Planning your 2021 vacations and weekend explorations? You’re in good company. More than half of all American families say they are now planning their year’s excursions. They hope 2021 will be better than 2020. A good place to start is with these items such as an Indian scout cemetery.
So, to help with that planning, we surveyed our readers to get the top attractions for your 2021 calendar. This is the fourth set of suggestions. (Find links to the first three groups at the end of this article.)
Now let’s get to these top attractions for your 2021 calendar!
Old Scouts Cemetery
Members of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation loyally serve the United States Armed Services just as they have done for 150 years. As far back as Custer’s scouts in his battles against the Sioux, the men and women from here honorably served and are laid to rest in this veteran’s cemetery.
Why: An element of history seems to be neglected when the U.S. story is told—the role of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes. This cemetery honors the warriors of the three tribes who fought in every war including both World Wars, Vietnam, and the Global War on Terror. A quiet respectful visit to these grave markers reveals the high honor these warriors and their descendants place on serving the United States.
Where: 3.5 Miles east of White Shield, ND on Highway 1804. Or 19 miles west of Garrison, ND on Highway 1804
Tip: Open year-round. Be respectful. Veterans from across the U.S. gather here to honor their fellow combatants.
Little Missouri River
Cross the Little Missouri River most of the year and you won’t get your knees wet. Even the Maah Daah Hey trail and Achenbach Trail cross the river outside of high season — spring.
Why: Bridges are rare, so fords and concrete crossings carry traffic across the river in many places. That’s why each spring, travelers find it impossible to cross the Little Missouri River. Of course, if you want to drive a while, you can cross bridges at Marmarth, Medora, Watford City, and Killdeer. They’re about 75 miles apart.
As you might expect, enterprising cowboys and ranchers over the years did not depend on the government to build crossings – they took care of it themselves. Typically, self-reliant.
A cowboy’s cowboy, Bill Chaloner was one of the first to help travelers get across the river when he turned a ford into a ferry. Chaloner was a rancher, bounty hunter, and entrepreneur at Watford City and Dickinson. His story is here.
Where: These are some crossings we’ve found. The Three-V (VVV) crossing north of Marmarth stands as a permanent crossing. Fords near Bullion Butte and Elkhorn Ranch (Morgan Draw) fluctuate year by year. Locals know best when and where to drive across at these points.
So, if they don’t drive across, you shouldn’t either. Another useful tool are maps such as Forest Service maps and National Geographic. They help locate the crossings.
Tip: The fords are impassible during floods or spring ice melt. Do not even try.
Bison of the National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park bison are the stars. They rule. They disrupt hiking, camping and even driving in the park.
Why: 150 years ago, lack of communication between regions caused a great travesty. Hunters harvested millions of bison without knowing what others were doing. They wiped out the bison. In some of the worst cases, travelers on trains shot bison from their rail cars just for the fun.
Then, when people woke up to the fact that the herds were gone, it was too late. Observers said that riding across Montana Territory, one did not see a live bison anywhere, and never saw a scene that did not include a bison carcass.
Shortly before the near-extinction, a devastating drought and then blizzard killed millions of cattle. Ranchers noticed not one bison carcass was found among the piles of dead cows. They began to give bison more respect and attention. Conservationists began a campaign to preserve the remaining animals. Read about it here.
Where: Drive a scenic route through either the north or south units of the Park and chances are you will spot at least one. On some days, you can see nearly 100.
Tip: If you are on foot and encounter a bison, give it wide berth. They are normally non-threatening, but from time to time, one will become agitated and attack. So, it’s best to stay at least 75 feet away — about 5 car lengths.
You can’t ignore the large formations in the grasslands and badlands of western North Dakota. All of North Dakota’s tallest points are in the Badlands or the nearby Grasslands. One of the most significant is Sentinel Butte – for both historic and geological reasons. Click here to read more.
Sentinel Butte is two plateaus of 240 acres total, connected by a saddle. The nature preserve, owned by the Department of Transportation makes up only 4 acres.
Why: The Northern Pacific Railroad reached Sentinel Butte in late 1880 and built a station in the southeast quarter of Sentinel Township. Obviously the town is named for the flat-topped butte three miles to the southeast, rising 3430 feet. The historical plaques on top honor two Arikara Indian sentinels who were killed here in 1864 by the Sioux. Thus the name, “Sentinel” Butte.”
The south face of the hill is a sheer wall that some climbers like to scale.
Where: It’s just 3 miles south of the shrinking town by the same name, Sentinel Butte, just up the road from the lost town of DeMores.
Tip: The rugged trail up the hill can be a challenge to drive – especially in a low-clearance standard automobile. Once at the top, story boards tell the significance of the butte. Interesting trivia: Sentinel Butte for a short while was in Montana. It didn’t move. A surveyor’s error had the state line in the wrong location.
This is one of my personal favorites. Its history is unlike nearly any other place in the old west. Half dry, half wet and all notorious. From Mondak you are just a short jaunt to Fort Union Trading Post, Fort Buford, The Missouri Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, the Fairview Liftbridge and Cartwright tunnel.
Why: Mondak was named for its location – right on the Montana-North Dakota border. It was the perfect location for a town and was expected to become a major transportation hub since it sat on a railroad, a river shipping port and a substantial gravel road.
Two states, two sets of drinking laws forbade half the town (North Dakota) to have or sell alcohol. The other half (Montana) allowed booze as normal. The town attracted hard workers and the “businesses” that follow hard workers – prostitutes, gamblers, wanted criminals and thieves.
Where: Drive about 25 miles southwest of Williston on Highway 1804, or 50 miles northwest of Watford City on Highway 1804. It’s north across the highway from Fort Union Trading Post.
Tip: The remaining buildings and foundations of Mondak are on private property. It doesn’t hurt to ask permission at the nearby residences before walking around.
Also, a gruesome lynching and murder demonstrate the wildness of the town. Click here to read about it.
Peaceful Valley Ranch
This summer you’ll see major changes at what used to be a working ranch and then a riding stable for horseback tours of the south unit of the park. The park has not maintained the buildings for years — until now.
Why: Long before a park was proposed for the region, the Peaceful Valley Ranch was a working cattle ranch along the Little Missouri River. Then, the park swallowed it up, along with many other pieces of private property. It was preserved as a horse ranch with stables and corrals. In recent years, it fell into disrepair, but in the winter/spring of 2021, a $5 million restoration project gave much needed attention to the buildings on the property. Here’s the story.
Where: One of the most important roads through the Badlands is East River Road. It enters the park from the north and passes Peaceful Valley Ranch on the Park’s western edge of the scenic loop. We wrote about it here.
Tip: The Peaceful Valley Ranch parking lot is a trailhead access.
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