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Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Impressive Facts About North Dakota

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

For much of the population, North Dakota remains kind of a mystery. There are no obvious tourist destinations, and most people would be hard-pressed to name its capital. (Hint: it doesn’t share a name with a Coen brothers movie.) Here are 25 things you probably didn’t know about the upper Dakota:

1. It’s either the 39th or the 40th state—no one’s sure. Once upon a time, the two Dakotas were joined in the Dakota Territory. Due to various political squabbles, they entered into the Union as two separate states, North and South Dakota. But President Benjamin Harrison purposely made it impossible to tell which state came into the Union first, shuffling the papers and signing them without looking so that not even he would know. However, because of the order of the alphabet, North Dakota is generally listed as the 39th. 

2. It’s the only state with a state-owned bank. The Bank of North Dakota is headquartered in Bismarck. Many other states have considered establishing their own state-owned-and-operated financial institutions recently, in part because the Bank of North Dakota fared so well during the 2007 recession compared to larger banks. 

3. Fargo wasn’t filmed there. Much of the Coen brothers’ 1996 film takes place in Minnesota, and much of it was shot in and around Minneapolis. Only some exterior snow shots of North Dakota’s largest city appear in the film. The town was snubbed by the crew of the FX television show Fargo as well. It’s shot in Canada

Construction in Williston, an oil boomtown. Image Credit: Getty Images

4. It has some of the highest rents in America. A 2014 study found that a one-bedroom in Williston, North Dakota rented for almost $2400 a month, compared to $1500 in New York City. Over the past decade, the rise of fracking has meant an expansion of the oil and gas industry in the state, making cities like Williston boom towns. As thousands of people have flocked to find high-paying jobs in remote areas, housing demand—and rent—has skyrocketed. It’s now the fastest-growing state, with a population that grew 12.5 percent between 2010 and 2015. State officials estimate that North Dakota has 15,000 more jobs than its current population can fill.

5. It’s got a lot of farmland. Almost 90 percent of the state's total land is devoted to farms and ranches.  

6. Your beans probably came from there. The state is the largest producer of dry beans, honey, wheat, flaxseed, and canola in the nation [PDF]. 

7. It birthed a famous cowboy song. “Red River Valley” shares its name with the valley that runs down the North Dakota-Minnesota border from Canada, and has been named one of the top Western songs of all time. The folk song has been published under various names over the decades, including those referring to other regions, like “Bright Mohawk Valley,” but Canadian scholar Edith Fowke contends it was originally about the Red River Valley, which travels from south of Fargo up into Lake Winnipeg.  

8. You probably won’t find a CVS, Rite Aid, or Walgreens there. State law requires most pharmacies to be owned by local pharmacists, meaning that national chains can’t operate pharmacies there. A 2014 attempt to change the law failed

Salem Sue. Image Credit: Bobjgalindo via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-A 4.0


9. It likes its animal statues big. New Salem, North Dakota is home to Salem Sue, the world’s largest statue of a Holstein cow. It’s 38 feet high, even taller than the world’s largest bison statue, a 26-foot-tall monument to the buffalo in Jamestown

10. It’s the host of North America’s largest Scandinavian festival. Tens of thousands of people attend Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota every year to celebrate the state’s Nordic heritage. Immigrants from Nordic countries like Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark flocked to North Dakota in the late 19th century, and in 1914, Norwegian immigrants and their descendants owned one-fifth of all the land in North Dakota.

11. It holds one of the nation’s biggest powwows. Every year, 1500 Native American dancers and tribe members come together at the United Tribes International Powwow in Bismarck. This past September was the 45th event in Bismarck’s history. 

12. It used to have sea monsters. Some 80 million years ago, North Dakota was underwater. In 2006, an arrowhead collector turned up fossilized vertebrate far bigger than anything he’d ever seen. State paleontologists determined that the bones, found on a farm, were part of an almost-complete skeleton of the prehistoric swimming reptile called the mosasaur. The predator would have been around 50 feet long. 

Image Credit: National Atlas of the United States via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

13. It could have been half Canadian. The British ceded almost half of the territory that became the state of North Dakota in the Treaty of 1818. The treaty resolved previous border disputes between Britain and the United States by officially making the 49th parallel the line between the States and British North America, and giving America a big chunk of the territory that would become North Dakota. 

14. It was a hub of the 19th century fur trade. Fort Union, whose trading post is now a national historic site, was a vital stop for traders on the northern stretches of the Mississippi River. Northern Plains tribes traveled there each spring to trade buffalo and furs for other goods. The fort traded around $100,000 in merchandise each year between 1828 and 1867. 

15. Lewis and Clark spent more time there than in any other state. They spent the winter of 1804-1805 at a North Dakota camp they called Fort Mandan. It was there that they met the French Canadian trader Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife, Sacagawea, who became famous for assisting the explorers in their journey to the Pacific. 

16. North Dakota changed Theodore Roosevelt’s life. The future president came to hunt buffalo in the Badlands as a 24-year-old in 1883. After just two weeks there, he bought himself two cattle ranches, and when his wife and mother died a few months later, North Dakota became his escape. His time in the Dakota Territory helped him transform from an asthmatic New York City aristocrat into the rough-riding cowboy and game hunter he later became known as. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Image Credit: Desertson67 via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

17. It’s pretty good writing fodder. Prominent culture writer Chuck Klosterman grew up in the 400-person town of Wyndmere and got his big break with Fargo Rock City, his debut memoir about growing up as a metalhead in North Dakota. He has gone on to write several more books of essays and fiction, and credits his unique voice with being from Roughrider Country. "Every year there are thousands of new writers coming out of places like New York, and there are a lot less coming out of places like North Dakota," he told a Minnesota newspaper in 2015. “The valuable thing about the writer is their unmatched perspective."

18. It’s the home of the International Peace Garden. In 1932, the United States and Canada established a park as a symbol of peace and cooperation between the two countries. The 3.6-square-mile garden straddles North Dakota and Manitoba. It’s technically part of neither country, so you have to go through border patrol to get back to whatever country you came from—meaning you better bring an ID. 

19. It’s where Phil Jackson learned to play basketball. The former championship-winning coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers got his start playing varsity basketball at his high school in Williston, North Dakota. The school later named its sports complex after him.  

20. It holds an annual Potato Bowl. The Potato Bowl USA dates back to 1966, when the University of North Dakota’s football coach organized a competition between his team and Idaho State, a team from North Dakota’s rival in potato production. Now the event has expanded to include potato pancake breakfasts, the self-described “World’s Largest French Fry Feed,” and fry eating contests (as well as football). 

21. Yes, it’s cold. The Daily Beast has named three North Dakota cities on its list of “America’s 25 coldest cities.” Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Fargo rank No. 2-4, respectively. 

22. But summer is extreme there, too. The state’s highest temperature on record was set when the town of Steele reached 121° F in July of 1936. 

Sitting Bull around 1885. Image Credit: David Francis Barry via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain


23. Sitting Bull might be buried there. The Lakota spiritual leader, whose forces defeated General Custer at Little Bighorn (one of the most significant victories of Native Americans against the U.S. Army) was initially buried at Fort Yates, North Dakota, where he was killed in 1890. In the 1950s, a group of businessmen acting with the blessing of some of the chief’s descendants dug up his remains and moved them to Mobridge, South Dakota. But there’s some controversy over whether it was Sitting Bull who was actually exhumed in the middle-of-the-night raid. Some still theorize that the real body of Sitting Bull remains in North Dakota. And to throw a little more mystery in, one Sioux historian claims he was actually buried secretly in Canada.  

24. It has its own state horse breed. The Nokota horse is descended from feral horses that were hemmed in when Theodore Roosevelt National Park was created, accidentally protecting the herds from being killed by ranchers or government agencies that viewed them as competition for grazing livestock. Some of them still run wild in the park, while others have been captured and adopted out. It became the official state horse breed in 1993. 

25. There are more cattle than people. North Dakota has about 1.75 million cattle, and just under 740,000 people, meaning that there are more than two cows for every person in the state. 

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25 Wild Facts About Alaska
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Located 500 miles away from the nearest state, there’s likely a lot you haven’t heard about Alaska. Here are 25 facts about the last frontier.

1. Dog mushing is the official state sport.

2. The state flag was designed by a 13-year-old boy. After calling on students throughout the territory to submit their ideas, Alaska ultimately decided on Benny Benson’s scene of the Big Dipper and the North Star in 1927.

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3. Seventeen of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S. are located in Alaska.

4. Some of Alaska’s bizarre moose-specific legislation has included laws against pushing a moose from a plane, viewing a moose from a plane, and giving a moose beer.

5. Haines, Alaska is home to America’s first museum solely dedicated to hammers. Visitors to the Hammer Museum can view their fascinating collections of hammer sculptures, handle-making machinery, and spring-loaded meat tenderizers.

6. Balto is the famous sled dog that’s usually credited with delivering medicine to a remote Alaskan village, but some argue that Togo was the true hero. Before Balto completed the last 55 miles of the journey, Togo pulled the medicine through 200 miles of wind and snow. His stuffed and preserved body is on display at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Museum in Wasilla, Alaska.

7. Alaska broke their record high when temperatures reached 100° F in 1915.

8. Their low of -80° F recorded in Alaska’s Endicott Mountains still holds the record for the nation's all-time low.

9. Alaska has more coastline than the other 49 states combined.

10. Because of their long summer days, Alaska is capable of producing some unusually oversized produce. Some notable specimens that have been harvested in recent years include a 35-pound broccoli, a 65-pound cantaloupe, and a 138-pound cabbage.

11. About 1700 miles south of the geographic North Pole lies the Fairbanks suburb of North Pole, Alaska. The town’s famous Santa Claus House gift shop is open year-round, and thousands of letters addressed to Santa are sent to the zip code each year. (A real-life Santa Claus was even elected to City Council.)

12. The Bering Strait that separates Alaska from Russia is around 55 miles wide at its narrowest point. Within it sit the Russian island of Big Diomede and the U.S. island of Little Diomede, which are just two and a half miles apart. So in theory, it would be possible for some Alaskans to see Russia from their houses.

13. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces bombed and invaded the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The occupation lasted nearly a year.

14. Moose, caribou, and bear killed by cars in Alaska are considered property of the state [PDF]. When road kill is reported, the carcasses are butchered by volunteers and distributed as food to charity organizations.

15. America’s largest national forest is the Tongass. It’s about three times the size of the runner-up, which is also located in Alaska.

16. Each year, brave Alaskans compete to be crowned the king or queen of their throne in the Fur Rondy Festival outhouse races. Teams outfit the bottoms of their custom-built outhouses with skis and race each other down a two-lane track. In addition to the title of first place, prizes are awarded for the most colorful, best-engineered, and cleanest commodes.

Mike Juvrud, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

17. The Thing, John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic set in Antarctica, was filmed in Alaska.

18. In Barrow, Alaska, the longest night lasts for 67 days. In the summer they make up for it with 82 days of uninterrupted sunlight.

19. If Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, only 28 people would inhabit the island.

20. There are 107 men for every 100 women in Alaska, the highest male-to-female ratio in the United States.

21. Juneau is America’s only state capital that isn’t accessible by road.

22. In 1867, Russia agreed to sell Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million, which amounted to about two cents an acre.

23. Many hotels in Alaska offer Northern Lights wake-up calls upon request.

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24. The Aleuts, Inupiat, Yuit, Athabascans, Tlingit, and Haida make up the major native groups of Alaska. At more than 14 percent, Alaska has a more concentrated indigenous population than any other state.

25. For years, the small town of Talkeetna, Alaska hosted the annual Moose Dropping Festival. Varnished pieces of numbered moose droppings were dumped from a crane into a parking lot and participants whose corresponding droppings landed closest to the center of a target received cash prizes. The event eventually grew too dangerously large for the town of 850 to handle and was retired in 2009.

This story originally ran in 2015.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
10 Shipwrecks You Can Visit
Simon Bradfield, iStock
Simon Bradfield, iStock

UNESCO says that there are no fewer than 3 million shipwrecks lost beneath the waves, their locations just waiting to be discovered. But for tourism purposes, the most interesting shipwrecks are those we already know about—and can visit. These 10 shipwrecks have intriguing stories, and they’re all places where you can step foot, although in some cases a boat (and possibly scuba gear) may be necessary. Remember: Look, don’t touch, since removing artifacts can spoil the chance for valuable archeological research (and is often illegal).

1. BESSIE WHITE, FIRE ISLAND, NEW YORK

The half-buried shipwreck of the Bessie White on Fire Island, New York
Nick Normal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 200-foot schooner Bessie White wrecked off the shore of this barrier island while laden with coal in 1919 or 1922 (historians aren't sure of the exact date). The crew escaped, but the 3-year-old ship ran aground. In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy revealed the battered remnants of the ship's hull, which had been carried to a spot near Skunk Hollow in the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. The National Park Service sometimes leads hikes to the wreckage, whose location over time provides scientists with clues to how the landscape of Fire Island has changed.

2. MS WORLD DISCOVERER, SOLOMON ISLANDS

The shipwreck of World Discoverer in the Solomon Islands
Philjones828, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

A cruise ship built in 1974 that once carried passengers to polar regions, MS World Discoverer ran aground in the Solomon Islands in 2000. No lives were lost—all the passengers escaped via ferry after an uncharted rock pierced the ship's hull. Today the wreckage is still a tourist attraction in Roderick Bay in the Nggela Islands, listing heavily against the shore.

3. PETER IREDALE, WARRENTON, OREGON

The shipwreck of the Peter Iredale in Warrenton, Oregon
Robert Bradshaw, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

Now a haunting ruin along the Oregon coast, the Peter Iredale was once a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel owned by British shipping firm Iredale & Porter. In September 1906, the ship left Santa Cruz, Mexico, on its way to Portland, Oregon, where it was supposed to pick up wheat bound for the United Kingdom. But a heavy wind and strong current sent her on to the breakers and she ran aground at Clatsop Beach, with three of her masts snapping from the impact, according to the Oregon History Project. The wreckage became an immediate tourist attraction, and despite being buffeted by the wind and waves ever since, it remains so today. It’s now part of Fort Stevens State Park.

4. MV PANAGIOTIS, ZAKYNTHOS ISLAND, GREECE

Shipwreck of the MV Panagiotis on Navagio Beach, Greece
Maczopikczu, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This shipwreck in the Ionian Islands gives its beach its nicknames: Navagio ("shipwreck") Beach and Smugglers Cove. Supposedly, the Panagiotis, which wrecked there in the early 1980s, was smuggling cigarettes and possibly worse. The rusting hulk of the boat is far from the only thing to see, however; the beach also attracts visitors for its clear turquoise waters and pristine pale sand. It’s also one of the most popular spots for BASE jumping in the world. The cove can be accessed only by boat.

5. SS MAHENO, FRASER ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

Shipwreck of SS Maheno on Fraser Island, Australia
Central Intelligence Agency, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once an ocean liner that plied the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and Australia, the SS Maheno was also used as a hospital ship for the New Zealand navy during World War I. She was later sold to a Japanese ship-breaking company for scrap, but broke apart in a cyclone on the journey to Japan in 1935. Since washing ashore on Australia's Fraser Island, the ship has become a major tourist attraction, despite not being particularly safe.

6. SS OREGON, LONG ISLAND SOUND, NEW YORK

Once the fastest liner on the Atlantic, the SS Oregon sunk in 1886 just 18 miles off New York after hitting an unidentified schooner, often thought to be the Charles R. Morse. After an unsuccessful attempt to plug the hole in the hull with canvas, the captain ordered the ship abandoned, even though there were only enough lifeboats for half the ship's 852 passengers. (Fortunately, another ship arrived to save the passengers, and there were no casualties.) Today the wreck is a popular dive site in Long Island Sound. Although the ship's hull and decks have disintegrated over the years, the engine and boilers remain, among other remnants.

7. ULUBURUN, BODRUM, TURKEY

Granted, it's in a museum, but the Uluburun wreck, which sank off the coast of Turkey during the late Bronze Age, is one of the oldest ships ever found—it dates back 3,500 years. A local sponge diver found the wreck of the Uluburun off the southwestern coast of Turkey in the early 1980s. Archeologists then spent 11 years studying the ship, collecting 20 tons of artifacts, including the remains of fruits and nuts, pottery, jewelry, tools, and weapons. No one knows who built the ship or where it was headed, but judging by the amount of gold onboard, someone rich was involved. The remains of the ship and its cargo, as well as a life-sized replica, are kept at the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology.

8. MV CAPTAYANNIS, RIVER CLYDE, SCOTLAND

Shipwreck of the Captayannis in the River Clyde, Scotland
Stephen Thomas, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Once a Greek sugar-carrying ship, the MV Captayannis has become a de facto home for birds and other wildlife since sinking in Scotland's River Clyde in 1974 during a terrible storm. (The minor collision with a BP oil tanker also didn't help.) The shallow waters around the wreck make it relatively accessible, and the ship seems likely to stay where it is, since its precise ownership is something of a mystery.

9. LA FAMILLE EXPRESS, TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS

Shipwreck of the La Famille Express in the Turks and Caicos Islands
Matthew Straubmuller, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Built in 1952 in Poland, La Famille Express served a large part of its life in the Soviet Navy (where it was known as Fort Shevchenko), before being sold and re-christened with its new name in 1999. It wrecked under mysterious circumstances around 2004. It now lies in just a few feet of water, an attractive landmark for boaters in the Turks and Caicos.

10. EDUARD BOHLEN, NAMIBIA

Shipwreck of the Eduard Bohlen in Namibia
Anagoria, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This wreck is unusual for being buried entirely in the sand—it's now stranded about a quarter mile away from shore. A 2272-ton cargo ship that wrecked off Namibia's Skeleton Coast in 1909 in thick fog, the ship has since drifted so far from the water it's now completely land-locked.

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