Big as All Outdoors

Saturday, November 03, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Westward Ho, Day 13:  Bismarck, ND, to Dickinson, ND

With all the open space in North Dakota, there's plenty of room for larger than life— much larger than life—creations.   In searching for letterboxes today, we visited some of these North Dakota wonders.  Our first stop was in New Salem (pop. 946) to meet the 38-ft tall Salem Sue.

Ken stamps in the Salem Sue letterbox.
Legend has it that an early settler in the town of New Salem was plowing the prairie in 1883 when a couple of Sioux happened by.  After watching for a bit, the older Native picked up a piece of the overturned sod and flipped it so that the grass was on top.  "Wrong side up," the younger Indian explained to the farmer.  A bit of consideration was all it took for the farmer to realize that the ground really was much better suited to grazing than growing crops.  And that revelation gave birth to the New Salem dairy industry.

Dairy has been such a successful venture in the area that New Salem's high school sports teams claim the Holstein as their mascot.  And on a rare North Dakota hill near I-94, the good people of New Salem built what is billed as the world's largest cow.  Visible for about five miles, Salem Sue (perhaps named for the Sioux who inspired the industry) was built in 1974 by the local Lions Club to honor and promote the area's dairy farmers. 

Today we joined the steady stream of pilgrims from the Interstate who pull off the highway and make their way up the narrow, winding gravel road to Salem Sue's summit on School Hill.  Tracks in the snow around the big bovine revealed that we wern't the first visitors since yesterday's snowfall.  There was a second letterbox on the other side of the steep hill behind Sue's behind, but the icy wind and slippery slope kept us from bagging that one.

Continuing west on our quest for gigantic things, we came upon the Enchanted Highway, otherwise known as Stark County Highway 4531.   What makes this road enchanting is the work of a local metal sculptor.  Retired principal of Regent High School and a native of the town of Regent (pop. 160), Gary Greff had watched the population of his town dwindle over his lifetime and wanted to do something to attract visitors, believing that the town couldn't rely solely on farming.  Inspiration struck when he observed people drive off the interstate to snap photos of an oversized strong man created from hay bales.

Geese in Flight
Greff wanted something a bit more permanent, so he chose scrap metal as his medium and set to work with a welder, blow torch and paint.  What resulted are towering, fanciful creations which Greff sited on roadside parcels of land he leased from local farmers.  Like giant tour guides, the sculptures lead people 32 miles south from I-94 straight to the town of Regent.

Grasshoppers in the Field
At each of his installations, Greff has posted signs to entice visitors to continue their trek down the Enchanted Highway—"Deer Crossing, 3 miles."  Each site also is equipped with its own parking area, a message board, a picnic table or two, and often play equipment for the kids.  Greff is a one-man show and maintains all these sites himself, including painting, grass cutting, and whatever else needs doing.

Pheasants on the Prairie
We couldn't find any data about tourist dollars Greff may have attracted to Regent with his alluring sculptures.  The area is well known as a haven for pheasant hunting.  In fact, we saw lots of hunters  in one place and a field full of pheasants farther down the road.  We did not regret that we didn't see them together.

In downtown Regent, we saw the Enchanted Highway gift shop, but it wasn't open today, so we didn't have an opportunity to meet Mr. Greff ourselves, but we did play with his 'wirlygigs' near the shop.  Perhaps he was busy with his recently opened Enchanted Castle hotel, housed in a converted elementary school.  Any town needing a one-person booster club would do well to find someone very much like Gary Greff.

Our day ended at Dickinson, North Dakota, a place to rest for the night.  Tomorrow we'll continue west, visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park before entering Montana.

Daily Stats:
  • Miles driven:  202
  • Letterboxes:  F 4, P 0
  • Weather:  Snow showers, cloudy, 26° to 33°
  • States:  1 (ND)
  • Big sculptures:  8
  • Tourists in Regent:  2
  • Hunters in Regent:  25

Trip Stats:
  • Miles:  3,348
  • Gallons of gas:  145
  • Letterboxes:  F 32, P 6
  • States:  11 (GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, IL, MO, KS, NE, SD, ND)
  • Coldest temp:  25°, Topeka,KS (Oct. 27) & Bismarck, ND (Nov. 2)
  • Hottest temp:  80°, Gaffney, SC (Oct. 22)
  • Gas price extremes:  $3.30 in Topeka to $3.95 in Lincolnton, NC
  • National battlefields:  32
  • National historic sites:  3
  • State capitols:  3
  • State parks & historic sites:  6

More Photos from Today

Enchanted Highway between sculptures

Deer Crossing
Fisherman's Dream
Teddy Rides Again
The Tin Family
Push the button to see the whirligigs go.