The best things happen when you get off the interstate and start cruising the backroads. The Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway, which runs parallel to I-94 in the central part of North Dakota, is no exception.
I have nothing against the interstate system. It's efficient, I'll give it that. And sometimes you really do just need to get somewhere fast.
But the scenic route is just more fun. And it's usually much less stressful too.
You can slow down, unclench your shoulders, relax a bit. Cruising the backroads helps you soak up the scenery in a way that just isn't possible if you're whizzing by at full speed. If something looks interesting, it's much easier to just pull over and check it out.
Those unscheduled stops, those slow rolls through small towns and detours to scenic overlooks and roadside attractions help you get a feel for a place. At a more human speed, you're better able to see the little idiosyncrasies that make a place tick and to actually interact with the people that live there.
About The Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway
One of the quirkiest scenic drives I've taken is along The Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway, which travels 100 miles from Mandan to Dickinson. This has been a thoroughfare for generations.
The route draws its name from two eras in its own history. The Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway was once one of the region's color-coded oxcart trails. Then it became part of Highway 10, which brought motorists across the country, all the way from New York to Seattle.
What you'll see on The Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway
The stops along the Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway include the silly (oversized animal sculptures) and the sublime (a peaceful prairie abbey that even the locals often overlook). These aren't busy, must-see tourist attractions; instead, they're a selection of scenic vistas, historical markers, quiet small towns and quirky roadside stops that add a lot more color and texture to your experience than simply speeding along interstate.
As an added bonus, The Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway Talking Trail narrates each stop for you. You can call 701-566-5566 for a little historical, geographical and cultural context in any season.
A few Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway favorites
Surprises are half the fun of a road trip, so I don't want to give too much away. But I definitely want to tell you about a few of my favorite Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway stops.
If you're a super planner (like me), you can get an overview by reading the Talking Trail stops. Or you can read my tips, tricks and fave snacking spots in Midwest Road Trip Adventures, a social distancing-friendly anthology I wrote with my friends and colleagues in 2020.
Salem Sue in New Salem
The beginning of the route in Mandan packs in lots of history and two meaningful sculptures. But the sculpture everybody always asks me about is Salem Sue, The World's Largest Holstein. You'll find this beauty just off I-94 in New Salem.
It's a fun selfie spot. Kids especially like it. And admission is a free will donation.
Dacotah Clayworks in Hebron
After Almont (just west of New Salem), the Old Red Old Ten Scenic Bywy leaves I-94 and whisks you off to scenic overlooks and the quiet little city of Hebron. It's locally known for producing elegant blonde bricks made from local clay.
Potter Robin Reynolds uses this clay (and others from the region) to create beautiful vessels, stains and glazes at Dacotah Clayworks. She works in a sweet little retired Texaco station. Call ahead (701-878-4060) to see if the store, studio and/or tours are operating. (Since the COVID pandemic is still with us, it's smart to check ahead.)
Assumption Abbey in Richardton
The stop that really surprises people (including most born and bred North Dakotans) is Assumption Abbey. This beautiful place of worship echoes the colors of the landscape; the soft gold of the fields and grasslands, the blue of the sky and the rusted red of the region's scoria roads.
Stroll through the interior and the grounds (both are open daily) or visit the gift shop for homemade bread, soap and candles. There's also a wine cellar on-site so you can grab a bottle for the road.
The Benedictine monks offer lodging and meals, although services are limited now, due to the pandemic. But during normal operations, you're much more likely to see people on a pilgrimage or retreat or one of the brothers than you are another tourist.
By now, you've crossed from the Central Time Zone into Mountain Time. So if you're headed west, you've gained an hour. (Bonus.)
The Brew in Dickinson
There are plenty of interesting spots in Dickinson, a scrappy little city where the west really begins. The Dickinson Museum Center is home to three history museums and the very cool Badlands Dinosaur Museum.
And the Ukrainian Cultural Institute is the place to learn about one of the cultures that really shaped this region. (And to pick up frozen varenyky or pyrohy --cheese buttons -- to take a taste of the city home with you.)
But honestly, my favorite thing to do in Dickinson is to grab a hot, ultra-caffeinated beverage, a sandwich and some super addictive baked goods and then settle into a pew at The Brew Coffee House. It's one of the coolest coffee shops I've ever visited. Not only is it located in a former church, it's a church with major cultural and historical gravitas; President Theodore Roosevelt once worshipped here.
The shadow of President Roosevelt, a former North Dakota rancher and arguably the state's most famous ex-resident, looms large here. The Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway Talking Trail has many several stops that touch on his legacy, including The Brew and another just down the street.
Speaking of coffee...
If you're a sucker for a fun coffee shop (like I am), you'll love the new Coffee Cruise. It shows off all the locally owned coffee shops along the Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway and all the way to Medora, on the far western edge of North Dakota.
You might also be interested in reading about my favorite coffee shops in North Dakota. They're located all over the state, including cities showcased on this website and on other scenic routes featured in Midwest Road Trip adventures.
If you want to purchase your own copy, you can do so at my online store. Not only will I send you an autographed copy, I'll also tuck in two free postcards from my North Dakota road trips! This offer is valid through September 1, 2021.
What are your favorite stops on the Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway?
What's your favorite scenic byway or pretty drive?
What kinds of roadside attractions do you always brake for?
How does getting off the interstate help you see a place differently?
This public art coverage was made possible in part by a grant from The Arts Partnership.
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