Article by Danielle Hanna
Instead of getting me into trouble–like you’d think it would–my bent for aimless wandering keeps turning up new treasures I never would have found any other way.
My dog Molly and I were driving home on Highway 83 one day. The sky was blue and full of big summer clouds and the pastures were the vivid green you only see in North Dakota in spring, before the Indian summers scorch everything brown. South of the tiny town of Wilton, we passed the wind farm just off the highway.
Since the first time I saw them, I wanted to photograph the windmills for my blog and Facebook page. The setting that particular day was ideal. And I had my camera.
I slowed the car a little bit and waited for the perfect composition to fill my windshield. When it did, I pulled off the highway onto the first turn-off to make itself available. Unfortunately, the few hundred yards it had taken me to find the turn-off placed the windmills squarely behind a hill.
I was about to pull back onto the highway when I took a second look at my surroundings. The turn-off I’d randomly chosen at 60 miles per hour was a narrow scoria road wending between waves of lush grass and disappearing over a spur of the hill.
Dorothy could keep her yellow brick road. This looked awesome.
Since the scoria road could get me closer to the windmills just as well as the highway, I decided to follow it.
Molly was all anticipation in the back seat. A new road! We’ve never been here before! Where does it go?
In that regard–and so many more–my dog and I are identical.
Just as we crested the hill, a little splotch of black in the pasture to my left caught my eye.
A foal, curled up in the deep grass at the base of a telephone pole. I gasped and slowed down. Serious Facebook factor! Where was my camera?
Just as I was ready to get out of the car, a much larger object cloaked in black entered the stage.
It was just like you see in movies: The noble horse prancing high; buff muscles rippling beneath its shimmering sable coat; mane, tail, and feathers billowing in its own wind. This vision of awesomeness came straight at me–and convinced me to stay in the car. In the presence of such majesty, the barbed wire fence between us appeared puny.
The horse veered off from her charge of the barbed wire to stand protectively over her foal.
I smiled. What an amazing mom. I think that mare was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life.
I looked over the rest of the pasture and found it full of black mares and their foals. Behind them, the windmills rose toward the sky.
I got out of the first mare’s comfort zone and photographed the other mares and their young.
By now, completely entranced by this magic scoria road, I drove on, and every crested hill seemed to reveal more wonders.
I spent an hour on the scoria road without encountering another soul except the horses. Now, as I stood fifty feet from my idling car, I turned from my camera at the sound of approaching tires. A pickup was coming my way. I eyed my car. I’d pulled it half-way off the scoria road, but the space left over still wasn’t big enough for a pickup.
I ran back, dove into the driver’s seat, and pulled into the grass just as the pickup closed in.
But instead of passing by, the driver slowed and waved out the window. This was infinitely more demonstrative than the rural North Dakota one- or two-finger wave from the steering wheel. I figured the guy wanted to talk. We stopped beside each other.
The man leaned a meaty arm on his window. “Runnin’ yor dog out here?”
I assured him my dog had been in the car the entire time and explained that I was just getting photographs for my blog.
“Hold on. Ya got my bad ear.” He cut the engine. “Now. What were ya sayin’?”
I turned off my own engine and repeated myself. He still didn’t hear me.
“Well, you can run yor dog here any time. So long as you don’t bother the mares and foals, is all. But it’s nice n’ quiet back here.” He went on to rattle off the names of everybody who lived on the scoria road. “All nice folk. All of us old. We won’t bother ya.”
I gave up on trying to explain the blog and just smiled and said thanks. It was nice to have an open invitation to come back.
When I got back to the highway, I found more turn-offs that would have gotten me better photos of the windmills. But I don’t regret for a moment the unplanned selection that landed me on the scoria road. It was like the magician’s hat that kept producing wonders. I was overwhelmed to think I had zipped past it so many times at seventy miles per hour and never known what I was missing.
The more I follow my wanderlust, the more I’m amazed at all the secret spots I find here in North Dakota–places that will never be advertised as tourist destinations, but are beautiful in part because they are only known to the locals and those brave enough to turn off the highway.
Danielle Hanna learned how to read and write at age four and knew she wanted to be an author by the time she was seven. She now writes Christian mysteries. When she’s not riveted to her computer, you can find her camping, hiking, and biking with her dog Molly in her home state of North Dakota.