I Left My Heart… In the Prairies of North Dakota

There I was packing my bags for the epic adventure that was about to happen… No, not my 3 day trip to Vegas for NASCAR weekend, but my week long adventure to the remote prairies of North Dakota. I was so excited for this trip because this marked my first time experiencing HIS world. And this was something I could hardly stand. I told everyone about my trip and well, the responses were varied to say the least…

“North Dakota… Why would you want to go there?”
“But there is nothing there”
“Good for you, bring your coat!” 

Now to my friends and acquaintances in California, naturally, we feel like the state we live in is paradise. Anything will grow, we experience the spoils of diverse climates and different regions, I mean is there anything you can’t experience in California!? 

My friends and acquaintances living in north Dakota feel the same love and passion for their state that we do for our beloved paradise.. And until I traveled there, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.. How can people passionately love an area that drops to below zero temperatures for months out of the year?? Not to mention the snow. Omg, I have heard horror stories! 

But it wasn’t only my friends residing in north Dakota that claim they are happy living there… Shortly before I left, a study came out which concluded north Dakota to be the second happiest state in the country, behind Hawaii! Um, what!? Do people realize it snows there….?

Even before I got my bags all packed and I left for my adventure, all it took was one tweet (via Twitter) about my soon arrival in NoDak. And there came the outpouring of excitement and welcome from residents there whom I had conversed with via the Internet but never met before in real life.. Inviting me over for dinner, wanting to meet me, excited that I was coming to experience the state that they love so much. I was literally blown away by the kindness. Everyone living there claims that the people are what make up this area… Little did I know that they were telling me the truth. 

So from Vegas I went and flew into some of the flattest land I’ve ever experienced. I’ve travelled quite a bit. I’ve experienced many different places both large and small.. Flying there I couldn’t help but be fearful when i was warned of a small town, flashes of rural Nebraska came into my head. 2 block towns with nothing but corn and soy beans for miles and miles. But I was pleasantly surprised that my fears did not become my reality. 

The town of Ashley, North Dakota boasts a population of 800 and despite this lack of population, it is much more of a booming town than you would think. And it’s more than two blocks. More like 6 blocks. There is a bar, cafe, bank, post office, grocery store, coffee shop, florist, courthouse, and of course John Deere dealership. (to name a few things). Now of course, growing up in a small farming community of Durham, Ca, I know how small towns go. Everyone knows everyone in small towns. Also, everyone knows when you aren’t from there. 

I’ve experienced this feeling before. The feeling of being an outsider. Sometimes you may as well wear a sign that says I’m not from here. For me, this feeling makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like feeling like I don’t fit in a place. I don’t like people looking at me like I’m some sort of alien. 

And this was something I feared visiting the prairies of North Dakota, that I wouldn’t fit in. I would be that outsider and everyone would know. Well most did know I wasn’t from there but let me tell you, you could have fooled me. Never before have I felt so welcomed visiting a new place. I received such a welcome there it’s still hard for me to believe it. People there are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met in my life, giving hugs to me upon meeting me, and genuinely interested in where I was from and what I did there.. Instantly we were talking like I would talk to an old friend. Most of our conversations ending in them telling me they’d pick me up from the airport next time I came to visit… Did I mention the airport is 130 miles away? 

If there is anything I learned about the people of north Dakota is that they are passionate about three things: their community, farming, and their food. Thank god I know how to cook. And although I learned that they like to eat their red skinned mashed potatoes peeled and a north Dakotan that loves lamb is few and far between, my dishes went over well! I had my first experience of living rural. Having to plan your meals ahead of time because getting all the groceries needed to make an extravagant meal requires driving sometimes over an hour. But I was very surprised to see that once we got there, while shopping around, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t find back at home. 

Flying into an airport east of where we were headed means I got to get a good view of the prairie in all it’s glory on our way to Ashley. Everyone says that North Dakota is flat, and indeed it does not contain mountain ranges like my beloved state of California, but really north dakota reminds me a lot of our Sacramento valley.. More like rolling hills of grasslands. With lots of water. I could not believe how many natural lakes and creeks there are flowing across the prairie. It’s gorgeous in its own way. Huge expanses of blue sky with rolling grassy hills as far as the eye can see. You cant help but want to take a drive with the windows down, just enjoying the sights. The sun on your face, the wind in your hair, listening to the copious amounts of snow geese… This is the country like I’ve never experienced it. It was reminiscent of driving through the rice fields at home, but instead I was in North Dakota. 

I was blessed with beyond beautiful weather while I was there… Every single person I talked to could not help but marvel at how unusual the weather was for this time of year. I guess I brought the California weather with me because while I enjoyed near 80 degree temps and sunshine in North Dakota, back at home it was 50 degrees and raining all week. 

So many things about my trip seemed almost surreal to me. Too good to be true.. From the warm welcome from the people, to the weather, to how at home I really felt while there.. And although North Dakota is a long ways from my favorite clothing boutiques in downtown Chico and the Cafe there has nothing on some of my favorite fine dining restaurants…There is no denying the remote prairies of North Dakota stole my heart. And in fact, I left a piece of my heart there that I will have to return to reclaim very soon.


10 responses to “I Left My Heart… In the Prairies of North Dakota

  1. I’m a SD boy now 30+ yrs. a Kansan. I grew up just about 30 mi. South of Ashley. I enjoyed your commentary. I lived for a Year in Lodi, CA. and still recall how “at home” I felt traveling through rolling farm hills and wheat fields going from Lodi to San Francisco. As to “flat” topography, going through KS, NE, SD, & ND looks quite similar. Maybe because of growing up there, I like long sculpted landscape vistas, horizons, etc. as well as the small, interesting surprises in the scenery. Too, I hope that you were able to get some of the unique German-Russian food and note the interesting Upper Plains/Midwest speech patterns.
    Thanks for a fun reflection on my turf.

  2. You posted some amazing pics…reminding me of why I decided to stick around here. And just wait until you see it when the grass is green and the fields are growing. You must have @sunflowerfarmer take you to Whitestone Battlefield and check out the view from the tops of the hills down to the “flats.” It gives me goosebumps every time.

    • I cannot wait to come back and experience more! I’d love to capture all seasons. Even that scary winter! 😉 and thank you so much for the kind words!! I’ll be heading that way again soon!

  3. Love your blogs Jenny. Your photography is amazing and your commentary is soooo interesting. Loved hearing about your wonderful trip.

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