20 Things To See In North Dakota…And Why Lists Never Tell The Whole Story

I love being a travel writer. I am profoundly, almost stupidly grateful that I get to do this for a living.

I was filling up travel journals, taking hundreds of photos and chatting with locals long before I ever realized it was actually a job. It was a huge relief to create something useful with that information, instead of just terrifying my family and friends with the promise (or threat!) of looking at 1,200 photos of my trip to Japan.

Paul-Ide-Peacock-Mutal-in-Downtown-Fargo
Roberts Street Studio (and a mural by artist Paul Ide) in downtown Fargo

I’ve gotten better at editing since then. (Thank God.) In fact, sometimes I think I’ve gotten a little too good at it.

My work on this site is an ongoing (and occasionally rambling) creative experiment, but I actually earn a living writing terse newspaper briefs and breezy yet fact-packed travel missives. Competition, both in print and online is intense and everybody wants to most bang for their buck. For writers, that means more info squeezed into shorter stories, zingier language, and oh-so-enticing headlines.

Sometimes that intense focus is liberating. It’s made me a more efficient writer. But sometimes I write an article and immediately (and I mean immediately, like the second I hit “send”) want to write a follow-up. Because I know I’ve only scratched the surface. And that makes me a little crazy if I think about it too much.

That’s exactly what happened with this article I wrote for Matador Network called 20 Experiences You Need to Have in North Dakota Before You Die. Detailing North Dakota’s quirky, random weirdness and stubborn beauty is basically what I do. Coming up with a top 20 list should have been a breeze.

It wasn’t.

Lots of great stuff made the list. I wrote about the Downtown Fargo Street Fair, a powwow (which I think everyone should experience at least once), the madness that is UND hockey, giant fish and weird and wonderful public art.

Lots of great stuff didn’t make it. For instance, I wanted Minot and Dickinson and Williston on this list somehow, because there’s plenty to see in these cities and their inclusion would have made things a little more geographically fair.

Fort-Clark-Historic-Site-Near-Stanton
Fort Clark historic site near Stanton

This type of thinking keeps an article balanced. It can also kill the story.

Tom Bartel, who travels the world with his wife Kris for their wonderful Travel Past 50 blog, conducted a workshop at a conference I attended last week. He stood up in front of a room full of writers and reminded us that our ultimate goal wasn’t clicks or shares or trying to cover every single excruciating details. We’re storytellers. “The object of journalism is to tell the truth, not to be balanced,” he said.

That was liberating to hear. Because truth can take any number of forms.

Lists don’t have to be comprehensive. They can’t be. If they were, I’d be out of a job. So would all the historians, curators, artists, writers, musicians and poets who help us understand the world around us. Nope, lists like this are, in the words of Cher Horowitz from “Clueless”, “…just the jumping off point for negotiations.” All that matters is that they’re true.

I wrote this list for a particular kind of reader. I’d write a different one for people like my buddy and his family of outdoor adventure enthusiasts and yet another for my friend’s mom, who is recovering from knee surgery and traveling by RV. All of those lists would be different. And they’d all be equally true.

Maybe you read this list and you liked it. That’s cool. I’m glad. I always hope this will happen.

BernBaum's-Bagels-in-Fargo
The deliciousness that is BernBaum’s in Fargo

On the other hand, maybe you read it and thought, “She included that and not this?! What an idiot!”

I always hope this will happen too. Then I hope you’ll tell me about what you loved and what you hated. I want to hear what I got right and what you’d do differently. I want you to tell me your story.

This exchange of information is what makes being a pesky little investigator so much fun. Any actor, film director, musician or storyteller will tell you that an audience influences a performance. I don’t get to sit with you as you read this, but your reactions to my stories are as vital as the feedback between a performer and her audience.

And trust me, I need that feedback. I’m not the expert here, you are. I’m just the girl with the camera and notebook who won’t stop asking questions.

All the research in the world (and I do a lot before, during and after every trip) pales in comparison to a real life story from a local or a traveler like you. Seriously, at least half of my stories (and most of the really interesting ones) come from readers. I haven’t gotten a bad recommendation (knock on wood) from you guys yet.

Grand-Forks-Bridge
The bridge between Grand Forks, ND and East Grand Forks, MN

You matter. Your stories are important to me, because simple truths from your everyday life can inspire other people to travel to new places and explore familiar landscapes in new ways. I know this is true because I’ve seen it happen over and over again. And I want to keep talking with you so we can all discover new adventures.

So what about you? What are your must-see North Dakota places and must-do experiences? Where do you take visitors? What are your family traditions and top-secret spots?

What do you think of when you think about North Dakota? If you’re not from here, what experiences and events make your own state or province unique? What kinds of experiences do you like to cultivate when you travel?

North-Dakota-Powwow-Feathers
Powwow feathers

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4 thoughts

  1. Ukrainian Festival in Dickinson usually held in July.
    Take a trip to Fairfield, ND Population – maybe 3????
    Grassy Butte ND sod post office (right down the road from Fairfield)

  2. Ahh, love seeing the photo from Ft. Clark near my hometown. Such a culturally significant place, where the small pox virus made landfall and changed the course of history.

    1. I was glad we stopped to explore it. My dad and I walked there for almost an hour, trying to process the fact that entire communities were wiped out in that very spot. So many of the Native American village sites make me feel like I did at Fort Clark: peaceful and sad at the same time.

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