7 Very Tall Things in Very Flat North Dakota: 50 States of Wonder - Atlas Obscura

50 States of Wonder
7 Very Tall Things in Very Flat North Dakota

North Dakota is not quite the flattest state in the U.S., but it's pretty close. (In one analysis, it placed third, after Illinois and Florida.) During the last Ice Age, glaciers moving across the terrain had a planing effect on the land, dropping sediment that filled in any valleys, creating sprawling prairies and open, big skies. These large expanses are home to more than a few sky-high structures, both natural and human-made. From rocky peaks and multi-ton animal statues to one of the tallest buildings in the world, these are some of the most impressive structures that North Dakota has to offer.

As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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That's one big buffalo. Drew Tarvin/CC BY 2.0
Sculpture

1. The World’s Largest Buffalo

A 60-ton buffalo named Dakota Thunder towers over the landscape in Jamestown, North Dakota. The massive ungulate was built in 1959 by the Jamestown College art instructor Elmer Paul Peterson. It measures 46 feet long and 26 feet tall, and is made from gunnite—a type of sprayed cement—over a skeleton made of wire mesh and steel beams. In 1993, the National Buffalo Museum opened near the statue. Though Dakota Thunder will never roam the plains himself, a nearby herd counts several rare albino bison among its numbers. (Read more.)

404 Louis Lamour Ln, Jamestown, ND 58401

Natural Wonder

2. White Butte

At 3,506 feet above sea level, White Butte is the highest naturally-occurring point in the state. The isolated hill is named for the chalky white color of the rocks that comprise it. Those rocks are mostly made of bentonite clay, a fine powder that comes from ancient volcanic ash. White Butte is located in the North Dakota badlands, a series of buttes and rocky outcrops along the banks of the Little Missouri River in the southwestern part of the state. (Read more.)

Bowman, ND 58623

Tall, but no longer the tallest. Ratsbew/CC BY-SA 3.0
Structure

3. The KVLY-TV Mast

Until 1974, this sky-high broadcasting mast, which stretches 2,063 feet tall, was not just the tallest structure in North Dakota—it was the tallest structure in the world. The KVLY-TV mast was built over the course of 30 days in 1963 at a cost of approximately $500,000, equivalent to roughly $4.2 million today. After the Warsaw radio mast collapsed in 1991, the KVLY-TV mast regained the title of tallest structure in the world, but was outstripped by the Burj Khalifa in 2008. Though the broadcasting mast remains the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere, and the fourth-tallest in the world, it’s often left off of lists of the world’s tallest buildings and towers because it’s not free-standing. A system of guy-wires, or ground-mounted tension cables, help hold it stable. (Read more.)

153rd Ave SE, Blanchard, ND 58009

One happy Holstein. Nic McPhee/CC BY-SA 2.0
Sculpture

4. Salem Sue

About 150 miles from Dakota Thunder, the world’s largest buffalo, stands Salem Sue, the world's largest Holstein cow. The 38-foot-tall, 50-foot-long fiberglass dairy cow was built in 1974 as a way to honor the dairy farming industry in New Salem. There are currently some 15,000 milk cows in North Dakota. Though the number has been decreasing in recent years, Salem Sue continues to stand tall and proud, looking out over her fellow Holsteins in the prairies. (Read more.)

New Salem, ND 58563

The building rises high above the surrounding ground. Craftsman2001/Public Domain
Military Facility

5. Anti-Missile Pyramid

Some of North Dakota’s sizable construction projects have serious origins. The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex was built in Nekoma in the 1960s. The complex was one of several planned as part of the United States Army's Safeguard anti-ballistic missile program, meant to shoot down incoming missiles from Russia. The complex cost $6 billion dollars to construct, and its most prominent feature is a giant pyramid-shaped radar system. But its utility was short lived. It reached full operational capability on October 1, 1975, and the U.S. House of Representatives voted to decommission the project the very next day. In 2012, the site was bought at auction by a group of Hutterites, a religious group that practices peaceful, communal living. (Read more.)

81st St NE, Nekoma, ND 58355

No snow, no problem. Bobak Ha'Eri/CC-By-SA-3.0
Sculpture

6. Tommy the Turtle

It’s not just cattle of impressive stature that make up North Dakota’s roadside attractions. In Bottineau, a small city just a few miles from the Canadian border, a massive fiberglass turtle rides an equally impressive fiberglass snowmobile. Known as Tommy the Turtle, the statue is meant to be a symbol of the Turtle Mountains, which stretch across this part of northern North Dakota. The 30-foot-tall turtle was built in 1978 by an Idaho native named Boots Reynolds. Surrounding the statue is a park, aptly named Tommy Turtle Park, where locals can relax and admire their snowmobile-riding guardian. (Read more.)

Bottineau, ND 58318

The monument is designed to resemble the tent pole that once marked the site. Richard Peevers (Atlas Obscura User)
Memorial

7. The Tent Pole Monument to the Circus Dead

On June 10, 1897, the Ringling Brothers Circus came to the small town of Wahpeton, North Dakota. A storm was brewing, but the circus workers put up the tent despite the ominous clouds. The crew didn’t realize that in doing so, they were creating a massive lightning rod—and the pole was hit almost immediately, killing two men. Despite the tragedy, the show went ahead as scheduled. The men were buried that afternoon in the cemetery south of town. For a few months, the pieces of the tent pole were used to mark the gravesite. They were eventually replaced with a piece of granite sculpted to represent the remains of the original pole.

8088-8098 182nd Ave SE, Wahpeton, ND 58075

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