Rolling hills snugly blanketed in Jack Pine and Sugar Maple… A meandering two-lane blacktop following a seemingly arbitrary path as it navigates the shorelines of a thousand sparkling lakes…. This is the landscape to which we had grown accustomed as we made our way further west, all the way to the Ojibwe Reservation in Minnesota where we left off on Tuesday. Breaking camp again on Wednesday morning, we understandably expected more of the same; but shortly into our drive those bucolic rolling hills surrendered abruptly to a vast, expansive prairie. In stark contrast to the previous day’s random twists and turns, the countryside was now suddenly tortured by the architecture of rural civilization. Any natural curves in the landscape had long been erased, replaced by a massive gridiron of parallel and perpendicular lines, the geometry of farm country. Highways became stretched into long straight ribbons, horizon to horizon, intersecting plowed fields with equally long straight furrows leading left and right to their own respective ends. The sprawling fields were further broken into perfect rectangles only by the spare demarcations of stunted trees and ragged shrubs, fleeting native flora clinging to the last narrow strips of uncultivated earth, and the only dimensional obstacles obscuring infinity.
In the middle of this Minnesota farm country, we found a tiny little town, Hendrum, little more than a clump of trees and a few dilapidated grain silos. In this tiny town we found a tiny little forgotten park built by the WPA way back in the 1930s. One of thousands of similar New Deal projects in the area, it remains a quaint reminder of a long forgotten age. Hendrum still welcomes visitors to their little park, no charge if you’re only staying a single night. Boots and I took them up on their hospitality and stopped for the day, only periodically interrupted by a tractor planting seed in an adjacent field, round after round, late into the long evening. Sadly, Hendrum is like so many little towns in the midwest. As younger generations pursue livelihoods far beyond the town limits, the only population growth here seems to be in the cemeteries.
Thursday morning found us crossing the Red River of the North, the political boundary separating Minnesota and North Dakota. Only a hundred miles into this new state, we found another little town park, also a WPA legacy, on the banks of Tolna Lake. Similar to Hendrum, camping is free if you’re only passing through. Tolna is a tiny little body of water, in contrast with massive Devil’s Lake just a few miles to the North. Nonetheless, it seemed quite popular with locals as I watched several small fishing boats launch throughout the day. The steady stream of park visitors did finally dwindle as a beautiful blue-sky day gave way to a peaceful evening, all accompanied by the constant rush of water over the Tolna Dam only a few feet from where I slept.
Another morning brought another short driving day, 100 quick miles to Rugby, ND and the Pierce County Fairgrounds where we found a new contender for RV-friendly hospitality. Not only is overnight camping free here, the fairground also provides live electrical hookups, water, and even public bathrooms with hot showers. All this is at no charge to the weary traveler. Needless to say, we stocked up at the local supermarket as a thank you. It’s also worth noting that Rugby is recognized as the geographical center of North America. So they’ve got that going for them too…
Finally, this morning we are driving northwest to Flaxton, ND where I have a line on another free camping option. This will be our final night in the United States, at least for a while. Yes, tomorrow we cross into Saskatchewan, Canada, ushering in a brand new set of adventures for Bon and his well-travelled feline companion. Until then, be happy my friends. Todos los Dias!