Wednesday, August 13, 2014

North Country Redux: Through the boom, oil that is

July 23 2014

Yesterday, after I finished with the museum in Duluth, I continued to make my way westward since I have so much of that to do. Nobody’s twisting my arm on that but I’m a little burned out on the Midwest and the thought of making my way southward through the literal heart of the country, covering the same ground I’ve already covered a few times in the past couple years is just not very appealing. At the same time I have obligations at home so don’t have the luxury of dawdling too much.

Even this part of the trip, from Duluth to Bemidji, is a repeat of last year, up US2, through the boggy low-lands with ranks and ranks of scrawny trees to the higher, lusher ground that starts showing up near Grand Rapids, past all the lodges, or rather signs for lodges since few of them are actually within sight of the highway, past Cass Lake where you will find Star Island, an island with its own lake, a lake within a lake, into Bemidji, purported location of the Coen brother’s latest version of Fargo.

I clipped the corner of Bemidji last year but this time made a point of driving right through the heart of town from one end to the other. From what I could see there are parts of Bemidji that look pretty much as it was portrayed in the TV miniseries, though I had to imagine all the snow that was a major character in the show.

I spent the night at the Bemidji KOA on the west side of town. For a little something different this time, there were plenty of sites available.

It was pretty warm most of the night. (Could have used some of that snow!) Warm enough that I didn’t turn the AC off and open the windows until around midnight.

Today was all about getting from Bemidji, in north central Minnesota, to the Roosevelt National Forest in western North Dakota.  That’s a long ways to go, a little better than 450 miles of wheels rolling, so it was a freeway day; a dissociative drive.

In psychology circles dissociative describes a detachment from reality rather than the more extreme loss of reality as in psychosis. Dissociative; a detachment from reality. I think that’s a very apt description of freeway travel.

The freeway blasts through the land, burrowing through the high spots and filling in the low.  You can see the shape of the land as you pass through it, but you can’t feel the ups and downs and twists and turns that the highways, laid lightly down on top of the land, offer the more leisurely traveler.

From the freeway you can see how the land is used but you can’t smell the turned earth and fresh-cut hay or hear the trains or feel the tracks as you cross them.

From the freeway you can only infer the bypassed towns, sometimes marked by a water tower in the distance, sometimes marked by nothing more than a sign at an exit.

If you’re in predominantly crop land then there are seed, fertilizer and pesticide dealers, the equipment dealers are displaying combines and seed-drills and sprayers and drop-bottom trailers, and there’s a Ford dealer with mostly pickup trucks on the lot.

If, as you go further west, the land becomes more range than crop then there are feed stores and veterinarians. The equipment dealers are selling hay rakes and balers and livestock trailers and portable stock-fence, and there’s a Ford dealer with mostly pickup trucks on the lot.

But from the freeway you can’t tell if a town embraces the traveler with bright welcome signs at town’s edge, banners strung overhead displaying the dates of the next festival, neat, clean streets with fresh flowers in bright planters and a little jewel of a park with plenty of parking, or if it’s the kind of town that warns the traveler to slow down or else then turns its back to the highway like it’s an unwelcome neighbor.

In short, the freeway has its use, but there is a cost. (And right now that cost is clearly melancholy!)

I did take the time to drive through downtown Fargo, and then later, Bismarck.

I hit Fargo a little before 9 in the morning but if there is a rush-hour there it’s over early. Fargo was a nice drive-by, with wide streets, river-walks and brick-paved memorial nooks. A city, but an inviting little city.

I hit Bismarck at lunch, got off the big road and followed the business routes, and the contrast with Fargo was jarring. The line for the drive-through at Big Boys (Ever seen a drive through Big Boys before? Me neither.) was backed up onto the street for a full block. Where Fargo was pedestrian friendly and inviting Bismarck was industrial and crowded with narrow streets and no breathing room. The buildings downtown crowd the sidewalk and block the sun. When you factor in the parked cars lining the streets there’s not quite enough room for the 4 lanes of traffic the lines painted on the road would have you believe.

To be fair western North Dakota is going through an oil-boom right now and there are a lot more people around than can really fit. I passed a relatively new looking 4 story hotel with a huge banner hung on the side of it proudly announcing it has rooms for the impressive weekly rate of $599!!! All I can say is those workers better be getting paid one hell of a lot to put up with a $2400 a month hotel room!

And this is another reason for blasting through here in a single day. In this part of the country campgrounds, public or private, are a little scarce and with the influx of workers empty sites are hard to come by, so my target was the no-hookups Cottonwood campground tucked up against the Little Missouri River in the Roosevelt National Park. Which is where I’m sitting right now, with the hood up trying to let the heat of the engine escape into the air instead of soaking into my living quarters since my westerly miles and doubling of altitude to about 2600’ hasn’t done much to cool things off.

Pretty nice campsite but it comes with the annoyance of tiny little flies, slightly larger than a fruit fly. They don’t bite but are impervious to bug-juice so I’ve inadvertently swallowed more than a few while sitting here in the shade under the trees trying not to generate any more heat than I have to! Hey! It's free protein!!

And is there a hint of a little cooling rain up there in those clouds???

No comments:

Post a Comment