mile long. A slight bend in the middle stops you from seeing the other end until you round the corner.

Road Trip Anyone?

How to get there: Head west on Highway 200 from Watford City about 40 miles. Adding the Cartwright Tunnel to  a trip to the Fairview Lift Bridge makes it a two-for-one road trip. First walk across the bridge and then explore the tunnel. Then, return to Watford City, Williston or Sidney for an end-of-day meal. Pizza anyone?

Grassy Butte Post Office

Grassy Butte Historic Post Office

A little cluster of homes, a meeting hall, a saloon and two post office locations mark this historic town of Grassy Butte, 30-miles south of Watford City. One location is a modern post office, the other has stood here since the about 1914 and is a museum . Before the unusual building was built, mail delivery spread out from Grassy Butte for at least 2 decades earlier when the only way to move mail was by horseback and mail wagon – or an occasional stagecoach.

When it was nominated as a National Historic Place, the nomination said “one of the last known examples of Ukrainian-type log and clay plaster construction in North Dakota. Built in 1914, ‘the post office dates from the main 1890 to 1914 immigration from Ukraine to the United States.’”

Click here to read more.

How to get there:  Drive south 30 Miles south of Watford City on Highway 85. The post office is on the north side of town near the highway.


Peaceful Valley Ranch

In the south Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a ranch that has had many iterations since its day as a working cattle ranch. When the National Park Service bought it, Peaceful Valley Ranch became a dude ranch, a meeting place and trail head. Along the Little Missouri River, in a wide flat place, below Badlands bluffs, the ranch is a perfect place to withstand all those weather forces that nature throws at it.

Last summer the NPS restored the buildings, fixing sagging foundations, chipped paint and rethinking the logs. Now watch for educational events and other happenings here at Peaceful Valley Ranch.

How to get there.  In the south unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, along west river road down the long lane.  A good place occasionally to see horses and bison.

 Read about the Peaceful Valley ranch and it’s iconic location by clicking here.

Marmarth Opera House

marmarth opera house unusual building

Back when 1500 people lived in Marmarth, this was a very popular weekend entertainment venue.

What it could have been. What it almost was. This is a most unusual building in the badlands.  But then, Marmarth is an unusual town.

Marmarth is conveniently located just inside the North Dakota/Montana border on the Yellowstone Highway (Highway 12). Once upon a time it was major shopping and shipping point. Some 1500 people lived here. It was even considered to be a potential landing strip for transcontinental flights in the late teens.

The railroad changed its plans, tough farming conditions and an out migration nearly killed Marmarth.


Now, it’s home to an annual motorcycle rally, Bottoms Up, a fine dining establishment and an opera house. The entire main street district of the town is a fuse for imagination – wondering what was here.

The murder of a local sheep man is a clue to what Marmarth was all about – it references the “resorts” north of town where gritty men could find pleasure.

Like the other four items on this list, the town of Marmarth is a good endpoint for road trips…and that’s something we love. Road trips 12-months of the year.

How to get there:  Highway 12, 25 miles west of Bowman, ND, or 20 miles east of Baker MT.


Road Trips are our thing. We love the journey as well as the destination.  If you like the low cost option of road trips, just click to subscribe nd you’ll be the first to know when a new story is available — many of hem are inspiring road trip ideas.

Take a virtual tour of the Badlands by clicking on this link. It’s our gallery of Badlands images. Browse and buy!mykuhls advertisement ad riverbend overlook