Seeing Dickinson From a Local’s Perspective
Feeling right at home with a special tour of North Dakota’s “Western Edge”
“College sweethearts? Aw, that’s so cute!” is the response we typically get when we tell people how we met. We’ve been together for five years, since we were young freshman, and happily married adults for one of those years. Jake and I have experienced a lot together over the past few years. But something we’ve never done together before was visit his hometown—Dickinson, North Dakota. He hadn’t been back since his parents retired in Colorado and he always speaks so highly of Dickinson, so I figured it was the perfect destination plus Jake could act as my local tour guide.
“You want to see where I’m from?” he asked with a beaming smile.
Before I could answer, he was already in our closet packing and saying, “We definitely need to bring our cowboy boots.”
Friday afternoon: enchanting detour
We touched down in Bismarck then headed west on I-94 in a rented car. I had a minor case of jetlag and was trying not to nod off.
“Honey, look,” Jake nudged me, turned on the blinker and slowed the car to a stop. I looked up and suddenly my sleepiness was cured.
A flock of 10 Canadian geese was soaring overhead and were the size of small airplanes. We got out of the car and the sign next to them explained it was the world’s largest scrap metal art sculpture according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Geese in Flight was actually one of seven colossal metal sculptures making up the Enchanted Highway.
Jake explained how his dad used to take him and his siblings here every time a new sculpture was unveiled. “I’m no longer four feet tall but this still seems humongous!” he observed. He promised we would return to see the rest of the sculptures before his hometown tour ended, as we were running out of daylight and could easily spend a better part of a day marveling at the highway’s unique sculptures.
Friday evening: Scotcharoos
With the Geese in Flight in our rearview mirror, we got back on the interstate and pulled into North Dakota’s seventh largest city: Jake’s hometown of Dickinson. Jake drove straight to Downtown Dickinson, which is especially charming and full of neat locally owned establishments. The quaint red and tan brick buildings were inviting, quite the contrast from the dark, steel high rises back east where we live now.
“Welcome to the Western Edge,” he said with pride. “We used to come down here a lot after the rodeo.”
I could just imagine him walking down the street in his little cowboy boots after a mutton busting competition—the trophies he won as a kid are proudly displayed in our living room.
“And I know just the place to go for good eats,” Jake continued. After traveling all day and eating only airplane food, I was relieved and excited to eat at a local restaurant and try what Jake called, “One of my absolute favorite treats and the best can only be found in this state.”
The treat that lay in store was at The Brew Coffee House, an old chapel (rumor has it Teddy Roosevelt used to attend services there) turned into a coffee house. The sandwiches were delicious and hit the spot. But the dessert was the main event Jake had been talking about. Jake ordered Scotcharoos—his indulgence of choice. It seemed like a simple Rice Krispies® concoction, but I failed miserably every time I tried to make them.
“So this is what they’re supposed to taste like. I get it now,” I said, polishing off the final gooey bit of peanut butter and chocolate goodness.
Now, here in North Dakota—where I was told they are practically a food group—I was experiencing the same euphoria he grew up knowing.
Saturday: wild adventures
After a quick pit stop to borrow bicycles from the bike shop Jake used to work at as a teenager, we spent the rest of the day at his favorite stomping grounds—Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s 35 miles west of Dickinson, just a half an hour right off the interstate.
While cycling the South Unit’s scenic loop, we saw everything from bison and wild horses to prairie dog towns. However, the scenery took the cake, or Scotcharoo, if you will. We were surrounded by rugged buttes and curious-looking rock formations that rose out of a sea of colorful grasslands.
“Some of this used to be Roosevelt’s ranch. All of the park’s roads allow cycling, and I used to bike here all the time I also remember going to my friends’ family ranches over school breaks and pretending to be a real cowboy,” Jake reminisced with a look of blissful contentment. I bet he looked just like that as a kid. Breathing in the fresh air and smelling the scent of the sage made it a sensory experience I’ll never forget.
We soon changed out of our cycling shoes and got ready to start hiking on the park’s popular Wind Canyon trail. Stony spectacles were all around, and it blew my mind, pun intended, to think the wind had carved many of these natural masterpieces. After just 10 minutes, the trail culminated in a scenic spot with sweeping views of the Little Missouri River and limestone cliffs.
“When I think of Dickinson, I remember and picture this spot right here,” Jake said.
I replied, “I think this will come first to mind for me too. And now, I can picture all the other spots you showed me when you tell me stories about growing up. I’ll know where you are talking about.”
Sunday: back to enchantment
The next day we explored the rest of the Enchanted Highway, as Jake had promised. Each sculpture—ranging from pheasants to deer and even Teddy Roosevelt’s stagecoach—was created by one man who wanted to bring more visitors to his hometown of Regent, ND. When we reached the final sculpture, Tin Family, I found it ironic that a family of scrap metal sculptures could look so at home in this context of farmland and cowboy country. But to some degree, I was one of them.
“So, what did you think,” Jake asked as we drove to the airport.
“I think I can officially add Dickinson to my short list of adopted hometowns,” I replied, though I wasn’t sure whether it had adopted me or vice versa. But like the Canadian geese—my first impression of this area—I knew I would feel compelled to return for years to come.
Jake was 100 percent on board with that idea.
Get to know Dickinson by exploring the great outdoor experiences, family entertainment and unique shops. You’ll feel right at home in this Western town, too.