We got gas for the vehicle and fuel for our bellies (thank you, McDonald's) in Bismarck, ND and then drove north on Hwy 83 to Coleharbor, ND. Just north of town is the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge on the south shore of Lake Audubon (the part of Lake Sakakawea that is cut off from the main reservoir by Hwy 83). We had never been there, but the InterWebs told me that the Refuge offers both an automobile tour route and a hiking trail, and I thought it would be fun to get some fresh air and exercise, take in the sights of the terrain and the lake, and maybe spot some wildlife while we were at it.
When we arrived, we pulled up to the visitor center and found that it's closed on Saturday. But wouldn't you know it? An employee was there catching up on some work, and she saw us walking around the parking lot and let us in. She gave us pamphlets with information for our hike and drive, and then she let us into the exhibit room to look around. As it turns out, the building is brand-new and just had a grand opening event a couple days ago! It's a beautiful facility with numerous hands-on activities for kids that I found just as interesting as the girls did!
After looking at the exhibits inside, we went around the building and found the start of the hiking trail. The weather was beautiful: sunny, breezy, and in the 70s . . . just perfect for spending time outdoors. We saw numerous bugs and birds as we walked, but we also saw a frog on the path and a deer running off in the distance. And the variety of plants, flowers, and trees along the way was lovely. (Said Abigail, "Sweet, glorious nature!")
Toward the start of our mile-long hike.
Midway along the path, we turned around to snap this photo of the visitor center to the south.
Then we got back in the vehicle and took the auto tour on an eight-mile road with numbered markers that correspond to numbered pages in a pamphlet that the refuge employee gave us. For example, when we got to marker #1, Susan found that page in the pamphlet and read to us about the natural features and wildlife in that area of the refuge and related notable historical events. We were amazed at how big Lake Audubon is, never having previously seen any more of it than is visible while whizzing by in a car on Hwy 83. We stopped frequently to snap pics of all the birds that seem to enjoy not getting hunted there on the refuge!
The auto tour route ends at the boundary of the refuge, so from there we drove back into Coleharbor and found the Harbor Bar, where we ate dinner. It's a dark, small place that I imagine is crowded, smoky, and loud in the evenings. But it was nearly empty when we arrived, and the servers were friendly (I got called "Honey") and the food delicious (burgers for the girls and German fleischkuechle [spiced ground beef deep-fried in a breading] for me). A crowd of motorcyclists arrived just before we finished, and their interactions with the staff made them seem like "regulars." It's probably the kind of place at which I would have rolled my teenaged eyes as "hokey," but today I found it warm and charming.
Now it's time for our next destination . . .