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NORTH DAKOTA has no nationally recognizable landmarks, nor
is the state's history particularly lurid or glamorous. It seems
like somebody's quiet afterthought, a place to pass through.
Grain silos loom on the horizon; the haystacks resemble loaves
of bread. In the summer, with the sun baking in a defiantly
blue sky and the wind raking strong fingers through tall fields
of golden wheat and flax, North Dakota epitomizes all things
rural American. Charming, picturesque - and a bit maddening.
The influx of Europeans into the Dakota Territory, spurred
by the Homestead Act of 1862, precipitated a population and
agricultural boom that lasted into the twentieth century. As
in South Dakota, the fertile east is more thickly settled than
the west, where vast cattle and sheep ranges predominate, and
it was the east that was hardest hit by the so-called 500-year
flood of 1997, when 1.7 million low-lying acres of farmland
were inundated, and the entire state was declared a disaster
area. Lately, North Dakotan lawmakers, ashamed of their state's
reputation as an arctic wasteland, have proposed that the "North"
be dropped from the state's title, leaving just "Dakota",
a suggestion most locals vehemently protest.
From Fargo , the state's largest city, I-94 passes through
the central capital of Bismarck , and on to the Bad Lands of
the west, once cherished by President Theodore Roosevelt. Though
the national park bearing his name is a key destination, Roosevelt
would surely not be pleased about the continuing disfiguration
of much of western North Dakota by strip mining operations.
Amtrak runs one train per day in each direction between Fargo
and Williston in the northwest, via Grand Forks. Greyhound is
the major interstate bus operator: three or four buses per day
make the ten-hour trip from Minneapolis/St Paul to Bismarck
via Grand Forks and Fargo, before heading west along I-94 into
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