Website review: NorthDakota.com

I consider myself to be a pretty experienced traveler. I’ve been to England, Germany, Asia, the Philippines, Alaska and all over the Caribbean. In this country, I’ve been to all the major cities except Los Angeles. The only wide swath of territory I’ve missed are the so-called “flyover states” west of the Mississippi.

I’ve never gone to North Dakota and, frankly, I can’t imagine a scenario where I will. Of all the Dakotas, I’d rank it only my third favorite: behind the more populous South Dakota but also trailing the mythical East Dakota (when you’re a Dakota, imaginary is often better than real). I’ve heard claims made that North Dakota is the gateway to the Wild Wild West, though any time you hear something referred to as the “gateway” to something else, that just means it’s next to it, not part of it. I was once the gateway to Bill Clinton when he campaigned in my area for president in 1992, though I’d hardly put that on my resume, for a number of reasons. If I check my atlas, North Dakota could at best call itself the gateway to the Upper Midwest.

Fortunately, in this the age of the Internet, I don’t have to make a half-dozen flight connections all for the pleasure of ending up in Fargo. I just have to search for “North Dakota travel” and there I am at the official website of that frigid state’s tourism division – this week’s choice for a website review.

As you might guess, the home page features a collage of photographs, all of them featuring snow. There’s a couple wearing oversized sweaters snuggled up to their mugs of cocoa while leaning on the side of their log cabin. There’s a guy on a snowmobile, and there’s a view of a balcony in the woods where it looks like someone has fallen. I don’t know if this is the slide they put up just for winter, though from what I hear it could just as easily be a scene from June.

Next, a little history is probably in order. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison signed the order granting North Dakota statehood. Nothing significant has happened since.

“Dakota” is derived from the Sioux word for “friend.” North Dakota ranks number one in the U.S. in a variety of agricultural categories, including durum wheat, all dry edible beans, canola, flaxseed, all dry edible peas, lentils and navy beans. (I’m not sure how many friends you’d have left after eating such a flatulence-inducing diet, but I imagine at 40 below you’ll take whatever warmth you can get). The official beverage is milk, the official dance is square, the official fossil is petrified wood, and the official fruit is the chokecherry.

The tagline for the travel site seems to be “North Dakota: Legendary.” To quote further: “you ask, ‘what is there to do in North Dakota?’ and we answer, ‘what ISN’T there to do?’ The options are as diverse as the imagination. Some like to hunt, either for antiques or big game. Others enjoy howling, at a comedy club or while camping. Then there are the trails.” Let me pause to catch my breath before we look at some of the more memorable sites, events and activities throughout the state.

According to the “what to do” section, there are 606 statewide attractions. Neither space nor interstate commerce laws against using the Internet for fraud will permit me to describe them all. However, I can report that there is an albino buffalo, a 9/11 memorial site with a girder from the World Trade Center, a number of swimming pools, and a Celebrity Walk of Fame with signatures and handprints of notables including Debbie Reynolds, Maury Wills and the band KISS (rumor has it their handprints in cement were the result of a drug-induced fall rather than anything intentional). There’s also the David Thompson State Historic Site, a monument to the pioneer explorer who mapped the Missouri-Knife River area and later went on to basketball stardom at North Carolina State. And let’s not forget the Enchanted Highway, featuring metal sculptures including “The World’s Largest Tin Family” and “Grasshoppers in the Field.” Also there’s a batting cage called “Field of Swings,” a game warden museum and the geographical center of North America.

Not only are there places to see but there are things to do, as listed in the events section of the site: A Wine Tasting, Cabin Fever Days, ShiverFest, Quilt Til You Drop, the Dakota Bull Session (a three-day gathering of former military members), and A Cowboy and His Horse (“learn about the Old West from local cowboy Lyle K. Glass”). There’s also a production of the hit musical “Cats,” but I’ve got one of those in my back yard, so that’s hardly a big deal.

The website is not the only evidence that North Dakota has entered the digital age with the kind of enthusiasm its residents usually reserve for dying of hypothermia. The state is also mentioned on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. It’s seen in the background of at least several You Tube videos. And there’s also a blog, with one posting that seems to sum up what for many visitors is the typical North Dakota experience:

“I arrived just two hours before the start of what would become the biggest early November blizzard in the last 20 years. I traveled to the state to hunt whitetail and waterfowl for six days. The snow forced me to spend the night in Bismarck, since the interstates were shut down, but I spent a pleasant evening at the Expressway Inn and was able to get on the road by 10 a.m. the next day.”

In North Dakota, they don’t believe that getting there is half the journey. When explorers Lewis and Clark arrived, they stopped and spent the winter (not a bad choice when you consider they could have proceeded on to Montana). And, as the tourism office concludes proudly, “Theodore Roosevelt visited twice before he became president.” Twice.

* * *

For those as bored as I am by the prospect of the Arizona Cardinals playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday, I’ll be live-blogging during the game (or as much of it as I can stay awake for). I’m sure I’ll be making a lot of rude, sarcastic comments, if that’s your thing. Watch this space starting a little before the game begin around 6 p.m. For those who miss it, I’ll compile a summary to be posted on Monday morning. I look forward to “seeing” you there.

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2 Responses to “Website review: NorthDakota.com”

  1. lakezigzag Says:

    Thanks for this post, Davis. You had me cryin’ in my beer… errrrr, my coffee cup while reading this one this morning.

  2. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    Not that I’m impressed a lot, but this is more than I expected when I stumpled upon a link on Furl telling that the info is quite decent. Thanks.

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