35 Counties in North Dakota and Montana

Since we’ve adopted our dog Maya, I’ve changed my travel strategy a bit. We do not want to leave her in her crate for an extended amount of time, so I’ve stopped traveling during the week when Victoria is still working in the office.

I get done with my job at 1 PM on Fridays, so we figured it would be reasonable for me to leave right after work on Friday and Maya could spend a few hours in her crate while waiting for Victoria to come home. We’ve run errands in the past for several hours and those few hours didn’t seem to phase Maya staying in her crate.

Eventually, we may look into a doggy daycare situation so I can take extended weekends and travel. In the meantime, there are enough close counties I still need to visit, so I’ve adopted what I call the “Dalhart Strategy.”

When I first started visiting counties in Texas, I looked to find the furthest county from where I lived. I found that Dallam County (Dalhart, TX) was the furthest away and it took 9 hours to get there (El Paso was a close second at 8.5 hours). I figured I’d start with the furthest counties to get the longest trips out of the way first.

I found I could leave at 1 PM on a Friday right after work and then drive 9 hours to get to where I needed to be and it wouldn’t be terribly late. I’d then try to visit as many counties as I could on Saturday and make my way back to Austin on Sunday. 

I’d try to pick up a few counties along the way back. This would allow me to maximize the weekend and be home to work during the week. This strategy worked well and got easier as time went on since the counties became closer and closer.

At the time, my county collecting was strictly limited to Texas. Currently, I’m trying to visit every county in the USA, so state borders are kind of irrelevant when I plan my trips. I’m just trying to find what clusters of counties make the most sense to visit together from an efficiency standpoint (I still have a full-time job outside of traveling, so I have to maximize my off time).

Since I do not draw the line at state borders, there are now a lot of “Dalharts” that I can go to and use this strategy.

As you can see, I will be busy for a while and this strategy should serve me well for a bit. With that being said, this trip to North Dakota and Montana was done over Memorial Day Weekend. Because I had an extra day I could use on the road since Victoria would be home with Maya, I would use that time to go a bit further than I could over a normal weekend.

The Dalhart Strategy said I could make it to Grand Forks, North Dakota in around 9 hours. From there, I would skirt the Canadian border and visit some of the northernmost counties in North Dakota and Montana. 

After I got done with work at 1 PM on Friday, I hit the road. I-94 was going to be a good chunk of my driving both there and back.

Being that it was a holiday weekend, everyone had the same idea to get out and travel. While I specifically chose some of the most desolate parts of the country to go to, I still had to drive on some main roads that connected major population centers. I didn’t even make it out of Wisconsin before my first traffic jam. As you can see, I had the parking brake on waiting for this one.

I didn’t see an accident, disabled vehicle, or someone pulled over by a cop along the way after traffic started moving again. Either the issue was cleared before I got there, or the volume of traffic was just that great.

I eventually made it to Minnesota.

I had another snag or two around Minneapolis, but west of the city became open roads and it was a long straight drive to North Dakota.

I finally made it to Grand Forks around 11 PM. I looked for somewhere I could park the car for the night and get some sleep. I settled on the parking lot outside of Riverside Dam. It made for some good pictures in the morning!

After taking pictures near the water and getting ready for the day, I made it to the Grand Forks County Courthouse.

I needed to go to the bathroom and figured I’d find a gas station along the way since I needed to fill up anyway. I kind of forgot that much of this country isn’t operating on a 24/7 schedule. I pulled into a gas station at around 6:30 AM, but it was closed. Fortunately, I was able to at least get gas by paying at the pump. I was actually really curious to see what movies this place had to rent.

I was taking US-81. I find this road especially interesting since it was the main road to Austin, TX before the interstate system. For my travels, it was still the main road.

One thing I’m getting good at from all my travels is spotting bathrooms, no matter how primitive. I found this park along the way that still had a pit toilet and a very primitive way of keeping the stall door shut.

The next county I made it to was Walsh County.

By now, I was getting off the US highways and onto the state roads.

Soon I was at Pembina County.

After that, I made it to Cavalier County.

On the drive to Nelson County, it started to rain, but that didn’t really slow me down.

My next stop was Ramsey County.

On my way to Benson County, I drove past some beautiful lakes. I’ve always thought of North Dakota as flat prairies so it was a pleasant surprise seeing these lakes.

The Benson County Courthouse was also nice and historical.

Towner County also had a historical-looking courthouse.

Rolette County looked more like a standard government building.

I was really starting to enjoy the clear blue skies when I got to Bottineau County.

Next up was Piece County, which was also in the town that was the geographical center of North America.

A little bit later I was at McHenry County…

…and then Ward County.

While driving to Renville County, I took in some scenery of a back gravel road.

That didn’t slow me down much and I was soon at the Renville County Courthouse.

I could tell I was getting further west when I saw signs to watch out for moose.

The terrain was also getting hillier.

Before you knew it, I was in Burke County.

The clouds were starting to build again as I made it to Mountrail County.

I drove past the Continental Divide into Divide County.

Divide County was the last county in North Dakota I visited. Judging by the increasing volume of pumpjacks, I knew was in oil country.

It wasn’t long before I hit the Montana state line.

My first county in Montana was Sheridan County.

The Daniels County Courthouse looked something out of the Wild West.

There was also some nice color in the sky.

It was now getting dark and I figured I’d drive to the next county, find a place to sleep, and then pick up where I left off in the morning.

I parked on some residential street in Wolf Point and slept for the night in the back of the car. I got up early in the morning to start my day and visit the Roosevelt County Courthouse.

The roads were wide open and soon I was in Valley County.

Phillips County was next on the list.

A while back, I was seeing signs for moose. Now there were signs for cattle.

If I wasn’t watching for either of those, there was plenty of road construction to also watch out for.

The road construction did slow me down a bit, but I was still able to make decent time and get to Blaine County.

Up next was Hill County.

Montana is a lot like Texas with its high speed limits on the two-lane roads. The speed limit during the day is 70mph, but one thing that will slow you down is getting behind someone pulling a camper.

After spending some time behind the slow camper, I made it to Liberty County.

My next stop was Toole County, where I was greeted by a friendly courthouse cat.

On my drive to Glacier County, I see there was an Amtrak train running parallel to the highway. Maybe someday I’ll take the train somewhere.

It only took a little bit more driving to get me to Glacier County.

While I was mainly taking two-lane highways, I finally was able to get some Interstate driving in. Montana was great with their 80mph speed limits!

After some fast driving, I was in Pondera County.

The wide-open roads also started including some mountain scenery in the distance.

It was nice enjoying the scenery and it made the drive to Teton County fast.

I was then soon in Cascade County.

On my way to the next county, I found a scenic overlook.

This was followed by a bridge underpass that was small enough to only fit one car at a time.

Next up was Chouteau County.

My drive continued to become more hilly and mountainous.

The increasingly scenic drive got me to Judith Basin County.

Fergus County was the next stop on the list.

Later, I got to Petroleum County.

I knew I was in a very desolate area. Just as I had seen in desolate parts of Texas, the roads around the courthouse in Petroleum County were unpaved.

I don’t mind a bit of desolation. I find it relaxing to drive the open roads.

When I visited Garfield County, there were very few paved roads. Basically, the road became unpaved right after it got to the courthouse.

I also started to realize that I had not had cell phone reception for probably 150 miles. It was starting to get late and I knew I had limited daylight left. I may be able to do another county or two with the daylight left, but I was nervous about being in the middle of nowhere at night with no cell phone reception. I rarely passed a car on many of these highways, so I decided I would use the remaining daylight to get back to the Interstate. I drove on the unpaved roads back to the paved highways.

As you can see, the roads were narrow and windy and there wasn’t much margin of error on the side. Many times, there was a big drop-off. The antelope were also out and about, so I was trying to make the best time I could but also had to be super careful.

Just as I thought I was making good time, here came some more road construction that slowed me down!

At this time I was getting nervous since I had been several hours without cell phone reception. I was wondering if Victoria had texted me and was getting concerned that I hadn’t responded in a while. I figured I’d have cell phone reception near the Interstate, but I was now being slowed down. It took a while before I finally got out of the construction and onto better roads.

I made it to I-94 and also was able to call Victoria. I was tired and found the first rest stop I could near the Montana-North Dakota line. I climbed into the back seat of the car, got some sleep, and then woke up early in the morning to get a start on my 13-14 hour drive back home.

I was soon back in North Dakota and it was another straight shot on I-94 back to Madison.

I ran into traffic a few times along the way, but I was able to get home around 7:30 PM. I would say this was a productive trip where I ultimately visited 35 new counties.

If you are wondering about where I stopped to eat on this trip, I didn’t stop at any restaurants. For the most part, I lived off of trail mix, pretzels, and whatever random gas station food I could find. I was mainly trying to make as good of time as I could, so my main focus was on visiting counties.

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