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TRAVELING JACK

Posted 7/25/17 (Tue)

By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer

Under the shade of a cottonwood growing by the Barber Auditorium, I parked my Jeep and we hopped out.
My pal Amy and I were in Marmarth, “the city of trees” at the confluence of the Little Missouri River and Little Beaver Creek in far southwestern North Dakota. Two reporters on a lark from Medora, riding I-94 and Old Highway 16 from Beach and Golva to the best kept secret that is Marmarth.
As far as small towns go, Marmarth is a classic in North Dakota. One bar, two or three churches, another business or two and the only gas station in Slope County.
Unfortunately, most of Main Street is boarded up, like Geezer’s Books, Mert’s Cafe, the Barber Auditorium and the Cactus Club (warning outsiders with spray paint, “Don’t come within 102’ of me).
Downtown Marmarth has character. No doubt it would after the history it has as the formerly largest Milwaukee Railroad town in North Dakota, boasting a 1920 population of 1,318 people.
Today, just 137 residents.
Amy and I walked from Main Street to the Marmarth Bunkhouse, the town’s inn where rates are rumored to be $15 a night.
“Imagine the sheets,” a previous passenger once told me. To be fair, what kind of sheets can you expect for $15?
We met a couple archaeologists on a dino dig who asked if we were part of another team in the area. Apparently the Bunkhouse is popular these days.
So is the Pastime Club & Steakhouse, where the prices are a little more reassuring and the food excellent.
After an appetizer of escargot (a statement that feels odd to write no matter where one is in North Dakota), we ordered entrees: Lemon chicken for Amy, South American ribeye (medium rare) for Jack.
And dessert? Chocolate lava cake for Amy, strawberry shortcake for Jack.
The bill? A measly $90.34, including drinks.
Decent (right?).
Happening upon the Pastime in Marmarth is an experience that must be like a starved lion crawling to a rich oasis on the Serengeti. Completely unexpected, but I’ll take it.
Such was the case on my first trip to Marmarth, involving a lobster tail and a Long Island tea after a six-mile hike to and from the Dakotas’ tri-point with Montana.
Amy and I left Marmarth at sunset. A metal Tyrannosaurus rex waved goodbye as we headed east to Rhame (“Pray for rain,” the town’s welcome sign said) and Griffin (an abandoned Yellowstone Trail town).
As far and away Marmarth is from anything resembling a city, its culture is sustainable enough and more than enchanting.
Just try the escargot.