Plein Air Painting North Dakota
Part One

Traveling and Plein Air Painting North Dakota  - Artist Suzanne Elliott's Plein Air Painting Road Trip from Bismarck,  along the Missouri,  through the Badlands to  Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park -  September 2013.   For detailed information on these and other plein air painting sites in North Dakota - click here.

North Dakota is State #15 in my Quest to Paint the 50 States during my lifetime.

The following is my Travelog of the trip.  Fellow artist and friend Eunice Van Der Linden of Scotts Valley, California joined me on this trip through North Dakota, South Dakota and a small piece of Wyoming (specifically to paint The Devil's Tower).

North Dakota State Flag and Details

North Dakota's dark blue field displays a bald eagle holding an olive branch and a bundle of arrows in its claws. In its beak, the eagle carries a ribbon with the words " One nation made up of many states". The shield on its breast has thirteen stars, representing the original thirteen states. The fan shaped design above the eagle represents the birth of a new nation, the United States. The name "North Dakota" appears on a red scroll below the eagle.

State Capitol: Bismarck

State Bird: Western Meadowlark

State Flower: Wild Prairie Rose
Rosa arkansana

Travelog - September 2013

Artists Suzanne Elliott of Santa Cruz,  and Eunice Van Der Linden of Scotts Valley, Ca. embarked on a week of plein air painting in early September in North Dakota.  We flew into Bismarck, North Dakota arriving at 4.30pm in the evening.

Our initial plan had been to paint that evening - but the logistics of arriving in a new place, getting our rental car (a new Toyota Rav 4), locating our Motel, finding the art supply store (The Hobby Lobby) for the purchase of Gamsol (low odor mineral spirits) plus stopping for a few groceries for the road made such an ambitious plan impossible.   We were both tired anyway from having left our homes at 4am that morning with a long wait in Minneapolis/St. Paul to connect to our flight to Bismarck, North Dakota.  We decided to have dinner, rest and get an early start the next day.

Weather Channel - Be on the Lookout for Funnel Clouds

We awoke the next morning to darkness and ominous black clouds.  The weather channel in the hotel breakfast room had severe weather warnings for thunderstorms, lightning, hail and possible tornadoes!  I said to Eunice "You're from here, what do we do?" - She said calmly, "We'll go ahead with our painting plans and watch out for funnel clouds".  A fellow traveler of the best kind. An exciting start to our plein air painting North Dakota trip.

We got our car loaded up and got on the road heading along Burnt Boat Road to River Road (Route 1804) along the Missouri just North of our hotel in Bismarck.  We were able to see that if we traveled North a bit more we could possible get out of the heavy rain and into clearer weather. I took the photo below at the edge of the weather system.  Amazing sky!

Double Ditch Indian Village and Missouri River Overlook

The Indian Village itself was closed but we found a pullout on the side of the road just past that turnoff on River Road.  We decided this would be our plein air painting spot for the morning. 

We had a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside with a peak of the Missouri River in the distance - the rolling prairie hills, the Missouri River valley studded with cottonwood trees starting their Fall color display, the distant lightning and heavy dark clouds intersperced with soft pink clouds.  Patches of cerulean blue sky were quite spectacular.

We were right on the edge of the weather system so didn't get rain but were able to watch the drama and paint for a couple of hours.  Our only company were the Meadow Larks singing up above and a lone cyclist with a heavy load strapped to his bike.  He stopped and chatted with us for a few minutes.  He didn't seem particularly concerned about the weather situation and calmly continued on his solo voyage.

Here is the painting I did at this stop. Prints and cards of this image available here.

Old Time America

We continued North on Route 1804 for a few miles before stopping at the small rural town of Washburn on the Missouri River.  There is a Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center there, a Rest Area as well as the Fort Mandan Historic Site.  Lewis and Clark spent their first winter of their Expedition (1804) at this very spot. I guess the State Route we were traveling on was named for the year of this famous Expedition that was instigated by President Thomas Jefferson.  The Expedition was seeking the best route to the West coast from the Missouri River. 

Unlike Lewis and Clark, we were able to get a lunch sandwich to go at Washburn as we wanted to take route 200 West along the Missouri just south of Lake Sakakawea.  Washburn is a piece of old time America with tidy houses spaced well apart surrounded by green lawns.  The John Deere dealership is huge there, with lots of farm barns with grain silos dotting the countryside.

Missouri Flyway - Route 200

We found a wonderful spot off Route 200 West to paint the Missouri as it leaves the Hydroelectric Power facility at Lake Sakakawea.  We had our picnic lunch and painted our 2nd painting of the morning at that spot.  As we painted we could hear the flocks of geese talking to each other as they headed South along the Missouri flyway - getting out of the way of colder weather for the season.   

Here is the painting I did at this spot.  Weather was turning a bit gray and windy at that point.  We packed up and pressed on along Route 200 west.  We connected with Route 85 North to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the western part of North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Unit - The Badlands of North Dakota

The Park has 3 distinct units - we planned to visit 2 of them in our two days in the area.    We drove up to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt N.P. that same afternoon.  The park is very remote and lightly visited.  There was hardly any traffic when we were there.  It is spectacular from a geology point of view - I am including a few photos of some of the more amazing landscape forms to be found in this section of the park.

  Here's a sweet young mule deer who was right next to the road - quite unafraid...


The weather and lateness of the hour, plus having to drive at least another hour and a half South to Medora put an end to any plans that we may have had to do a 3rd painting that day.

Calling it a Day

Route 93 South to Medora was very heavily traveled by large trucks involved in the oil extraction up North.  Scary really as it is a 2 lane highway with these massive 2 trailer 18 wheelers coming at you at high speed with not much separation of the lanes! 

We arrived in Medora (unscathed thankfully) after dark.  We were both pretty tired after a very full day.  It was great to check into our comfortable rooms at the AmericInn in Medora, and then go out for a Bison Burger and a beer at the Missouri Cafe down the street.

Continued travelog Part 2, North Dakota

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