A Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch

So, I’m thinking about writing something that starts like this:

The Bakken oil patch ranks among the great achievements of the contemporary age. The arrival of fracking technology in Western North Dakota has led to an industrial renaissance that transformed sleepy farm communities into the crucial cogs in the global extractive economy. Today, the area has become a global destination for roughnecks, petroleum engineers, pipeline “cats”, truck drivers, carpenters, contractors, and electricians as well as journalists, adventure scientists, academic scholars, photographers, and filmmakers. Low-unemployment, the bustle of extractive industry, and a landscape of dramatic contrasts holds forth an magnetic attraction for the adventurous traveler. Pack your camera, your sulfur dioxide sensor, some steel-toed boots and a Carhartts and get ready for a unique journey to the land where industry and nature meet.

The patch itself is a bewildering sight to the unprepared visitor on account of its vast area alone (over 100 sq miles) and can quickly overwhelm any simple approach to apprehending its significance or visiting the most meaningful sites. This short guide is meant to direct a tourist to a sampling of the many remarkable sites in the “Bakken” with a particular emphasis on the work and life of the new communities in the area with some reference to other sites of older historical significance. As with any tourist guide, this is not designed to be exhaustive, but to identify characteristic types of sites in the region by providing easily navigated itineraries across the region. Since the practice of industrial tourism remains in its infancy, this guide will also seek to bring to the fore some thought questions for the educated visitor to the Bakken both to stimulate discussion and to guide your explorations of this region of unprecedented industrial, historical, and natural beauty.


Route 1: Minot, ND to Ross, ND

The main point of entry into the Bakken from the north is the small city of Minot. Minot is served by Delta airlines, has an Amtrack station, and sits astride Route 2, the famous “The Highline”, that runs from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Everett Washington. It is the northernmost east-west highway in the U.S. and follows the route of the Great Northern Railroad from which it takes its name. The route from Minot to Williston, North Dakota is among the most scenic stretch of the Highline, and communities in North Dakota along this route had been in decline for two generations prior to the most recent oil activity. 

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