At 178 miles long and with nearly 1,500 miles of shoreline along the dammed Missouri River, Lake Sakakawea is the third largest artificial “lake” in the United States. It’s one of many places in the northwestern United States named for the legendary Shoshone woman, also known as Sacagawea, who accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition across the Rocky Mountains. There are countless things to do on the water, most of them involving fishing. The pleasant town of Garrison (pop. 1,453), six miles west of US-83 on Hwy-37, has a photogenic fiberglass statue of Wally the 26-Foot Walleye.
At the south end of Lake Sakakawea, 12 miles west of US-83 via Hwy-200, the Missouri River backs up behind wide but low-slung Garrison Dam, the fifth-largest earth-filled dam in the United States. The powerhouse is enmeshed within a labyrinth of huge power stanchions, high-voltage lines, and transformers. In the adjacent fish hatchery on the downstream side of the dam, tanks hold hundreds of thousands of walleyes, pallid sturgeons, and northern pike, plus rainbow and brown trout.
South of Garrison Dam, roadside interest along US-83 focuses on leviathan testimonials to engineering prowess. Huge tractors and bulldozers raise clouds of dust at the extensive coal mining operations around Underwood. The whole area on both sides of US-83 has been strip-mined and restored, though current operations are hard to get a good look at. Some 7.5-8 million tons of the valuable black rock each year ends up at the 1,100-megawatt Coal Creek Station, six miles north of Washburn and two miles off the roadway but readily apparent. This is one of the largest lignite-fired coal plants in the country.
However, unless you have an abiding interest in fossil fuels, a more interesting alternative to driving this stretch of US-83 is to follow the Missouri River’s western bank south of Lake Sakakawea, where it reverts to its naturally broad and powerful self for the next 75 miles.