Two weekends remain of summer in North Dakota. Labor Day will end the warm, sunny season, but we have autumn to anticipate.
I often feel like I had a lot I didn't do during summer whenever I look back, especially when I was starting school. This is the first year since the 1990s when I'm not returning to school. Got my flashy job in Watford City after graduating from North Dakota State in May, so I'm set.
Still, there was a lot to like about the first day of school. Seeing new friends again, getting back into a major routine, being scheduled. I liked that flow of things.
Which makes summer a special season because you can do so much with free time (if you have it).
I had to make a list to remind myself that my summer wasn't half bad, even if I didn't see many people I want or get to some places I had on my radar. But here goes:
May 20-22: Lake Traverse, Minn.
Fishing with my dad and our friend Rocco really took my stressed mind off new job things and scrambling with arrangements in Fargo. Caught a few walleyes, some northern pike and a juicy perch. Great meals too, and excellent weather all weekend long. Thanks, Dad.
June 11: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Unit
I took a hot June day to hike in the national park just south of Watford City. Along the Long X Trail, to the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail to the Sperati Point, I saw some places I hadn't before. Prairie smoke was still in bloom, and I even saw two dung beetles hard work in the grass, rolling their ball of dung.
June 18-19: Grahams Island State Park
I caught one fish on this trip, but it was quality that counted: a 24-inch, 5-pound walleye. Hung out with my parents and the dogs, got some biking and hiking in and freestyled along Highway 2 and 200 on the west to home. Hiked in the Denbigh Experimental Forest, walked downtown Velva and stopped at the Missouri River near the Garrison Dam.
June 24-25: Grandpa's Visit
A tornado watch struck the area when my mom's father visited me during Homefest 2016, a two-day event effectively ruined after 80 mph swept in Friday night. Grandpa and I did explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park south of town that Saturday, albeit in high winds, and we got out to the Schafer jail and some other places too around town.
July 1-4: Cross Ranch State Park
I love the Missouri River, and Lt. William Clark was right; it is a beautiful country. My dad, our dog Dash and I spent three nights at Cross Ranch State Park below Washburn, N.D., testing out the capabilities of my new Eureka tent, which held out against rain and small hail. We fished the river for five hours one day, I got some hiking in and there were delicious meals to be had. We explored Price and Sanger, two tiny, local towns, and walked Smith Grove, a small acreage of Missouri River bottom containing nine cottonwoods from the time of the Corps of Discovery.
July 9: Ice Caves
On a whim one Saturday, I pulled out my Little Missouri National Grasslands map, and decided to find North Dakota's second most famous cave. After triangulating the site I would be traveling to, I hit the road at 1:45 p.m. on a sunny, 90-degree day. After 15 miles on scoria roads and half a mile down a prairie trail, I parked and hiked down to the Ice Caves, located under a high sandstone ridge. The largest of the Ice Caves extends into a 30-foot chamber, where the temperate was easily 45 degrees and a trace of ice was visible on the high, green walls. An added bonus: juneberries were to be had, which I collected for pancakes.
July 15-17: Garrison Weekend
Had a small Spectrum reunion with my buddies Pace and Sam in Garrison, N.D., at an in-town cabin. Rain kept us inside most of Saturday morning, but we got out to Fort Stevenson and Sakakawea state parks, the Garrison Dam, Riverdale and Pick City. A great weekend with some good friends. I freestyled on the way back to Watford City, stopping in small towns like Plaza, Makoti and Ryder, N.D., with a small grasslands adventure to Table and Chimney buttes.
July 23-24: Elkhorn Ranch
For at least a year and a half, I've wanted to see the site of Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch, located over 30 miles north of Medora, N.D. This summer I got there. Saturday started with a drive to Big Top and Two Top mesas west of Fairfield, N.D., lunch at the Trapper's Kettle in Belfield, then 70 minutes west and northeast to the Elkhorn Ranch, steeped in history in one of the most isolated spots in the state. Oh, the history.
July 30-Aug. 1: Fargo
This was my first trip to Fargo since moving my couch and mattress to Watford City. I spent it with family, reunited with friends, ate at my favorite restaurants, walked the Red River and visited familiar places.
Aug. 5-7: Turtle Mountains
My favorite trip this summer is definitely the two nights I spent at Lake Metigoshe State Park. Exploring the lonesome lakes and green forests of the Turtle Mountains was fun and the weather was gorgeous. I also got lost for the first time in years driving south to Belcourt from St. John, N.D., when I thought I was headed west back to Lake Metigoshe.
Aug. 13-14: Northwestern North Dakota
My friend Emily joined me for Ribfest 2016 in Watford City on a Friday, with much dancing and libations to be had. The next day we were up at 6 a.m. to explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park's North Unit in the early morning, followed by breakfast and a two-hour drive to Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, where we had the whole landscape to ourselves on the mixed grass prairie and prairie pothole region. The next day I journeyed northwest to see Forts Buford and Union, the Missouri and Yellowstone confluence and the Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel.
Aug. 19-21: South Central North Dakota
Another weekend with friends was had in Linton, N.D., a four-hour drive from Watford City where my buddies Nolan and Pace wheeled around with me in my new Jeep Patriot. Nolan and I hurtled around Emmons County, hitting the Dutton Slough, Welk homestead, several wrought iron cross sites and had lunch in Hague, among other places. The three of us had a bayside dinner, drove along Lake Oahe, then spent the night in town. On the return trip home, I visited some cousins along the Missouri River, where we drove some four-wheelers. I catnapped at Richardton, N.D., and checked out another wrought iron cross site before returning home.