Our 2021 Road Trip #36: Kaiju Americana Trilogy

Jamestown giant buffalo!

If all real buffaloes had been this size, the history of the American frontier would’ve gone very differently.

One of the all-time greatest songs about road trips is an album track by “Weird Al” Yankovic called “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota“. It wasn’t one of his classic pop-single parodies, just a wacky 7-minute riff on ’70s lite-country crooners that aptly captured the essence of roadside attractions in all their abnormal Americana glory. Over the past twenty years we’ve seen our share of eccentricity and ingenuity on the run, but in one respect we’ve found the reality comes up a bit short: there are not garish, campy, world-record-setting colossi standing in all fifty states. We’ve seen a lot of “big”, but not much “biggest”.

Clearly we should’ve driven more deeply into North Dakota sooner. A 131-mile stretch of I-94 through the heart of their unassuming state skirts past no less than three such mega-animals in three different towns. Sure, their national park was pretty and a few statues of historical figures were fine, but they shriveled in comparison to the frivolous joy of this towering trio, none of whom have ever been invited to star in their own Syfy Original Film.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

Between Dickinson and Bismarck at Exit 127 was the town of New Salem and their oversize mascot Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow. Orchestrated by artist Dave Oswald under the auspices of the local Lions Club, six tons of fiberglass stand 38 feet tall and 50 feet long atop a large hill that lets Sue poke through the horizon and survey her dominion with pride.

Salem Sue sign!

This way to Salem Sue funded entirely with donations from creation to ongoing upkeep.

World's Largest Holstein Cow!

The long approach to her pasture on School Hill.

Salem Sue, World's Largest Holstein Cow!

Behold the cow! If you’ve seen a bigger Holstein, by all means step up.

giant udder!

Those veins had to have taken a lot of extra hours. Gotta appreciate the attention to detail.

Holstein selfie!

Fun with forced perspective! Now I’m a tiny devil on her shoulder!

East of Bismarck, Exit 200 brought us to the town of Steele, where stands Sandy the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane. Whereas a real crane is four feet tall at best, with a wingspan of 6-7 feet, Sandy is 4½ tons of iron standing 40 feet high in a little glade of her own. The youngest of our three titans, Sandy was built in the late ’90s by Arena resident James Miller on his own farm.

Sandy the sandhill crane lurking!

She can run, but she can’t hide. Wait, no, she can’t run, either.

World's Largest Sandhill Crane, Steele, North Dakota!

Sandy at her full height and unobscured.

robin!

In the nearby grass, a robin is inspired by Sandy’s example and also demands to be seen.

SAndy the World's Largest Sandhill Crane!

More fun with forced perspective! Now she’s a tiny angel on my shoulder!

Less than an hour east was our last stop before the next hotel, at Exit 258 in Jamestown. On the grounds of Frontier Village — one of those reenactment parks with 19th-century cosplayers teaching history lessons in recreated settings of yore — stands the World’s Largest Buffalo. Built in 1959, it’s the oldest of our three leviathans and lived namelessly until a 2010 contest bestowed upon it the sobriquet Dakota Thunder. The brainchild of college art teacher Elmer Petersen stands 26 feet tall and 46 feet long, a solid 60 tons of concrete poured over a steel frame. Back in those days, they built their World’s Largest Animals to last.

Frontier Village!

We arrived at Frontier Village a few minutes before closing time, well after any activities had ended.

rock garden!

A nearby rock garden adds peaceful ambiance to a business that offers simulated Wild West shoot-’em-ups.

horses!

Sometimes a buffalo herd is kept nearby. As of the day of our visit, only a pair of horses showed up to say howdy.

National Buffalo Museum!

Next door is the National Buffalo Museum, which would’ve been a great pairing for this entry but was already closed for the evening. Our fault for arriving late.

Dakota Thunder, World's Largest Buffalo!

Anyway, here’s Dakota Thunder, as you saw in our lead photo.

Dakota Thunder, World's Largest Buffalo!

From far away, Dakota Thunder is mighty indeed. But gaze upon the side facing away from the interstate, and her scars run deep. One wonders, what horrors has she witnessed? And will they one day drive her to the brink of madness and send her stomping all over poor Frontier Village?

These weren’t the last giant animals we’d see on this journey. To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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