Be an explorer — get off the highway
We’re huge fans of getting off the Interstate, exploring alternative roads…and following road maps, not google maps. That’s how to get to unusual sites, scenes and corners of rural America and the Badlands of North Dakota. Beautiful Sentinel Butte is one of those.
The reward is great. All you need to invest to reap the reward is a tank of gas, some snacks, and some bottles of water. We did, and we got images with our cameras and with our minds that will last longer than the billboards on the Interstate.
It’s how we decided to get to the top of Beautiful Sentinel Butte, and then follow the back roads south to Bowman and Amidon.
Let’s check in with the Mild Mannered Explorers to pick up the story where we left off in Part 1.
Leaving Beautiful Sentinel Butte
Before the Mild Mannered Explorers left the top of Sentinel Butte ended they paused to talk about the permanent history storyboard on the edge of the butte. Not many Interstate billboards produce that kind of important conversation about this region.
Then, they stopped at the highest point 3430 feet above sea level and scoped out the direction they were headed.
Trying to get some perspective on the huge difference between the east and west part s of North Dakota, he asked, “What is the elevation of Fargo?” he asked.
“Lemme look here,” she replied. “Um, it says here, Fargo is about 905 feet, Moorhead is a little lower, 898. Wow. Minneapolis is even lower at 830 feet above sea level.”
“Wow, that means we’re a half-mile higher than Minneapolis. Is that why those clouds seem so close to the ground?”
The storm clouds they had been watching were building quickly. The rolling white cotton balls were not only growing in size, but also in number. The contrast with the landscape and the roads made the trip even more memorable. Still in awe of the green of the fields and rangeland, the pair picked a direction to head toward Amidon or Bowman or the Logging Camp Ranch. They’d make course corrections as they drove.
The drive down Sentinel Butte is unlike many others. Here’s the video proof.
At the bottom of Sentinel Butte, windows wide open he cranked up the “re-circ” fan to high and the coolness had its effect. 90 degrees is perfect summer weather. They rolled down the windows, arms on the door ledge, summer breeze blowing across their bare arms.
Heading South on gravel roads
“I assume we keep heading south,” he turned the truck that direction.
“Yes, and it looks like if we follow these roads we’ll go near Golva and right by Alpha.”
Around a curve, and “Wow. That’s where you want to go?” He asked
“Yes, the colors are spectacular, the light is perfect,” she said. “You were right to pick today and to head this direction. The weather is going to give us some great photos.” He accepted her trust in his trained weather skills and experienced driving.
Barely a mile later and 4-legged spectators watched them drive by from their pastoral elevated perch. True to their nature, a herd of cows was settling down in the tall grass. It’s easier for them than standing in a shifting wind from a nearby storm, one moment pushing and the next moment pulling at them.
It took three eyes to plan their drive. One eye on the topographic map, one on the sky conditions and one on the road. He picked out potential rising energy in the cloud formations, marking them mentally to keep an eye on them so they wouldn’t get backsided by a storm. “We’ll keep an eye on that one,” he pointed to a growing cloud formation. “Let’s see if it develops and which way it moves.”
The green did not let up. Their eyes were overwhelmed by green divided into sections by red. The scoria roads through the landscape contrasted with both the green of the land and the blue of the sky.
VVV Crossing Again
Through the abandoned town of Alpha and on to the “three V road,” the VVV road. “So, you don’t think the water will be too deep?” she asked for reassurance.
“Nope. We’ll be fine. Even if it is too deep we can find a different route south. It’s the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers that are running deep, not the Little Missouri River.”
A testimony to the size of the storm clouds looming over the pair, the explorers never got to any rain-drenched roads, even though the clouds looked to be nearly on top of them. The storm that seemed to be so close was actually 20 more miles away. At Bowman, some 20 miles south, the storms were spawning tornadoes and dropping hail on ranchers along the North Dakota South Dakota border.
Sure enough, the VVV Crossing right next to the VVV ranch was open to traffic. Once just a ford across solid river bed a few years ago, the road had been built up to allow more secure driving. As the sun continued its trek to the horizon, the couple turned up the gravel road and headed to civilization.
When storms rumple the landscape here, few people are impacted. The region has a recorded population of less than one person per square mile. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/slopecountynorthdakota,US/PST045217. If you include the only two towns in Slope County, Marmarth and Amidon, there are about 400 homes in the entire county. Some people-counting sites record the region as zero people per square mile. https://statisticalatlas.com/county/North-Dakota/Slope-County/Population (Bismarck’s square mile population is more than 2000. Minneapolis square mile population more than is 7,000.)
A zigzag gravel road led the pair through glowing green that seemed endless. “Beware of storms ahead,” she cautioned. “We should be getting to U.S. Highway 85 just over the hill.” And they did.
The explorers had been on gravel roads for nearly 3 hours with 50 miles an hour top their top speed. The slower highway speeds acclimated them so that 65 mph seemed fast now.
They drove north through Amidon looking for a place to eat. Not this time. Amidon, the town, and the one possible eatery were closed. That turned out to be a blessing.
The day before, she had posted a poll on social media asking where the best place to eat in southwest North Dakota was. Since then, recommendations rolled in for Rhame, Bowman, Hettinger, Beach, Medora and one of their favorite eateries in Marmarth. Today, they were looking for a recommendation for the Belfield area. There was no competition for recommendations. Literally, dozens of people wrote on social media that the place to eat was Roughrider or Burley’s Roughrider Steakhouse in Belfield.
Once in town, the excitement of the storm chasing wound down. Just in time, too. They had drained their camera and phone batteries. Time to eat.
The mass recommendations proved true. Burley’s Roughrider Steakhouse earns its reputation for amazing flavors.
The burgers come in several varieties, and each one is a filling portion of meat.
The atmosphere pleasant, and the wait staff very professional. A variety of patrons were scattered about the steakhouse: families, senior citizens, bikes, oil field workers, and ranchers. (Tasty Tuesday next Tuesday will have the full story, the full recommendation on why you should make a trip to Belfield for Burley’s Roughrider Steakhouse.)
Their back road explorations complete, the pair used the Intestate for what it was built to do — get people to a destination quickly. Interstates are not for sightseeing. They are believers in getting to where you can see the sights, and use the Interstate to get there.
Once on the Interstate, headed east, the Mild Mannered Explorers kept their eye on the pulsating light show in front and beside them. Driving the speed limit, they quickly caught up to the same storm they had followed much of the afternoon. It was past sunset, so the lightning that had produced the day’s thunder was now evident. The storm, moving at only 25 miles an hour east, They were driving 75 miles an hour east.
They entered the storm. Lightning, rain and now hail challenged traffic. In less than 15 minutes the explorers exited the storm, ahead of what people in New Salem and Bismarck would soon be experiencing.
A few seconds of video is an example of 15 minutes of driving through the storm.
Shortly after midnight, the Mild Mannered Explorers stepped into their cooling home. The day’s humidity and dust coated their skin. Refreshing chilled showers took care of the dust they had carried home. They had yet to get a look at the photos they’d taken that would prove very popular with their social media audience. That would come in the morning…and it’s what you are sampling.
Explore with the Mild Mannered Explorers
Thanks for reading. We love sharing Mild Mannered Explorer stories of road trips with you. Such as waking up in a buffalo herd
We gotta eat while we’re exploring, and so every Tuesday we give you a tip on a place we recommend such as this one in Watford City or this one in Killdeer.
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