At Ghosts of North Dakota, we occasionally like to check-in with artists and photographers (like Mariah Masilko and John Piepkorn) who’ve shown a passion for North Dakota and its vanishing, forgotten places and Jack Dura certainly qualifies. We caught up with Watford City journalist, photographer, and frequent explorer “Travelin’ Jack” between road trips to find out more about his background, his thirst for adventure, his favorite bird dog, and favorite places, from the Badlands to the North Dakota prairie.
Q: I first became aware of your work when you were still at NDSU in Fargo. Tell us about your background. Where are you from, where have you been, and what are you doing now?
I’m a Fargo kid, born and bred, and moved to Watford City a year ago to take a reporter position with the McKenzie County Farmer after I graduated from North Dakota State with a journalism degree. I wrote a lot about North Dakota places in college for The Spectrum and have traveled to every county and all four corners in the past three years. I pretty much love my home state.
Q: Tell us about some of the North Dakota places you’ve covered. Do you have a favorite?
The Little Missouri Badlands are a classic North Dakota favorite, but honestly, Lake Metigoshe and the Turtle Mountains are number one for me. It’s a slice of paradise up there and one of the state’s best kept secrets. I’ll pitch my tent under the aspens there anytime, and waking up with the loons calling and frost smoke rolling off Metigoshe is like a scene out of a Terry Redlin painting. Besides Metigoshe, the area around Goodrich, North Dakota, is another favorite of mine, just for its classic prairie scenes and quiet beauty.
Moving to Watford City, I have covered a lot of places on my wish list for North Dakota travels (i.e. Initial Rock, Elkhorn Ranch, Ice Caves). I’ve branched out into Minnesota now, especially at Itasca State Park and the North Shore. This summer I’d also like to get to the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wind Cave National Park. I love unique natural areas and landscapes. I could gush endlessly about North Dakota’s grass and sky but quiet beauty is the phrase I like to use for it. Wood lilies waving in the wind. Miles and miles of fence along a pasture. Empty roads stretching to the horizon. I love all of that.
Q: You’re something of an outdoorsman. Do you mix hunting and fishing with your journalism and photography? Tell us about your four-legged partner that accompanies you on some of your adventures.
I definitely love to combine my trips. Last summer, my dad and I camped, fished and hiked at Cross Ranch State Park. I traced some of the Corps of Discovery’s trail to Painted Woods Lake and we swam our dog, cooked under the cottonwoods and waded through brush in Smith Grove to see the mammoth cottonwoods there. I’ll often write about my travels for my column in the McKenzie County Farmer and I put way too many pictures on my Facebook. I’ve hunted on and off for a decade, always with my dad and his bird dog Dash.
Dash is a 7-year-old yellow Labrador retriever who accompanies us on just about every trip. He’s swum in Camel Hump Lake, trotted on the Maah Daah Hey Trail, dozed in the fishing boat and hunts around the state with Dad from September to December. He’s about as mellow a dog as they come and a great, great companion always up for an adventure. Somehow we never bring enough water for him and he ends up drinking all of ours, like on a 10-mile bike ride over scoria roads to Initial Rock last May. Love that bird dog!
Q: You recently wrote a story for the McKenzie County Farmer about the Cartwright Tunnel, which is at risk of demolition without a very expensive restoration. What are your thoughts on the matter? Can it be saved?
The Cartwright Tunnel needs a couple million dollars and two years of work to be repaired and restored from its cracking timbers and century-old structure. Right now the Friends of the Fairview Bridge are gauging public interest to save it, so no major decisions have been made as yet; however, should the tunnel be closed or demolished, the hiking trail would still be open across the scenic Fairview Lift Bridge. I first hiked through the tunnel two years ago and it was worth the trip from Fargo, though the pigeon guano inside wasn’t exactly wonderful. I’m a history buff and I love places like these but I alone cannot save the Cartwright Tunnel. The price tag is a hefty one here but it’s not impossible for a generous benefactor to step in. Stay tuned.
Q: What are you working on now? Anything we should watch for?
I’d love to publish a North Dakota photography book one day but that is a project still far out. I’m not sure where to start, even though I’ve got 53 counties’ worth of pictures to sort through. I need more seasons and opportunities in more places around the state, I think. I also have a few photos framed in my head but can’t get yet, like hoarfrost on branches and golden hour shots. Again, stay tuned …
Q: Anything you want to add?
WalletHub recently ranked North Dakota as No. 46 for summer road trips which I disagree with entirely. Take a trip around North Dakota and you’ll be amazed. We’re not like other states and you very often have to find your own adventure here. Medora is a good place to start but I recommend getting off the beaten track. The Missouri River in North Dakota has some of best scenic and historic sites in the whole state, so that’s well worth a trip right there. We’re not the gaudiest state but there are attractions and scenery here. Just find it.
Q: Where can people follow you?
Update: Jack has since moved on from Watford City and is now a reporter for the Bismarck Tribune.
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy