In an effort to tick off the list for my 50th state to visit, we planned a pandemic-summer trip to North Dakota. (It was combined with Rick’s 50th state of Kansas to make a complete circle.) What an absolutely delightful surprise to learn the North Dakota state tourism folks have become so accustomed to travelers wandering in and announcing, “This is my 50th state!” that they’ve created an entire campaign around the experience.
Our first indication of the program was the state visitor’s guide carefully placed in our hotel room complete with personalized sticky notes directing us to different pages. Turns out the local manager goes out of her way to learn what she can about those registered and had figured out it was both my birthday and 50th state. She tabbed a local restaurant offering outdoor seating with a note “this would be a great birthday dinner”, a page about the nearby Hjemkomst Center/Norwegian Stave Church with “the most unique local attraction”, and another couple of pages for a local brewery and art walk.
But the one that really got our attention was on the page all about the Save the Best for Last program. Her note just said “Don’t forget to visit the Visitors Center in the morning. They open at 9.”
Now to be honest, we had intended to hit the road earlier than that but her notes and the hospitality from both the restaurant and brewery that evening helped us decide to stay a little longer and check them out.
In the morning, outside the Visitors Center housed in an imposing historic grain elevator as a nod to the region’s agricultural roots, we strolled along the Walk of Fame featuring all sorts of famous folk who have visited the City and put their handprints in the pathway. Everyone from Will Rogers to Jesse Ventura, Dr. Ruth Westheimer to Metallica, Neil Diamond to Brad Paisley has apparently spent some time in the frontier “north of normal” town. FYI, my hands are the same size as Mr. Rogers.
Turns out the Visitors Center was a whole bunch of fun! Walking in the door announcing we had saved the best for last brought us a hearty huzzah and the question “What size tee shirts do you wear?” What??
Since 2013, the Best for Last Club has become a hit with folks wanting to visit all 50 states. They provide a commemorative Best for Last t-shirt, an official certificate, a round of applause from staffers, and in invitation to join the club with a photo taken on site and a Facebook group with over 5000 members – and growing.
We proudly donned our new t-shirts – with a snazzy design! – and had our pics taken at the club emblem. Then we were offered a chance to experience the original woodchipper from the Coen Brother’s infamous movie Fargo. Who could pass up staging some shots – with and without our masks – pushing a mannequin leg into the chipper while looking as menacingly as one can while laughing ourselves silly. We’re just sorry that due to the pandemic we couldn’t use the furry earflap trapper hats for our poses.
Honestly, the whole experience made us want to revisit the region and state and we regretted not having the time to explore more on this trip. We were ticking off a box. Lesson learned. We will be back. If you are on a quest to visit all 50 states, we definitely suggest you save North Dakota for last!
For more details on all things ND, https://www.fargomoorhead.org/plan-a-trip/fargo-moorhead-visitors-center/