Lonely afternoons on Highway 1…
North Dakota Highway 1 is one of the few state highways that link one end of the state to the other. In this case, it’s north to south, from Maida on the Canadian border to south of Ludden on the South Dakota state line. If you’ve never driven this highway, take the time sometime to drive it all the way through. You’ll see a lot of North Dakota that you don’t normally see elsewhere in the state. My favorite time to drive it is in the fall when the leaves are changing color.
For at least four years, I drove Highway 1 to get from my home in Langdon to my National Guard unit in Edgeley, nearly across the state. And on those Sunday nights on the way home, the turn off Interstate 94 was Exit 283 west of Valley City. From there, it was 145 miles almost straight north. But even on those late Sunday evenings in the winter, I never saw that stretch of highway as a long road to Langdon. I always saw it as an opportunity to see or learn something new.
As an example, I was on my way home one Sunday afternoon, tuning through the radio dial like I usually do, and all of a sudden I drove past a bale of hay with a deer standing on top of it. I stopped and slowly backed up, only to realize that because it was a Guard drill weekend, I didn’t take my camera. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen that in my life, and all I have is a good memory of it. That happened somewhere between Binford and Pekin.
Another time I stopped at Stump Lake, south of Lakota, to marvel at some of the work that was done on the road and the surrounding countryside to accept the overflow from Devils Lake. Back in those days, there was a lot of controversy about allowing Devils Lake to flow into Stump Lake, but it appeared the Nelson County Commission did its homework because it looked to me that afternoon that they were ready for a serious rise in the lake level. I must have spent an hour just sitting there in an approach analyzing the surrounding countryside because it had changed so much since I had seen it just a month before.
On one occasion, I had just about made it home and had passed the Edmore corner going north. Next up was Nekoma then Langdon, but there was an interesting diversion that kept me occupied for quite some time. I looked off to the right and there stood a bull moose, partially obstructed by an abandoned building. This time I did have my camera with me (lesson learned from deer on bale), stopped and slowly backed up, turned onto a country road and slowly drove up closer to the moose. By the time I was about 50 feet away from it, I figured anymore and it might spook the critter, so I stopped there.
Now this was back in the days when I was 10 feet tall and bullet proof, so I got out of my car and started walking toward the moose with the camera up to my eye and ready to snap a picture from any movement. I think that moose was a good gambler because it called my bluff and didn’t move. There I was 30 feet away from it, and it was like I was looking at a statue. Of course, it probably didn’t see me because I was wearing my woodland camouflage uniform! That was it, I wasn’t getting any closer. I started stepping backward so I wouldn’t turn my back, got back in the car and headed up the road to Nekoma. I did, however, get some good, close ups of that bull moose, that looked a little malnourished.
Going the other direction, I was on Highway 1 near Oakes. This was in 1980, shortly after I got out of high school. I was living in Edgeley and working for McKay’s Water Treatment. I was headed north toward Verona when I saw a fox sunning itself on a hay bale. Now you can choose not to believe this if you don’t want to, but there was a strong wind blowing in my face as I walked up toward the fox. It didn’t hear me as I got right up to it. I clubbed it with a broom handle, threw it in the back of my service vehicle and took it back to Edgeley. I later skinned it and gave the fur to my girlfriend. I wouldn’t do that now because PETA would be all over it, but back then it was still a thing to give a fur to your girlfriend.
A lot of things happened on that highway, and there were never any witnesses. I was always alone when I ran across these interesting scenarios on “lonely Highway 1.”