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Bismarck struck me as a pretty town. Leaving the airport, you can see the Capitol building, constructed in 1934 and towering to 19 stories; the tallest building in the state. The topography is rolling. East on I-94. Many of the people in ND -- a total of about 800,000 with the recent oil field booms -- live near I-94. The largest cities in ND are Fargo and Bismarck, along I-94. We drove over rolling, mostly treeless country to the small town of Dickinson, which is a major center of the oilfield to the north -- the Williston Basin, and particularly the Bakken play. Dickinson is growing rapidly, despite being about a 1.5 hour drive from much of the main action in the Bakken.
Typical western North Dakota landscapeDickinson is on some hills and isn't an ugly town. However, there isn't much to make it pretty. The town itself has some trees, but outside town trees are limited to windbreaks and along creek bottoms. Some bushes grow on the north slopes of hills and other places that get a little bit of water, or stay wetter for longer. The lack of trees seems odd in a place that doesn't seem arid, but clearly it isn't wet enough for forest growth, and wasn't in Lewis and Clark's time either.
Some topography near the Little Missouri River
North of Dickinson the topography gets more interesting, but the rocks remain entirely flat-lying. In the area of the Bakken play, the surface rocks are somewhat uninspiring Tertiary sediments. The entire landscape looks like a pile of mud that has been watered; like everything was piled up and then thoroughly melted. For me, this adds to the blah factor. Still, parts of the Williston Basin are very pretty. The Kildeer Mountains, home of the Medicine Hole (a cave entrance), jut up quite high from the surrounding hills. Little Missouri State Park is home to myriad canyons with a total relief around 500 feet.
Driving near the Little Missouri
Near Little Missouri State ParkPerhaps the beauty was muted by the snow. The snow flew and the cold fog hung around; visibility was often less than a mile or two. I'm sure this is much prettier country in the summertime.