Road to Nowhere

Cutting across America’s heartland, US‑83 remains a must-do long-distance byway—transnavigating this broad, odd nation without once grazing a conventional tourist destination.

Mandan

Cross-river sibling to the state capital, Mandan (pop. 18,331) is a shipping and warehousing center that grew up swiftly in the years after 1882, when the Northern Pacific railroad completed a bridge from Bismarck. As John Steinbeck pointed out, Mandan marks the beginning of the wild western United States. For a quick trip back to the 1880s, when the Northern Pacific Railroad made its epic push across the Great Plains, visit the North Dakota State Railroad Museum (3102 37th St. NW, 701/663-9322, daily 1pm-5pm in summer). In addition to a wide array of old railroad photographs, the museum includes restored cabooses, boxcars, tankers, and flatcars from the Soo, Great Northern, and Burlington Northern lines.

Most everything in Mandan, from cafés to beauty parlors, seems to be named after someone related to Lewis and Clark—apart from the string of windowless, cowboy-themed beer bars along Main Street (choose among Silver Dollar Lounge, the Last Call Bar, and a number of others). The other main things to see in Mandan are two statues, one a 25-foot-tall Indian figure (601 SE 6th Ave.) carved from a cottonwood tree, the other the requisite Teddy Roosevelt, in front of the train station on Main Street. One more reason to stop in Mandan: milk shakes and sundaes at the Americana-rich Mandan Diner and Soda Fountain (316 W. Main St., 701/663-5884).

North Dakota State Railroad Museum (3102 37th St. NW)
Mandan Diner and Soda Fountain (316 W. Main St.)