On the Trail
October 29, 2007
I went to North Dakota to learn more about the Northern Pacific Railroad, to see some village sites once occupied by the Mandans, and to visit historic forts, but one of the first places I visited in the Bismarck area was Papa’s Pumpkin Patch, where I found large and small straw bales, pumpkins, gourds, tall and short corn stalks, and hundreds of kids with their families looking for pumpkins among the 20,000 or so available.
But Papa’s is much more than just a pumpkin patch; it is a pumpkin party like I’ve never seen before. There are pumpkin playhouses, a scarecrow cove, the Great Pumpkin Chair (which you need a ladder to ascend), a nature trail, a straw maze with Mount Poppy made of bales in the center where the kids could climb and play, and antiques (with pumpkins all around), plus a forest made of corn stalks with pumpkins littering the “forest floor” like pine cones that have dropped to the ground.
I imagine by now the pumpkin patch at Papa’s is pretty picked over, but this is a great place to put on your fall travel itinerary for next year. It opens for “serious business” every fall, is going strong in late September and early October, and closes when the weather turns in mid-October. But while it’s up and running, you can surely have a full day of fun there with children or grandchildren as they climb, run, take pony rides, and, of course, pick a pumpkin to take home.
On my second day in North Dakota, I went to Jamestown where I had the chance to learn about a community that is internationally known because of the birth of a white buffalo there some years ago. White Cloud still lives on a small preserve in Jamestown and this year had a new white calf (which had not yet been named when I was in town). Although we had a good view of the buffalo pasture, unfortunately White Cloud was nowhere to be seen, but I did get to see ” and stand beneath ” the “World’s Largest Buffalo” ” a monument created by Elmer Petersen. This monster buffalo is 26 feet high, 46 feet long, and 14 feet wide. He weighs 60 tons. I’m admittedly pretty short ” only 5’2″ ” and could barely touch the bottom of the buffalo’s beard when I held my arm up.
This big buffalo overlooks the buffalo pasture where White Cloud roams, and is near the Frontier Village and National Buffalo Museum. The village has a number of authentic buildings moved to this location and used to depict the local area history. One small cabin has been set up as a museum to one of Jamestown’s most famous residents: the Western author Louis L’Amour. There is also a schoolhouse, general store, dentist’s office, and more.
A collection ranging from authentic Northern Plains Indian clothing to the remains of a prehistoric bison is on display at the National Buffalo Museum.
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From Jamestown, my route took me north toward Carrington with its historic business district and houses such as the Putnam House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Abrams House, constructed in 1909 and now a bed and breakfast.
En route to Carrington, I had a chance to see how one North Dakota woman has turned a passion for natural products: sunflowers, Indian corn, and other plants into art. At Pipestem Creek Ann Hoffert raises extensive gardens. She has drying “houses” located in a former railroad depot and a ten-sided granary. Taking these natural products: sunflowers, sorghum, pink dock, flax and more, she turns them into wreaths of grains and grasses. She makes bird houses out of corn, and turns dried sunflowers into birdfeeders and holiday products such as Christmas wreaths and swags.
In part because of the products she raises, and also because she is an avid bird watcher, Ann has made Pipestem Creek a real attraction for bird lovers. She has turned a house on the property ” Bobolink ” into accommodations for visitors, and if you rent the Bobolink, you can also rent the small rustic cabin with its view of the gardens. Although you will almost certainly see and hear a variety of birds at Pipestem Creek, you can have the opportunity for additional birdwatching at nearby Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge. Home to such birds as Black-billed Cookoos, Gray Partridges, Nelson’s Sharp-Tailed Sparrows, a variety of ducks, American White Pelicans, and many more.
Oh, yes, I did visit forts, Indian villages, and railroad sites … more about those attractions in a future column.
If you want to plan a trip to North Dakota, you can get a visitor’s guide from the North Dakota Division of Tourism by calling (800) 435-5663 or visiting them online at http://www.ndtourism.com. For Jamestown area information call (800) 222-4766 or visit http://www.jamestownnd.com and for Carrington details call (701) 652-2524 or visit http://www.carringtonnd.com.