August 29, 2017


By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer

If a porcupine hadn’t been skulking in the shadows of Pretty Butte, I would have plopped down and set up camp for the night as planned.
Instead, I hightailed it back to Marmarth for a lengthier night than expected at the Pastime bar. A Bowman firefighter and his rancher ex-girlfriend took me in, monopolizing the jukebox and discussing such issues as tornado insurance, wildfires and Titanic.
The film, not the ocean liner. Celine Dion was on the playlist at that point.
I’d been to the Pastime once or twice before, most recently after driving Old Marmarth Road from Golva.
This time was different: Friday night in a sleepy badlands town, where around 10 of us shot the breeze after 9 p.m. (Mountain Time, that is. Central Time is spurned in Marmarth).
I was on my way to points south for the solar eclipse’s path of totality in western Nebraska. A Pastime waiter from that area said he may zip down there for the event. Nebraska’s panhandle is where all the fun is at, he added.
I also said I was headed to Badlands National Park to meet a buddy.
“Forget that,” one of the barflies said. “Marmarth is the badlands.”
This is true. The crumbling, chalky landscape is well present around Marmarth, or “Dinosaur Alley,” as scholar Clay Jenkinson says.
Badlands National Park is just crumblier and chalkier.
I will say the Pretty Butte badlands have more views. Wowed by the aurora over a Little Missouri cliff, I struck a cactus and required first aid for a toe.
So beautiful, it hurts.
Someday I’d like to make a Marmarth weekend with Sabrina, my gravel road companion. She visited a few years ago and got to explore the (shuttered) Mystic Theatre. Lucky lady.
She also learned that Rhame’s Waterhole bar apparently sells the most Ouzo in North Dakota. Huh.
If we do Marmarth, I’ll have to hit Robinson’s Center Fest next year. I opted for Watford City’s Ribfest the same weekend as Robinson celebrated its “righteous and legal geographical center of North America.”
But that’s that.
The Marmarthites and me quibbled and conversed until 1 a.m. (Mountain Time), at which point I left for bed.
Godspeed, sweet dreams.
The poets tell how Pancho fell
and Lefty’s living in a cheap hotel
The desert’s quiet, Cleveland’s cold
and so the story ends, we’re told
I hope life treats you kind
and I hope that you have all that you ever dreamed of
And I wish you joy and happiness
but above all of this, I wish you love
Thank you, McKenzie County, and happy trails. To cover your community for the last 15 months has been a privilege and a pleasure.
See you on the road.