Dakotas part 5 – Bismark, ND to Pittsburgh, PA

Dakotas part 5 – Bismark, ND to Pittsburgh, PA

The next morning Juvy was up for the sunrise, getting some great photographs as the day dawned. We walked over to the nearby Fort Buford historic site, which we had been camping next to, to take a look around. Fort Buford State Historic Site is the preserved remnants of a frontier plains military post. The fort was built in 1866 and became a major supply depot for military field operations. Features still existing on the site include a stone powder magazine, the post cemetery site, and a large officers’ quarters building. It is best remembered as the place where the famous Hunkpapa Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, surrendered in 1881.

We packed up camp and left Fort Buford, but it wasn’t far to our next destination; just around the corner is the Fort Union Trading Post. This was the most important trading post on the Missouri River, between 1828 and 1867. Here, the Assiniboine and six other Northern Plains Indian Tribes exchanged buffalo robes (over 25,000 per year) and smaller furs for goods from around the world, including cloth, guns, blankets, and beads. Despite being called a fort, this was an entirely privately owned commercial trading enterprise. In 1867 the Army purchased the fort, dismantling it and using the material for construction of the nearby Fort Buford. In more recent years, the fort has been restored.

We returned the crew car to the FBO and took off on the day’s flight. It was only a little over an hour’s flight time, and the weather was as good as ever, with another tail wind for this eastbound leg to Bismark, North Dakota. This was another leg where we didn’t get too many photos, due to a combination of repetitive terrain and Juvy taking a high dosage of air-sickness pills and falling asleep.

Into North Dakota, by air this time

The terrain we were flying across looked fairly similar to the Badlands that we’d toured in South Dakota. There wasn’t much sign of human development, other than the occasional oil well tucked onto a pad in the hills.

We landed at the Bismark International Airport and parked up at the Bismark Aero Center. They lent us a crew car for the night (Juvy had called ahead to make sure one would be available), and we headed off to the KOA campsite in Bismark. Dinner that evening was at another American bistro; always a reliable choice no matter where in the US one has ended up!


We started the day with a good old American breakfast of pancakes and accompaniments before heading back to the Bismark airport. It would be a fairly long day of flying, with the intention of travelling all the way across North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and into Michigan. At this time of the year, we were anticipating beautiful fall colours across the forests of the upper mid-west!


We had a strong tailwind today, and the 700 miles of flying took less than 5 hours, very good going for a C172. Our first stop was at Wadena, in Minnesota, for a quick refuel and stretch of the legs before we climbed back into the cockpit and headed out east once more, stopping at Eagle River for a final fuel stop.

We took off, mid-afternoon, to cross the remaining forests of northern Wisconsin and head out over Lake Michigan. That night we were planning to stop at the small airport of Welke, on Beaver Island, in the middle of the northern section of the lake. When I phoned up to check that it was OK to stay overnight, they let us know they were having their annual party, and that we were welcome to join in! The wind was howling across the lake, right across the narrow runway at Welke, and luckily I managed to pull off a decent cross-wind landing in front of 200 aviation-savvy spectators.

The party was in full swing, and after tying down the aircraft we walked over to join everybody at the hangar. Food was pressed into our hands from the buffet and we settled in to chat to some of the locals and enjoy the live band! Being an island, aviation was a lifeline for many of the residents, and the party was being hosted in the hangar of the little charter airline based on the field.

We got chatting to a couple with a holiday apartment on the island, Michael and Suzanne. They invited us out for the after-party locally, so we jumped into their car and headed back to their place to leave their dogs before carrying on to a local bar. We had a few drinks and swapped stories, before they gave us a lift back to the airport and we settled into the tents for a windy night.


The final day of the trip dawned bright, and much less windy. During the night I had needed to use Juvy’s camera tripod to jam the rudder pedals and stop them flapping around; the standard control lock only takes care of the yoke, protecting ailerons and elevator, and I’d even needed to lock a seat-belt around those to try and reduce the control surface movement. Juvy’s tent had also been a victim of the high winds, with a pole snapping and the whole thing collapsing on top of her sometime in the early hours.

We walked into town for breakfast, finding a small bakery near the shore before walking back to the airport. The flight back to Pittsburgh was easy, with a single fuel stop, dog-legging south to avoid flying over the main parts of any of the Great Lakes. Better safe than sorry, with a single engine!

Final flights

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