Thursday, September 07, 2006


NoDak: Tallest

I take I-94 out of Fargo, since it seems to be the only road going west out of town. After a little while I exit the freeway near Casselton, which means I will miss Jamestown, hometown of the man they know as Pronk, who I think we can safely say is already in his career North Dakota's greatest baseball player. I skip a couple of options in Casselton and opt for lunch at a little cafe in Arthur. I order some sort of a sandwich that comes with fries. Lots of fries. Several potatoes worth of fries.

Arthur, like most of the other towns I pass is a wide spot in the road with a grain elevator. Besides potatoes they have wheat in North Dakota. Lots of wheat.

I keep driving north, and a little west. The roads I drive on get progressively smaller, and even on the main roads, other than I-94, they don't get too many tourists around these parts. Everyone I pass waves to me, and occasionally I remember that they're going to do that and I wave back.

My destination, and I do have one, is the world's tallest structure. This is featured with a red dot on the Rand McNally map of North Dakota, which may give you some sense of how little there is in North Dakota to attract tourists. Or maybe it doesn't: the world's tallest anything probably deserves space on the map regardless of where it is.

But no question, it happens to be in the middle of nowhere. The various websites can't even decide whether it's near Mayville or near Blanchard, but that may simply be because Blanchard, at population 92, doesn't ring bells the way Mayville does with its almost 2,000 residents. It's irrelevant. So far as I can see, there's no one here. There's nothing here. Just me and an orange Element and waving wheat.

You would think it would be obvious when you're near the world's tallest anything. It's not. For one, it turns out there are a bunch of tall towers here, so it's not immediately clear which is the prize. In fact, the second tallest anything in the world is a few miles away (although I'm not aware of it, since "second tallest" doesn't rate on anybody's map). I peer out the window at one. Is that it? Maybe that? Keep following the map.

For another, there's nothing in the way of signage; nothing that says "world's tallest anything, 2 miles, left at stop."

For a third, there's nothing to give any of these radio masts scale. No buildings. Hardly any trees. Nothing between you and it to tell you how far away it is. Just flat land, wide open sky, wind. They might be tall. I don't know. You drive and drive and don't seem to make much progress toward them, past them.

Finally I get to the intersection of Route 200, head some distance west, see a radio tower down a gravel road and figure my current position best approximates what the map is showing. No sign. I drive down the gravel road a mile or two to a dirt driveway; still no sign. No sign that says "Tallest anything"; no sign that says "Go away." I drive the quarter mile or so up the drive to a little building at the bottom of the mast.

I look up. Standing next to it is suddenly a whole different experience. Clouds are flying past, and for a moment I'm certain it's falling, or at least swaying uncontrollably. It's an illusion, mostly. The guy cables flex a little in the wind. I trace them, how long they are, and suddenly feel sick to my stomach at the height of the thing. Like I might somehow fall from it standing on the ground.

There's nothing else to see. An elevator that some idiot rides to the top to change the light bulbs. A little sign over the door reading

2063' Tower
Built 1963

is the only thing to confirm that I've come to the right place.

Nobody else has made this drive today. Nobody comes around to ask me if I have any questions, or sell me a keychain, or chase me away.

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