A State of Existing, North Dakota

“Ghost towns stud North Dakota, and this empty house is just one bone in a giant skeleton of abandoned human desire.”

A quote from a perfectly written article for National Geographic about North Dakota titled,
The Emptied Prairie” By Charles Bowden

I remember, as a little child, walking hand in hand with my father across fields of long prairie grass.  I was amazed by the dance created by the wind as it touched each blade of grass.  To this day, I can close my eyes and visualize the sight seen as we walked closer to an abandoned farmstead and the excitement noticed in my father’s eyes and heard in his voice. I learned from him that these abandoned properties are not a place of destruction, but a story of endless outcomes.

The trip to North Dakota was an incredible journey, one that I am happy to say, was shared with an amazing man.  Dan and I enjoyed the migrating birds that this pothole region attracts and the vibrant colors a North Dakota landscape can provide.  Visit North Dakota as seen in some of my previous posts:

North Dakota Ghosts- The old school in Forbes, North Dakota
Abandoned Outside Forbes, ND
Following the rails of North Dakota
North Dakota Shines

This trip included some of my favorite abandoned properties to date. As I am writing this post, I can still see the texture of the peeling paint on the rickety walls or see the layers of personal material left behind on the floor.  Two different properties that told two different stories.  The old farmhouse with the herd of cattle watching us explore was full of color and texture – a feast for a photographers eyes.  I could only imagine the grandeur of this home when she was alive with activity.  The other property included in this post was just as incredible, but for a different reason. My grandfather was a talented violin maker and carpenter.  Watching him play the instrument as a child, taught me the wonders of music.  Violin, piano, and cello are three of my favorite instruments that can send a shiver right through me whenever heard.  Now imagine mixing the two…  an abandoned property with musical ties- WOWZA!  The music sheets were strewn throughout the home, and a shell of a guitar was left behind in an empty room.  I can almost hear the music that played within those walls.

This concludes the series on North Dakota.  Where will our next journey take us?  For now, take a walk with Dan and I as we tour some of the most intriguing abandoned farmstead that we have had the privilege to photograph.

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North Dakota Shines

Even though North Dakota may not have purple mountain majesties, its waves of grain provide vivid greens, yellows, and oranges.  This state has it’s own beauty.

According to Wikipedia, “North Dakota has long been known as the most agricultural state in the Union.”

However, just like most farms in the United States, the farms have increased in acreage but have decreased in numbers.  When Dan and I travel the back roads of Minnesota and Wisconsin, we would consider ourselves lucky to happen upon two abandoned properties.  The abandoned properties that we stumbled upon in North Dakota were plentiful and we even joked at one time that we had hit our quota for the entire year just in this one trip.   Some of the most beautiful and interesting properties that I have ever had the privilege of visiting were on this trip. Keep your eyes peeled for my favorite properties coming soon!

Researching the population of North Dakota, I came across this wonderful article on the Bakken Shale Oil Fields at nationalgeographic.com titled:

The New Oil Landscape
The fracking frenzy in North Dakota has boosted the U.S. fuel supply—but at what cost?

In recent years, the state has had a strong economy.  Much of this growth is not due to what they are growing in the fields,  but has been due to what they are pulling from the earth in the Bakken Oil Fields of the Western portion of the state. In 2012, the United States Census Bureau estimated that North Dakota’s entire population for the state was 699,000. Whereas the 2012 population for Denver, Colorado alone was 634,000 and the cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul total population was an estimated 670,000.  From those facts,  take a look at the map below of the light that is seen in certain areas of the United States from space.

Bakken Oil Fields

In an article written on Oilprice.com titled, “Bakken Companies Sued for Wasting Gas Royalties”, The light that you see on the image of the United states is the result of the surge of natural gas flaring in the Bakken shale.  HOLY CRAP!

“The result is that North Dakota, over the Bakken shale oil fields, looks like a bonfire party, with at least 1500 bonfires at any given time, flaring excess natural gas that can’t make it to the market. It’s cheaper to burn than to build pipelines to transport it.”

ND-Oil-Spill_Sidd

In this Oct. 8, 2013 photo provided by the North Dakota Health Department, a vacuum truck cleans up oil in near Tioga, N.D. The North Dakota Health Department says more than 20,000 barrels of crude oil have spewed out of a Tesoro Corp. oil pipeline in a wheat field in northwestern North Dakota. Officials say the 20,600-barrel spill is among the largest recorded in the state and was discovered on Sept. 29 by a farmer harvesting wheat about nine miles south of Tioga. (AP Photo/North Dakota Health Department)

Read more on oil spills in North Dakota here: newsbreak-100s-of-nd-oil-spills-not-publicized

I will be interested in how this all changes the face of North Dakota… Only Time will tell.  Take a trip down that dirt road with us as we travel the back roads of the eastern portion of North Dakota.  I also encourage you to read these articles on the Bakken Oil Fields of ND.  This industry is not only affecting the driftless areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin, It is affecting the Eastern and Western coasts of The United States as well.

So open up the car door and jump inside- Don’t forget your seatbelt!

Following the Rails of North Dakota

The Dakota Territory was settled sparsely until the late 19th century, when the railroads entered the region and vigorously marketed the land. 

USTerritories

According to Wikipedia:

“The success of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Great Northern Railroad was based on the abundant crops and rapidly increasing settlement in the Red River Valley along the Minnesota border between 1871 and 1890.”

“The railroad was the engine of settlement for the state. The Northern Pacific Railroad was given land grants by the federal government so that it could borrow money to build its system.  The federal government kept every other section of land and gave it away to homesteaders. Meanwhile, the Great Northern Railroad energetically promoted settlement along its lines in the northern portion of the state.  The Great Northern Railroad bought its lands from the federal government, as it received no land grants, and resold the land to farmers one by one. It operated agencies in Germany and Scandinavia that promoted its lands and brought families over at low cost.”

“The battle between The Great northern Railway and Soo line Railroad to control access across northern North Dakota resulted in 500 miles of new track and more than 50 new town sites just in one year.  Many of the towns sites were never settled and were abandoned”

Towns began to dot the countryside as growth followed the rails.  As the population of North Dakota declined, the buildings were left under the care of Mother Nature.  Follow the old railway lines and you may just find yourself in the presence of a ghost town yourself.  Many of these abandoned towns and the land that these debilitated buildings reside on, are now privately owned.  Stories of the old inhabitants that once lived in these homes or worked in the buildings flowed though my mind as we drove through the empty streets.

The back roads of North Dakota were unlike any other that we have encountered.  Some roads would end in a marshland full of migrating birds others would just end…  Road Closed.

Abandoned outside of Forbes, North Dakota

The only song we heard walking through fields of tall grass as we approached this abandoned farmstead, was the North Dakota wind as it howled through the branches of the old Maple trees.  The excitement grew as we came closer to the house.  The wonder of what you may find as the old rickety door is pushed open, is like reading the first pages of a novel.  Sometimes it grabs you and pulls you in, other times it just holds your attention.  There wasn’t much left as the plaster of the walls started disintegrating long, long ago.  The trusty Hoover is still waiting to clean up the mess time has left behind.

Each of these properties hide a plot line (with or without clues) and the fun part for me is to create the characters and scenario played out in times past.

The Amish of Augusta, Wisconsin

A world without automobiles, telephones, and computers?  I could not imagine life without all the accommodations.  However, Amish communities thrive without today’s technology and the headaches that come along with it.  From sunrise to sunset, they are a hard working group.  They use the land and all it has to offer without the machinery that we see today.

According to Wikipedia:

“Amish lifestyle is dictated by the Ordnung (German, meaning: order), which differs slightly from community to community, and, within a community, from district to district. What is acceptable in one community may not be acceptable in another. No summary of Amish lifestyle and culture can be totally adequate, because there are few generalities that are true for all Amish. Groups may separate over matters such as the width of a hat-brim, the color of buggies, or other issues

Bearing children, raising them, and socializing with neighbors and relatives are the greatest functions of the Amish family.  All Amish believe large families are a blessing from God.”

This particular Amish settlement in Augusta, Wisconsin was founded over 30 years ago and is 6 church districts in size.  Roughly ¾ of Wisconsin’s forty or so Amish settlements consist of just 1-2 church districts. Wisconsin has been experiencing high levels of in-migration as nearly 30 Amish settlements have been founded over the past two decades.

The Amish are known for their beautiful handmade quilts, baskets, furniture, and many other items. In their communities you will often find bakeries, furniture or cabinet making shops, quilt shops, as well as general stores with unique items.

If you are ever in the area, the Woodshed, in Augusta, Wisconsin specializes in Amish antiques and woodworks and offers tours through a nearby Amish settlement. Visitors can savor mouthwatering homemade candy and baked goods, watch furniture makers and visit the Amish sawmills in this area. This tour also offers the chance to visit horse breeders and harness makers.

“Come, follow me” said the goat.

Seeing, to me, is sometimes simply viewing life through my camera’s viewfinder.

If Dan and I have a few hours to spare, we will pack up the car and spend a fun filled day driving the backroads of the beautiful bluff country in Southeastern , MN.  From a run in with an abandoned farmstead, or stumbling upon a collection on an ever spinning reel.  Maybe it is seeing the magic of the sun as the light shines through the branches of the swaying trees in the woods of this area, or a surprise run in with the friendliest goat you have ever seen.  No matter what, we can drive the backroads of Minnesota and Wisconsin daily and always see something new.

Along one of these roads we saw the sun hit a horse’s mane as it was standing in the pasture, so we stopped and got out of the car to photograph the sight.  To our surprise, a goat walked right under the fence and gave us a friendly look as if to whisper “Come follow me”.  He was a character alright and was very interested in what we may of had to offer him.   Yep, this day was another photography outing to go down in the record books.

A restored 1800’s village, tubers, and a Amish Community.

While some of the group from the Red Wing Photography Club was well underground touring Mystery Cave, Jeff, Dan and I were traipsing through the back roads of Southeastern MN.  After the groups photography tour of Mystery Cave, we met up above ground and proceeded to our next stop… Historic Forestville.  This restored 1800’s village is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society and has some great photo opportunities.

Lunch time 🙂 A stop in Lanesboro, MN was needed to fuel our bodies and of course to photograph the surroundings…  A hidden treasure, this small town is nestled in the Bluffs of the Root River Valley and offers that hometown appeal with spectacular views.  A must stop if ever in the area.

As Dan and I broke away from the group and made our way back home, we ran into many interesting sites and an Amish community.  I still remember us driving down a dirt road when, off in the distance,  we noticed two horses and their riders headed our way.  The car slowed and eventually came to a rolling stop as the riders approached.   The riders, probably brothers, one on a horse and the other on a pony, were Amish boys.  Both boys were waving “hello” and had a grin on their face from ear to ear as they came barreling past our stopped vehicle.  A site not captured on film but saved in the memory banks of our mind forever.   The friendliness and hard work of an Amish community will forever amaze me.

All and all, the day was filled with many surprises, laughter, and learning.   Thanks to Dan, Amy, Jeff, Kendall, Ken, and Linnae (friends and fellow members of the Red Wing Photography Club) for the great adventure!!  I hope to take part in many more group trips this year!