For the Plains States the name pretty much tells it all … or does it? Sure you’ll find badlands, black hills and cattle yards, but what else is tucked away in the part of the country known for its amber fields of grain? Whether you are looking for an eccentric roadside stop or some cool parkland to explore, here are some of the plains states’ zaniest forgotten corners:
Maah Daah Hey Trail, N.D. |
It’s not exactly zany, but in a state filled with long, lonesome highways the Maah Daah Hey trail is pretty impressive. Instead of zooming along at 80 miles per hour, you have to walk these 96 miles – or mountain bike them.
Mandan Indians walked these badlands during earlier times and still use the area to hunt elk and bison. Theodore Roosevelt came through the area as well; the trail goes by the site of his summer Elkhorn Ranch. If you want to create an epic bucket list of things to do in North Dakota, why not traverse the landscape that toughened up Teddy Roosevelt?
National Buffalo Museum, N.D. |
North Dakota and South Dakota should be in a race to claim all things buffalo related. If that were the case, North Dakota would come out on top with the Buffalo Museum and the world’s largest buffalo monument, both of which can be found in Jamestown North Dakota. Dakota Thunder, a 26-foot-tall buffalo made from concrete, will lure you off Interstate 94 and into the town of Jamestown.
Once you’re in town, you’ll want to visit the National Buffalo Museum where you can learn about this magnificent animal and its importance in Plains Indian culture. Bring binoculars to watch the museum’s bison herd grazing on the land outside the museum. The rare albino White Cloud and her white calf Dakota Miracle live here and are considered sacred according to Lakota tradition.
The Enchanted Highway, N.D. |
Huge tin sculptures loom up out of the prairie on the deserted stretch of North Dakota prairie that makes up the Enchanted Highway. Geese In Flight – an enormous billboard-style art installation lures you off the interstate and onto the nameless road which heads towards a tiny town called Regent.
You’ll pass the World’s Largest Grasshopper clicking together its tin pinchers. You’ll see The Tin Family, a 60 foot long rooster, a 50 foot long hen and three 12 foot chicks, a depiction of Teddy Roosevelt on a rearing horse and a giant leaping deer. Fisherman’s Dream is by far the most complicated sculpture with fish leaping 70 feet into the air over a metal pond.
Evans Plunge Hot Springs, S.D. |
True to its name, Hot Springs has hot mineral water perfect for bathing and swimming. Before the early 20th century craze for spa treatments, American Indians used these same springs to soak and cure their ailments.
While the springs are no longer wild as they once were, they are still one of South Dakota’s coolest attractions. Evans Plunge Hot Springs pipes in the original spring water into a variety of fun pools. Kids and adults alike can ride waterslides, skip across the water on trapeze rings or play in the outdoor pool.
Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, S.D. |
Sixty-one Columbian mammoths and wooly mammoths were pulled from the earth at the Mammoth Site making it the largest collection of mammoths ever found together. Eighty-five other species of plants, animals and insects have also been found here and some of them are still unidentified.
When you visit, you get to take a guided tour around the bone bed and the giant sink hole that captured all these creatures when the earth fell in beneath their feet. Afterward, you can peak in at the laboratory where fossilized bones are prepared and check out the skeletons in the exhibit hall. Kids shouldn’t miss the special junior paleontologist excavation program, or the chance to throw an atlatl – humanity’s paleo hunting spear.
Kool-Aid: Discover the Dream, Hastings, Neb. |
While not one of Nebraska’s biggest attractions, the Kool-Aid Museum certainly is zany … and sticky sweet. You can fact-check all your Kool-Aid trivia knowledge, check out vintage advertisements or watch the evolution of the drink, from breakable glass bottle to a brightly colored powder. Any Kool-Aid commercial you’d ever want to watch from the 1950s and 60s is here in their archive.
The bulbous plastic Kool-Aid man you might have seen in your youth has been retired to a Plexiglas display case. Check under the floors for the fiber-optically lit river of Kool-Aid which flows through clear pipes under your feet.
Carhenge, Alliance, Neb. |
Carhenge is at once tacky blight and a fantastically weird tourist attraction. It falls into the category of “things to do on the side of the road in Nebraska.” Thirty-eight junk cars from the 80s and earlier have been spray-painted a stone color and upended in the earth like their mysterious inspiration across the Atlantic. If Carhenge only holds your attention for so long, you’ll find other car art installed nearby.
Route 66, Okla. |
Oklahoma has the longest preserved stretch of the original Route 66 with roadside motels, drive up burger places and all the Americana you could ever ask for mostly intact. Before you hit the road, stop in at the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton where you can read up on the highway and check out the vintage cars, signs and curios they have on display.
Back on the road you won’t want to miss Lucille’s Service Station & Roadhouse in Hydro where the vintage gas pumps are all that remain of a once successful business. The rest of the way, transit museums, historic cinemas, colorful totem poles and country music will beguile you to pull over again and again.
Price Tower, Bartlesville, Okla. |
Frank Lloyd Wright’s take on the skyscraper, this bottle brush shaped high-rise was home to the Price Company a local oil and chemical company. It also had space for trendy apartments and mixed-use offices. When you stop by today, you won’t find any industry, or anyone living in the tower. Instead a museum and arts complex showcase Wright’s talents as well as the art of rotating local artists. A neat visit a bit off the beaten track.
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