The Anti Tourist Trap- The International Peace Gardens + Turtle Mountains of ND
I was aching to feel harmony with nature. I wanted to feel the exhilaration of jumping off a cliff into crisp,frigid water that could wash away my aches. I wanted to know how it felt again to let the caged parts of me free in the wild, untamed like the jagged trails I climbed to know what it meant to be at the top of something.
Admittedly, I was skeptical about ND parks tourist attractions after living in The “Pacific Northwest Wonderland" for two years. ND is certainly not known for its scenic beauty or tourism, but there are sparkling gems glistening with understated beauty nestled beyond the flat topography and swaths of Prairie grass and smiling sunflower fields.
I decided to seek the healing powers of nature right in ND, at Lake Metigoshe State Park in the Turtle Mountain region nestled in central ND on the border of Manitoba, Canada. It was surprisingly my first time camping alone, which was exhilarating in itself. I camped beside the lake, watching the picturesque sunset as I wrote. At nightfall, a giant white owl and several deer briefly joined me around the campfire. I took the rain shield off my tent so I could look at the vast, luminous skies before I fell asleep.
The Turtle Mountain area transcends expectations, featuring one of the few natural forests in our state entwining with seas of wheat.
My highlight of the Turtle Mountains was visiting The International Peace Gardens, which are an extremely underrated and little known attraction of our country. The International Peace Gardens were dedicated amidst the darkness of the Great Depression. An estimated 50,000 people flocked to the Turtle Mountains in 1932 to celebrate plans for a Peace Tower and gardens in both ND and Manitoba.
The rich history of the gardens coupled with the bubbling fountains and the sweet smells of vibrant flowers kissing my nostrils immediately made gave me a visceral sense of serenity. Even after visiting some of the most popular and admired parks in the Pacific Wonderland, I was truly impressed. My constantly racing heart slowed down to a slow thrum, my migraine melted away, and the edges of my anxiety softened.
I languidly wandered around the gardens alongside couples and families proudly clad in both American and Canadian flag t-shirts, fanny packs, and the colossal tour bus of retired citizens aching to cross another landmark off their lists. The path led me to the Peace Towers, which shockingly were surrounded by an unsightly chain link fence. Unfortunately, the Peace Towers are literally crumbling because moisture became trapped in the concrete that could not endure the harshness of our climate and rapid freeze/ thaw patterns. Engineers deemed it structurally unsound, although it will slowly decay rather than immediately collapse. The irony of debris literally falling from the Peace Towers seems symbolic, as though they cracked because of our increasingly violent world. A world that has strayed from the unity that the Peace Gardens represent.
The Peace Towers will be replaced, and just beyond them there is a marker of the 49th Parallel where you can literally have a foot in each country. It is tradition for the conductor of the International Music Camp to stand atop his podium smack dab on the border.
But no review of the Turtle Mountains would be complete without paying a visit to Bottineau to see the largest turtle in the world. Tommy the snowmobiling turtle towers at thirty feet tall, weighing in at three tons. Seeing Tommy is steeped in nostalgia for me, as I have memories of my sister and me using him as a giant jungle gym during a visit with our great-gramps.
Above all, the beauty of this area is that it is a throwback to quieter, simpler times with earnest people who have hospitality as strong as their Canadian accents.