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North American Bison of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

North American Bison of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

During their historic journey to the Pacific, Lewis and Clark reported enormous herds of North American Bison in the midwest, so large that they “darkened the whole plains.”  Wagon trains sometimes waited days for passage through herds numbering in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.  But by the early 1900’s the bison were reaching their low-point.  Over-hunting, drought, and encroachment on their natural habitat by humans and cattle drove the population of bison down to only several hundred animals (the actual number is disputed) — the bison were almost extinct.

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Legend of the Devils Lake Monster

Legend of the Devils Lake Monster

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know “ghosts” is a metaphor that refers to the ghosts of our past, and most of the time, that manifests itself here in the form of photos of our vanishing places. Sometimes though, we run across a story so interesting, a piece of forgotten history or local lore so fascinating, that we feel compelled to write about it. This is one of those instances.

Devils Lake house
An abandoned home along the shores of Devils Lake, “Lake of the Spirits.”

There are published accounts from as far back as 1894, and Native American legends going back much further, about a Loch Ness-style serpent in Devils Lake, North Dakota’s largest natural body of water, named in an approximate translation of the Lakota name, “Lake of the Spirits.”

Devils Lake-area residents are, of course, quite familiar with the legend, sometimes known as the Devils Lake Monster (not to be confused with a reported lake monster in Oregon of the same name) but there are surprisingly few modern references to a creature that has been reported for hundreds of years in Devils Lake.

One of the earliest accounts comes from the New York Sun, October 21st, 1894. It reads in part:

All descriptions of the serpent agree that it has alligator jaws and glaring red eyes. Its tail is about 80 feet long. The serpent usually appears in August and about sunset. The red glare of the sunset sky is often reflected in the eyes of the serpent like mirrors and the flashes of red light that go darting here and there as the serpent turns its head strike terror into the hearts of those on whom they fall. The serpent moves slowly along about a half mile from the shore, and in the course of a day or two makes the round of the lake. At times it lashes the water furiously with its tail and it leaves a simple shining wake as it pushes its way along.

The Sun article further describes the appearance of the serpent:

Its color is a slimy green, and it is easy to trace the waves of motion that begin at its head and follow along to its tail, three or four distinct waves being in evidence at the same time. It has ragged and enormous fins on its side and horny substances that project from its jaws, or directly behind them, and trail along in the water, but which, when it is angered, stick out in a horrible bristling attitude. Its scales sometimes glisten and sometimes lie so close to its back that they seem to be simply an ordinary snakeskin

Graham's Island, Devils Lake, ND
An abandoned road descends into Devils Lake

In July of 1895, The Bismarck Tribune published a story which told the tale of a fisherman who reportedly hooked the monster and got towed on a high speed joyride around the lake. These early accounts of the Devils Lake Monster are frequently dismissed as sensationalized accounts by newspapers seeking readers and/or local business interests trying to draw tourists and settlers on the freshly laid railroad line. Nevertheless, reports of a serpent in Devils Lake would continue.

In August, 1904, The Wichita Beacon published a story that would be reprinted in other newspapers around the nation for months afterward.

Mrs. C.F. Craig, of Leeds, Mrs. Edgar Larue and Mrs. Carr Cleveland, while strolling along the bank of Devils Lake, at Chatauqua grounds, were terribly frightened by an object that resembled a sea serpent, which was lashing the water into white foam about a mile from shore.

The party secured opera glasses, and on returning, were horrified to see on a close examination, that the serpent was swimming north across the lake, and was leaving a vast wake behind it, as with slow but powerful and irresistible motion, the monster threaded its way through the water, with its long sinuous folds which were like a weavers beam.

The serpent’s body was very thick, and covered with huge and horribly loathesome-looking black scales. Its head was of snake-like formation, with a flashing, darting tongue, and two angry eyes as big as goose eggs, glowed in the monster’s head.



Another published mass-sighting of the serpent occurred in 1915 with a number of eyewitnesses reporting their accounts separately, including E.M. Lewis, a businessman, who sighted the creature from a train passing near the shore of Devils Lake. From the Grand Forks Daily Herald, July 21, 1915:

That Devils Lake Sea Serpent Basks in Sunshine For Admiring Crowds; Now They’ll Hunt it

(Herald Special Service) Devils Lake, N. D., July 21. — Stretched out on the surface of the bay of Devils Lake, fronting Chautauqua, the monster sea serpent basked. In the delightful evening sunshine shortly before sundown last night, while residents of Chautauqua and Greenwood looked on in silent amazement. The serpent was viewed from several different points.

There was no mistake about it. The monster, that has figured in the legends of Devils Lake for half a century, when only the Indians inhabited the country, or a descendant which answers the earliest description, was seen by so many that no one disputes the fact that it lives in the waters of the lake.

E. M. Lewis and Chas. Pillsbury, well known business men, saw the serpent very distinctly, unknown to each other. It was stretched out on the water about a quarter of a mile from shore. It is described as between fifty and sixty feet long and between a foot and two feet in diameter. Captain Walter Fursteneau of the police force, accompanied by his wife also witnessed the sight.

The last time the serpent was seen was a couple of years ago by Rev. C. L. Wallace of the M. E. Church. At that time it was in the extreme east end of the lake. It happens that this section is separated from the section where the serpent was seen last night, by a bridge at the Narrows, which in reality is a dike, there being no water passage. How the monster got into the west-end of the lake is the present mystery. That it vaulted the bridge, or else that there are two serpents in the lake, is the conclusion reached today. In any event, it has been established beyond the question of a doubt that a monster lives in the lake and already there is talk of expeditions to get in closer touch with the freak.

The legend of the Devils Lake Monster is certainly a fanciful and interesting tale, an entertaining story to be told around a campfire on a summer night, but there are no photos of the creature that I could find, and it’s interesting to note that actual sightings of the monster seem to have died down in the last fifty years, perhaps due to the seeming scientific impossibility of the creature.

Devils Lake is a body of water with no natural outlet, disconnected from any larger sea, and skeptics frequently question where the serpent could have come from. While re-tellings of Native American legend say the creature was stranded in Devils Lake after the last glaciers retreated, that would necessitate a lifespan of 9,000 years or more for the beast.

We have visited sites around Devils Lake, and although we have sometimes found a haunting panorama of imagery which includes abandoned homes and inundated roads from a time when the lake level was much lower than today, we have yet to see anything that resembles a serpent in Devils Lake. Have you?

See also: The Flooding of Graham’s Island
See also: Legend of the Miniwashitu

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, original content copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
The Abandoned Skyline Skiway, Devils Lake

The Abandoned Skyline Skiway, Devils Lake

This is a former Nordic ski jump, in Benson County, about 10 miles south of Devils Lake, or three miles east of Fort Totten, at the ski resort once known as Skyline Skiway. According to the December 1982 issue of Ski Magazine, this ski jump opened in 1928 and closed in 1936. The ski hill continued to operate on and off into the early eighties, and was home to the Lake Region Ski Club.

Update: A visitor to our Facebook page tells us most of this ski jump has blown down in a windstorm and there is very little left.

Skyline Skiway

Based on the view from the end of the ramp, we can conclusively say a jump from the end of this thing would have been terrifying. There’s some interesting information on this Ski Jump in this Dakota Datebook entry from 2008.

Skyline Skiway

The road to the jump is a very steep, pitted dirt road. In anything other than totally dry conditions, you’d be well advised to take a 4 x 4.

Skyline Skiway

We also featured this ski jump in our hardcover coffee table book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 1.

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Sometimes getting the shot requires a little bad judgement.

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway is the most significant remaining relic of a Nordic ski jump in North Dakota that we know of. The tower from a former jump near Mayville still stands (but the ramp itself is gone), and a jump that was once in North Fargo is completely gone. Do you know about any other Nordic ski jumps in North Dakota? Please leave a comment.

Skyline Skiway

Skyline Skiway

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Video: White Butte — The Highest Point in North Dakota

Video: White Butte — The Highest Point in North Dakota

Last summer, we had the opportunity to go back to White Butte for the first time since 2007, so we couldn’t resist the chance to go to the summit and get some GoPro video in HD.

White Butte is in Slope County, and of the fifty state high points, it is one of only seven that is on private land — North Dakota, Nebraska, Maryland, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana and Illinois. The rest of the states’ high points lie mainly within state or national parks.

We opted not to include any narration on this one, just the beautiful view from the summit of North Dakota’s highest point.

Stream this one to your TV if you have the capability. It looks great on a big screen.

Original content copyright © 2015 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Five More North Dakota Sites You’ll Love

Five More North Dakota Sites You’ll Love

If you’re like us, you enjoy all things North Dakota. Here are five more North Dakota-related sites you should check out.

Wild In North Dakota: They might be the most followed North Dakota-oriented site on Facebook with over a quarter-million followers. Wild in North Dakota is a non-profit organization dedicated to the “promotion, education, and awareness of the wild horse herd” in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Facebook | Website

1897 Red River Valley League: This excellent site chronicles the 1897 Red River Valley Baseball League which featured teams from Fargo, Grand Forks, Moorhead, and Wahpeton-Breckenridge. “The league featured future major league players, local heroes, reckless characters, economic unrest, and spirited rivalries.”
Facebook | Website

Dakota Death Trip: This fascinating site highlights the hardships our ancestors faced by examining the lurid. Through these stories of tragedy and misfortune, we learn a lot about the reality of life on the plains. Sometimes sad, other times humorous, you’ll get lost in Derek Dahlsad’s Dakota Death Trip for hours.
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Fargo Underground: An underground chronicle of the happenings and events in North Dakota’s largest city via a super-clean, easy-to-navigate website, constantly updated with photos and videos. If you want to know what’s happening in Fargo, this is a good place to start.
Facebook | Website

Bismarck Cafe: Also known as BisMan Cafe and Bismarck Pride, this site features the latest news and happenings from the Bismarck/Mandan metro, plus historical data and photos from our state capital.
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Photo by Terry Hinnenkamp

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
The Badlands of Old Marmarth Road

The Badlands of Old Marmarth Road

In July of 2015, we visited Marmarth, North Dakota and had plans to proceed from there to Ollie, Montana to photograph the former school (it was no longer standing) on the way to the prairie ghost town of Carlyle, Montana. Our route of choice was Old Highway 16, also referred to as Old Marmarth Road. It was a route that would take us through the Badlands north of Marmarth, where the views are fantastic.

Old Marmarth Road

Although Old Marmarth Road is in fairly nice condition these days, it is not your standard scenic drive. It is a minimum maintenance road, and a sign at the south entrance advises you drive at your own risk. Although there are a number of ranchers who graze cattle on land adjacent to the road, there are no homes, services or businesses of any kind on the stretch we drove, and cell service is hit and miss even with the best carrier. You’ll drive over a dozen or more cattle guards in the road along the route, and there are no fences in places, requiring a slower pace and attentive driving habits, because it’s not unusual to encounter some cattle right on the road. We saw rattlesnakes on the road too, so if you drive here, be careful.

Old Marmarth Road

Old Marmarth Road

There are places along the road where you can see abandoned remnants of the old road, where travelers traversed the rugged Badlands of Old Marmarth Road in the horse and wagon era, sometimes crossing paths with new fangled machines called “automobiles.”

Old Marmarth Road

Old Marmarth Road

Old Marmarth Road

If you’re feeling adventurous, and yearning for something a little more visceral than the standard scenic overlooks of the Interstate System, Old Highway 16 is a good place to take in some North Dakota Badlands vistas.

Old Marmarth Road

One of the narrower stretches of Old Highway 16 as it looked in July of 2015.

Old Marmarth Road

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Cartwright Tunnel and Fairview Lift Bridge

Cartwright Tunnel and Fairview Lift Bridge

This is a small sampling of photos from our visit to Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel in July of 2014.

If you’re interested in the history of this lift bridge, which was only raised once, you can check out our previous gallery featuring photos and captions from our friend R. David Adams, or you can read more about it at the MidRivers page, which has nice background on both Fairview and its twin, Snowden Lift Bridge.

Fairview Lift Bridge

There’s a campground in the shadow of this bridge where we intended to camp during our visit, but when we arrived, we found the place off-limits. We’re told some people had been abusing overnight camping privileges, so camping is no longer allowed.  We ended up in a jam and had to settle for last minute accommodations at a primitive campground some miles away.

Fairview Lift Bridge, North Dakota

Today, the bridge is a tourist attraction and a popular spot for watersports among locals. The bridge and tunnel are both handicap accessible. The gate shown above marks the west end, just above the parking lot.

Fairview Lift Bridge, North Dakota

The sky was clouded by smoke from forest fires on the day we were there.

Fairview Lift Bridge, North Dakota

Fairview Lift Bridge, North Dakota

This island is right in the middle of the Yellowstone river, which is one of the longest un-dammed rivers in the western hemisphere. William Clark devoted some time to exploring this river during Lewis & Clark’s return journey from the Pacific Coast. Just miles from here, it empties into the Missouri River.

Fairview Lift Bridge, North Dakota

Fairview Lift Bridge, North Dakota

Cartwright Tunnel

The decaying ruins of the Cartwright tunnel were shored up and reconstructed between 2004 and 2006 by the North Dakota Army National Guard and Friends of the Fairview Bridge.

Cartwright Tunnel

Cartwright Tunnel

 We did not realize how big this tunnel was from photos. When you’re there in person, it is huge.

Cartwright Tunnel

The hike, from end to end, took us about 8 minutes.

Cartwright Tunnel

A neighbor’s dog accompanied us on our hike.

Cartwright Tunnel

Cartwright Tunnel

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Do you have our hardcover, coffee table books?

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
The Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The North Dakota Badlands cover the southwestern third of the state and are part of a larger range of badlands which stretch south to White Butte and into South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.  These photos were taken in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, near Medora, North Dakota.

There is a certain romance in the landscape of badlands, and North Dakota’s are no exception.  You can’t help but be reminded of the all the moments in cinema history where the badlands were the backdrop, from westerns to post-apocalyptic thrillers.

North American Bison roam this park as well as wild horses and other wildlife.  Camping is available, as well as hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, and more.

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Many of these photos are featured in our second book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 2.

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Scoria Point Overlook

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

This is the Maltese Cross Cabin at the entrance to the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Theodore Roosevelt stayed here in 1883.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The cabin’s original location was seven miles south of Medora.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The Marquis de Mores’ meat-packing plant once stood here. Now only the chimney remains.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

This gentleman does a fantastic Theodore Roosevelt, right down to his turn of the century manner of speech.

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
The Old West of Medora, North Dakota

The Old West of Medora, North Dakota

Medora, North Dakota is the leading tourist attraction in the state, so perhaps it’s apropos the population is only 112.  This is the biggest, most diverse little town you’ll ever visit — the hotel rooms outnumber the bedrooms in this town, and the streets are chock full — complete with antique and gift shops, saloons, museums, wildlife, scenery… the list is endless.  But don’t expect the typical, there’s not a McDonalds or any other franchise joint for miles.

Medora is the epicenter of North Dakota Old West lore, boasting historic figures from Theodore Roosevelt, who came to Medora in 1883 to hunt bison, to General Custer, who spent some of his final days here.  Painted Canyon is just down the Interstate.  The badlands scenery in Medora is incredible, and there’s a little something for everyone, from the musical to the pitchfork steak fondue.  There’s another gallery of badlands photos here.  We will likely visit many more times, because there is waaaayyyy more to see.

Medora, North Dakota

Above: The Rough Riders (spelled with a space, like the sign above the door) Hotel in 2013. Below: that’s the same hotel, on the left, 99 years earlier in 1914.

Medora, North Dakota

Medora, 1914

Medora, North Dakota

Medora, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt once rented the room upstairs.

Medora, North Dakota

Medora, North Dakota

Medora, North Dakota

Board sidewalks in Medora.

Medora, North Dakota

St. Mary’s

Medora, North Dakota

Medora, North Dakota

Medora, North Dakota

Medora, North Dakota

Marquis de Mores

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Badlands Part One: Painted Canyon

Badlands Part One: Painted Canyon

Painted Canyon Visitor Center is right off the north side of Interstate 94, a few miles east of Medora.  If you’re entering the Badlands from the east, this is your first chance to get a look at them from a scenic overlook, and it is amazing.

A more extensive gallery of the badlands as you see them from inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora is here.  Further south is White Butte, the highest point in North Dakota, where hints of a similar landscape crop up in the middle of green farmland.

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Warning: Unstable Ground

Painted Canyon

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Driving Through a Herd of North American Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Driving Through a Herd of North American Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

On our recent visit to North Dakota’s southwest corner, we spent some time in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, and we were reminded of the magic of the Badlands.

For anyone who lives in eastern North Dakota in the flat lands which were once the bottom of glacial Lake Agassiz, it’s easy to forget that North Dakota is not entirely flat. As Terry and I entered the Badlands and caught our first look at Painted Canyon from the highway, we were literally bouncing up and down with excitement in the car.  We couldn’t wait to photograph the beautiful topography — gallery here.

Far and away, the highlight of our trip was getting to see the animal that brought Teddy Roosevelt to North Dakota in 1883 — North American Bison.  We mounted a video camera on top of my car and let it roll as we came upon the bison.  If you have a nice fast connection, make sure you check it out in HD, fullscreen.  There’s a photo gallery of the bison here.  Enjoy.

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
White Butte

White Butte

White Butte is the highest point in the state of North Dakota at 3,506 feet above sea level. The peak is on private land and is not staffed. Of the 50 state highpoints, only seven are on private land — North Dakota, Nebraska, Maryland, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana and Illinois. There is no development of any kind at White Butte. The closest town, Amidon, had a population of 26 in the 2000 Census, and is the smallest county seat in the nation as the seat of Slope County. According to the 2010 Census, Slope is one of only two counties in the state with a population density of less than one person per square mile… a lot of wide open space out here.

The hike to the top of White Butte is fairly easy if you follow the path up the ridgeline to the summit.

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

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White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

 

White Butte

At the summit. The memorial at lower right is a tribute to the former property owner, Lawrence Buzalsky, who died in 1990.

White Butte

There is a summit log notebook in this box. We signed it and left a stack of postcards in the box, but we have yet to hear from anyone who got one.

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

White Butte

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
Jensen Cabin at Wadeson Park

Jensen Cabin at Wadeson Park

This cabin was built in 1878 by Norwegian immigrant Carl Bjerke Jensen, made from hand-hewn oak.  The cabin and the land were donated to the State Historical Society by the Wadeson family in 1957.  This cabin was in pretty bad shape until it was restored in 1981.

I stumbled upon this place while taking a drive near Kathryn.

This is the Wadeson Park Spillway, right across the road from the Jensen Cabin.

Photos by Troy Larson, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.
A Fever for Drive-In Theaters

A Fever for Drive-In Theaters

After we posted our photos of Stardust 17 Drive-In in Grafton, it became pretty clear that you were bitten by the Drive-In bug, because we got lots of comments, questions, and emails about Drive-In Theaters.

As we mentioned in that post, there are no remaining operating drive-in theaters in the state of North Dakota — the last was Lake Park Drive-In in Williston, which closed in 2012.

Here is a larger list which includes open drive-in theaters within reasonable driving distance of North Dakota.  I’ve included official websites where possible.  Many of these facilities have seldom updated websites, so please call or email ahead before you drive too far. If you have updated information to add to this page, please post a comment.

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Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota.