Sunday, September 29, 2013

Perspectives on North Dakota

 The odd thing is, North Dakota is not that photogenic, by and large.  (Sorry, natives, I call 'em as I see 'em.)  The state is flat, almost treeless, and weak on oceans, glaciers, deserts, buttes, taiga forests, alpine valleys, jungles, wildlife, big cities, ports, ancient ruins, or much else that places an exclamation mark on a landscape.  Yet I found so much of interest in the state, that I'm going to split this in two, and offer perspectives from Teddy Roosevelt National Park in a later post. 

I began the day at a camp ground just off of dilapidated downtown Crookstown, Minnesota, with the old Catholic church looming over us, along with trees.  "Crooks' town?"  Refreshingly honest, these pioneers seem to have been -- Bad River was another of several geographical markers I noticed in the area.  Talked a bit with an eccentric Vietnam vet with a broken down mountain bike and a tent, slept in my car, and hit the road early, eager to get my first view of a state where I think some of my ancestors once lived, before they got cold and came to Seattle. 

Highway Two across the northern tier of the state turned out to be under construction, more or less all at once, four hundred miles of bad pavement, big trucks, and cones.  The big trucks had apparently come with the oil derricks, which started showing up about half way across.  This is the famous (or should be famous) Bakken formation, which has already vaulted North Dakota to second-leading oil state in the nation, a little less than a million barrels per day in July.  (Logistics may keep the number from climbing much higher, for a while.)  The shales and dolomites two miles beneath the wheat fields of North Dakota oil and natural gas are transforming the American economy and challenging the geopolitical status quo as despots with oil lose their leverage over the world economy.

But it struck me how harmoniously these wells fit into the landscape.  Every so often there would be a reddish dirt road leading off the highway, a little plot for parking trucks and six or so vertical reservoirs, like midget grain silos, and the drill, along perhaps with a basin for burning off natural gas.  (You could occasionally see a flare of flame across the wheat fields, or across sunflower fields in one case.)  But the fields all seem intact: the farmers evidently aren't going to let a flood of money from beneath the ground, stop them from growing crops in the Above World. 

Which made North Dakota rather picturesque, after all.  (Though Williston and parts south were overrun with trucks with license plates from around the country.) 

And then I came to the sun flower fields.

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