Route 2, Turtle River State Park to Williston, North Dakota
Many years ago, on my very first trip west to Glacier National Park, I decided to avoid the Interstates and travel the back roads to better appreciate the local landscapes and small towns on the way. I always remembered Route 2 through North Dakota for its broad expanses of farmland and pastures punctuated by all the many pot hole ponds along the roadside. Grazing cattle, horses and pronghorn antelope, along with many species of ducks, geese, white pelicans, and coots dotting the ponds made the trip memorable, and I have always longed to retrace that route. Today, I did just that.
My advice to all of you out there, do NOT make the same mistake I did today. That Route 2 of distant memory is just that – a distant memory.
This image may look to you like a scene from the great HBO western time piece series Deadwood, but, if you look closer you would recognize it as a stretch of Route 2 today through the small town of Ray.
And this image also is not from Deadwood, but actually is an oil field trucker teaching a poor RV’er some road etiquette ( the Rv’er’s mistake was daring to travel at the speed limit on a 20 mile section of Route 2 limited to two lanes due to construction – I promise I won’t do it again!) .
Wow! I actually was quite aware of the oil boomtown area called the Bakken. In fact, I have a fair amount of my retirement funds invested in companies doing business here, thus I had a natural curiosity about just how big a deal this oil field area really was and wanted to actually see it firsthand. Big mistake! I would advise anyone traveling by RV to avoid Route 2 through this region at all costs. The oil field truckers and workers in their pickups do not seem too anxious to share their road with you, believe me. And you really shouldn’t be too anxious to share it with them either.
I had the misfortune to travel between Minot and Williston during some fairly nasty, rainy weather and my motorhome and Toad look just a little worse than they did many years ago when I drove the Haul Road in Alaska up to Prudoe Bay, about an inch of rich red clay caked entirely over both. When the oil tankers come out of the oil fields along the red clay (dirt) roads and enter Route 2 (without really worrying much about whether an RV may be coming along at 60 mph), they tend to bring quite a bit of the clay with them, especially so on a nice rainy day like today. So, for about a half mile after each intersection with an oil field road, there is about a 3 inch deep slop of red clay soup on the pavement that you have to slip and slide through as you try to brake to avoid rear ending the afore mentioned oil field tanker truck, who is slowly accelerating in front of you and throwing up a bright red spray of this red clay soup to coat your windshield. Really not a fun experience!
Now I realize that oil patch boomtowns are by their very nature chaotic and messy, all the new construction. road building and upgrading are not accomplished without some disruption to the status quo. While approaching Minot, I pulled into a truck stop for gas and figured I had better do a Google map search for where I might be able to spend the night. There are no rest areas or pulloffs along this entire stretch of road, and campgrounds that may have existed prior to the Bakken, now are overrun with oil field workers, so that doesn’t appear to be an option. I Googled for truckstops around Williston, hoping I could safely make it that far in the now heavy downpour.
What I got is shown here below.
Now, I don’t know when Google actually took this satellite shot, obviously some time ago, Maybe a year ago, or two or three. The balloon shows a Love’s Truckstop. The image shows entirely something else, I believe it is an oil pump and storage pad.! I hoped that the truckstop actually was there and the satellite image was just a little outdated.
Arriving at the intersection shown on the map, I can say for certain that the image was a little outdated. After waiting over 4 minutes at the intersection’s traffic light to cycle through so I could make my left turn onto the road to the new Love’s, I drove the 100 yards or so to the auto entrance to Love’s, circled the large parking lot, and, unable to find a place to stop, left, went another 200 yards down the road to the “truck ONLY” parking area, circled this LARGE truck parking area, and exited that also, just too crowded and a little intimidating with absolutely no other RV’ers there and that forbidding “trucks only” sign. Down the hill a little I spied what at first looked like another desperate possibility, a very large truckers’ hotel and parking area where i spied a few motorhomes and travel trailers. Driving down, I could see the pavement end and a sea of soup begin where the aforementioned vehicles were parked in what turned out to be numbered spaces, obviously long term oil field hands spaces.
Just across the road from Love’s there is a large housing complex (for workers probably), maybe a hundred or so small separate metal units, kind of like a cross between a small mobile home and a Quonset hut, The entire complex is surrounded with a six foot security fence and gated. Above that complex is a huge temporary storage arena with rows of low slung metal storage buildings. And on the Google map, all that shows here is a small undeveloped equipment parking lot.
Instead of horses, cattle, and wildlife, the only thing you notice along the route today are the oil field pads, with their storage tanks, gas flareoffs, and pumps, and there are a lot of them. Hey, I guess i’m glad that we are getting that oil here rather than from the Mideast, and this new American oil boom may be about all that just might save our bacon from our greedy, short sighted, money printing selves ( I said “may be”, I can hope, can’t I?).
The final word, forget Route 2, take the Interstate, it actually, definitely, will be more scenic. And faster. And cleaner, too.