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Primed for winter, anytime now!
As January’s short, dark days accumulated, North Dakota remained ready and waiting.
After three years of long winter sieges, by early October, we had snowblowers and snowmobiles primed, skis waxed, sanding trucks serviced, survival kits placed, clothing layers prioritized and crockpots stoked to nourish our frozen souls.

Then, we waited. And we waited. As winter refused to appear, some even retrieved stored golf clubs for rare December rounds. With late January temperatures climbing confoundingly close to 40 degrees, many North Dakotans collectively declared: “Hey, we’ll take it!” At the same time, our sage skeptics countered: “You know, three hard months of winter could easily happen starting in February!”

For the moment, cold or mild, white or brown, North Dakota offers plenty of outdoor and indoor recreation this time of year. For this special winter recreation package, North Dakota LIVING looks at several great experiences worth considering. Among them:

• At “yurt” service – new accommodations in state parks
• Ice fishing – plenty of fish, plenty of caution
• Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park – after the deluge
• Meriwether Lewis – Clay Jenkinson probes the explorer’s triumphs and tragedy

  • Yurts
  • Ice Fishing
  • Fort Abraham Lincoln
  • Meriwether Lewis

At ‘yurt’ service!


Cross Ranch State Park interpreter Laura Kohn says yurt overnighting is now a part of the natural splendor experience at the park. (COURTESY PHOTOS)

From N.D. Parks and Recreation, North Dakota LIVING staff reports

Cross Ranch State Park (CRSP) is noted for the rich natural and human history of the area. Situated along seven west bank miles of the Missouri River south of Washburn, the park and adjacent Cross Ranch Nature Preserve provides rich primitive and enjoyable outdoor experiences. The arrival of yurt abodes are the latest in these offerings.

A primitive yurt, at the end of a four-mile hike deep into Cross Ranch State Park, is the park’s latest basic overnight stay offering for the public. This back country yurt – today’s version of small hide-covered domes favored by ancient Mongols – is fully primitive, but ready for guests eager to enjoy the CRSP splendor that is accessible year-round.

CRSP has two yurts in its main campground. Each has electricity and propane heat. The primitive, back country yurt is somewhat smaller, with no electricity, relying on wood stove heat. Lanterns provide light and the closest water source is the nearby Missouri River. That water, if collected, must be filtered for consumption.

Over 16 miles of trails wind through CRSP and the adjacent Nature Preserve. An extensive trail system can be explored either on foot or on cross-country skis during the winter months. Trails wind through the 5,000-acre dedicated nature preserve where mixed grass prairie, river bottom forests and woody draws can be seen.

Cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals are available. In addition, summer at CRSP features camping (primitive and electric), shower stations, cabins, a visitor center, boat ramp, canoe and kayak rentals, playgrounds and great fishing.
Roughrider Electric Cooperative, Hazen, serves CRSP facilities.
To learn more, visit

ice fishing

Permanent ice houses need to be removed by March 15; moveable ice houses can be used after March 15, but must be removed daily. This photo was taken at Crooked Lake, McLean County. (PHOTO BY GREG GULLICKSON, N.D. DEPARTMENT OF GAME AND FISH)

On ice: fish and caution aplenty

From N.D. Game and Fish, North Dakota LIVING staff reports

The good news, says Greg Power, fisheries chief for the North Dakota Department of Game and Fish (NDGF), is 2012 opened with the state boasting about 350 fishing lakes – an all-time high.

But, Power says “the catch” is traversing these waterways in this winter of mild temperatures.
 He said fish populations are thriving and that they are younger populations, meaning great opportunities for several upcoming seasons, winter and summer.

 Power said ice fishing has been greatly reduced the last three winters, due to hindered access to bodies of water. This winter’s modest snowfall has opened access to frozen ponds, and winter anglers are taking full advantage. “As good as this winter has started, it’s probably going to get better the next few winters, as long as we have access,” Power says.

 Power says perch and pike are the species ice fishers favor. “We’ve never had so many pike in the state before,” he says. He adds that an upcoming state fishing proclamation is expected to announce the increase in the daily pike limit from three to five. Power says perch numbers are also high and perch are fun and easy to lift out of the ice. Four lines per individual are allowed on ice, as opposed to two lines per individual during warmer times of the year.
 Regarding ice depths and this mild winter, Power says extra caution is required. While driving on ice lets fishermen greatly expand their options, choosing this alternative must be based on reliable information. NDGF does not compile information on ice thickness on waters around the state, so ice fishers should make inquiries locally or perform the measurements.

Ice thickness can vary considerably within a body of water and is unpredictable. A general rule is four inches of ice will support a group of people walking single file; six inches of ice will support a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle; 8-12 inches of ice will support an automobile; and 12-15 inches will support a pickup truck.

 For ice evaluation and ice fishing success, Power urges the public to trust in groups. “If you’re a rookie at this, ask around , follow the masses, and do what they’re doing,” Power says.

To learn more, visit

Overnight cabin

FALSP manager Dan Schelske shows one of the overnight cabins removed after flooding. (Photo by Kent Brick)

Fort Lincoln State Park: after the deluge

From N.D. Parks and Recreation, North Dakota LIVING staff reports

The vast popular campground along the junction of the Heart and Missouri rivers south of Mandan is not supposed to close in May. But that’s what happened last May 26, as the unprecedented, unimaginable, Missouri River flooding surged beyond banks, overtaking the campground of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park (FALSP).

“May 26, when we closed it down for the summer, was very depressing,” says Dan Schelske, FALSP manager. He says the anguish was prolonged for three months of no vehicular access. Spirits were not lifted when they could finally get vehicles onto the campground, navigating murky water, eyeing destroyed vegetation and mud-caked buildings, some ruined.

The FALSP staff with support from N.D. Parks and Recreation used the mild late autumn and early winter to breathe life back into the battered park. Mountains of debris, downed trees, and muck and mud were scraped and removed. Two ruined “little gem” overnight cabins were removed, and rebuilding and replacement work begun. A central comfort station and bath house and the popular amphitheatre have been renovated, with spoiled materials and furnishings replaced. Schelske says electrical work for campground and campsite power is to occur in May. In addition, landscaping and playground refurbishing will occur. Schelske hopes to have at least the north half of the campground open by June 1.

The campground is just one dimension of the many features FALSP. The park is made historically important because within its boundaries are the ruins of On-A-Slant Mandan Indian Village and the Fort Abraham Lincoln cavalry and infantry posts, including the Custer House. Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative, Flasher, serves FALSP.

The land itself was deeded to the state in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Park development started in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), who built the visitor center, earthlodges, blockhouses, shelters and roads, and placed cornerstones to mark buildings at the infantry and cavalry posts.

Additional development took place in the late 1980s and 1990s, with the reconstruction of the commanding officer’s house, commissary storehouse, enlisted men’s barracks and granary, all on the cavalry post grounds; and the Council Lodge in the On-A-Slant Village.


Wintry soul of Meriwether Lewis

From University of Oklahoma Press

Clay Jenkinson and Amy Mosset
Author, Clay Jenkinson, left, portraying Meriwether Lewis, alongside Amy Mosset, re-enactor of Sakakawea and other key figures of Native American history (Photo by JC Balcom)

Emerging from a deep Fort Mandan winter in 1805, Meriwether Lewis drove himself and the Corps of Discovery onward in an early, defining chapter in American history. The Lewis and Clark expedition’s probing and documenting the unknown bounty of the Louisiana Purchase territory paved the path for America to stretch westward to the Pacific Ocean. Historical and biographical accounts have elevated Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to genuine American hero status.

Though he earned his heroic status, the short life of Meriwether Lewis was also marked by a troubled soul and personality. In his latest work, Clay Jenkinson looks closely at the inner conflicts and complexities of Meriwether Lewis, shedding light on why this American giant likely took his own life soon after the expedition’s return.

Jenkinson’s book is “The Character of Meriwether Lewis – Explorer in the Wilderness,” with a foreword by David Nicandri and original illustrations by Michael Haynes. It is published by The Dakota Institute Press, Washburn, and distributed by University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN: 978-0-9825597-3-4.

Jenkinson takes a fresh look at Lewis, going beyond hero worship, to describe and explain a serious young man of great complexity who found the wilderness of Upper Louisiana exacting and exhilarating. Jenkinson sees Lewis as a troubled soul before he left St. Charles, Mo., in May 1804. Jenkinson asserts Lewis’s experiences in lands “upon which the foot of civilized man had never trodden” further fractured his sense of himself.

Fort Mandan winter
The Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived at the Mandan-Hidatsa Indian villages on the Upper Missouri River – near present day Washburn – on Oct. 25, 1804. They found the Mandan people hospitable and decided to remain at this wintering site until the spring thaw when they would resume their upriver journey. On Nov. 3, William Clark made a simple entry in his journal, “We commence building our cabins.” These cabins formed part of an enclosure that was christened Fort Mandan in honor of their hosts.

 At Fort Mandan, Lewis and Clark met Sakakawea, the Indian woman who would be essential to the success of the expedition. There, preparations were made to head west to the Pacific Ocean. Lewis and Clark interviewed Indians who had been west and sketched maps.
 Today, the reconstructed Fort Mandan rests in the riparian forests of the Missouri River. Onsite interpreters provide programs and year-round tours of Lewis and Clark’s 1804-1805 wintering post.

 The Headwaters Fort Mandan Visitor Center, inspired by a Mandan earthlodge, provides modern facilities and learning areas, nestled in cottonwood bottomlands near Fort Mandan. These facilities are just west of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center on McLean County, near Washburn. Fort Mandan and the Interpretive Center, served by McLean Electric Cooperative, are open year-round.





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