Don't Even Go There—Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

Even if the world is your oyster, you can still chip a tooth on its shell. While travel magazines feature exotic locales of breathtaking beauty, we expose sites so depressing that no traveler this side of Edgar Allan Poe would venture there without a tub-load of tranquilizers. Take Las Vegas (please) and the $5.99 all-you-can-eat buffet line at Sam’s Town. That's the world we explore at Don’t Even Go There.

On this site, we tell of places we’ve visited but wish we hadn’t. We reveal vacation plans gone awry and relate horror stories from the road best abandoned. These true stories reflect where we’ve chosen to go. We only have ourselves to blame. We rarely needed to exaggerate—the truth really is stranger than a Dan Brown novel.

Don’t Even Go There: travel tips for those of us who aren’t escorted by security guards, pampered by wealthy benefactors, or provided a generous per diem. This blog is for seasoned travelers and armchair tourists who want the real world first-hand and head-on, with all its drama, horror, and humor. You’ll laugh at us, cry with us, and decide to stay home more often.

14 August 2008

Rare Good News

Every once in a while, we come upon a place we absolutely love. It doesn’t happen often, but when you travel as much as we do, you’re bound to find someplace with honest charm. Usually, it’s so remote it won’t even show up on a search engine. North Dakota is one such destination. —MB & JS

Lots of people go to North Dakota for vacation. Literally hundreds.

If you can’t find North Dakota with a sled dog, let us help. It sits along the US-Canadian border, between Minnesota and Montana. It’s just past the Midwest, but not yet to the Rockies. If you still can’t find it, look for Amarillo, Texas, and then head due north. For about 750 miles.

North Dakota is a big state in the northern plains. It’s littered with cowboys, cattle, and little else. The state capital, Bismarck, was named after a famous foreign leader, and the city is still over fifty percent German . . . which somehow makes sense to us. Who else would settle in a remote, cold stretch of prairie? Even the Russians had the sense to make Siberia a penal colony. The Germans would have moved there voluntarily. They just love a challenge. (“World domination? OK, we’ll give it a try.”)

Anyway, Bismarck’s average temperature in January hovers around ten degrees before you factor in the wind chill. That’s far too cold for most Americans, but it’s like going south for the winter to many Canadians. If Winnipeg were San Diego, the town of Minot, North Dakota, would be Tijuana. Our northern neighbors are known for visiting on a whim, drinking too much, and starting bar fights with the locals. It’s fun for the entire family.

Then again, maybe that’s only the stereotype. It’s totally within the realm of possibility that Canadians are actually very polite, upstanding people, with jobs and pets and bar soap. At least the way our lawyers tell it.

Like most places, North Dakota has four distinct seasons, but to the accidental tourist, they can be impossible to differentiate. The state has a short summer, followed by early winter, snow season, and late winter. This is a place where an ice scraper can be a practical gift even if your birthday falls in late August.

Mark in North Dakota . . . in July.

Aside from its attractive climate, what does the state have to offer? There’s beer drinking and cattle-tipping, both official state sports. How about those endless fields of flaxseed or those long, straight highways that lead . . . elsewhere? South Dakotans can boast of Mount Rushmore, but why would anyone want to visit North Dakota?

Our favorite reason—and it should be yours as well—is to experience the vast grandeur of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, otherwise known as the Badlands. If you like outdoor activities in the quiet solitude of nature, you will this place. The park spans 70,447 acres, almost 30,000 of which is unspoiled landscape with strange rock formations and colorful geological strata. You wouldn’t want to get lost in the midst of it all, but the Badlands have a hypnotic beauty that recalls a simpler time, when there weren’t as many people or as much pollution.

Despite the stark conditions and extreme winds, wildlife thrives among the sparse plant life. While the park is best known for its wild horses, bison, deer, and elk, you might catch a glimpse of the mysterious Black-Footed Ferret, one of the most endangered mammals in all of North America.

You can camp, hike, and horseback throughout the grounds. Guided tours offer multi-day excursions into the heart of the Badlands to tap the pulse of the park. You can travel to areas few have ever seen, where the footprint of mankind is a smaller than a rabbit dropping.

If you’re tired of fighting crowds at the popular national parks in the southwestern states (the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion come to mind), travel to North Dakota’s greatest reason for being: the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, aka the Badlands. Believe it or not, even we curmudgeons at Don’t Even Go There would go there again.

Lessons Learned: Go in the summertime, while the roads are still open and relatively free of ice and snow. It’s a short season, remember, so plan your trip accordingly. Winter hits hard in North Dakota, and unless you’re Canadian, you’ll want to be far, far away.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 2
Communication Breakdown: 1
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 3
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 3
Rent-Attainment: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 3/5
Vibe-Rating: 5

If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Bismarck Municipal Airport
Native Population: 435,359 people visited the park in 2006, but ironically, you can hike for days without seeing another human
Normal Attractions: Scenic drives, wildlife, wilderness, camping, hiking, horseback riding, and Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch.
Final Point of Interest: The exorbitant entrance fee is $5.00 per person if you’re on foot, bike, or horseback; $10.00 per vehicle if you drive.


Ask Asheville North Carolina said...

Never been there, but wanna go now.

Mark Bloom and Jason Scholder said...

To get there, you have to drive a really, really, really long way. It takes a lot of gasoline. It takes a lot of greasy meals. It takes a lot of coffee. And if you bring the kids, it will take many hours of off-key singing. To get there, you've got to really, really, really want to go. Don't say we didn't warn you!